You can continue breastfeeding as a working mum with these smart strategies.
The many protective substances and antibodies in breast milk help your baby fight against infection and allergies. More importantly, breastfeeding enhances the bonding between you and your baby.
Mothers who breastfeed often feel a strong sense of closeness towards their babies and vice versa. Prior to the arrival of your newborn, you have to make the decision whether to breastfeed or bottle feed your baby. Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby as it contains all the nutrition that he needs in the first six months. You can continue to breastfeed your baby till he is two years old and beyond if you can supplement his diet with semi-solid food.
For working mothers, one factor which often discourages them from breastfeeding or giving up once they return to work is how to balance breastfeeding with their tight working schedules. The good news is that with adequate preparation and adjustment you can still continue with breastfeeding.
Preparation should start soon after your delivery. It involves:
Expressing breastmilk, weaning from the breast and preparing the caregiver should start at least two weeks before you return to work.
After your delivery, you should breastfeed your baby as soon as possible. This will help you establish your milk supply early. Giving supplementary formula feeds will reduce your baby's chance to suckle at the breast and reduce the stimulation of the breast, thus decreasing your milk production.
You can learn the correct techniques of breastfeeding while you are in the hospital. Consult the nurse or lactation consultant at the wards should you be in doubt. Breastfeeding your baby exclusively during the first four weeks will help to build up your milk supply.
After four weeks of exclusive breastfeeding, you may start to express and store your breast milk. You can express your milk either by hand or with a breast pump which can be easily purchased or rented. Adopt the method that best suits you.
Start by expressing once a day before gradually increasing the frequency according to the number of feeds which your baby will miss while you are at work. In the meantime, continue to breastfeed your baby directly.
By Hand: When expressing breast milk by hand, place the forefinger and thumb at the edge of the areola (the dark area of the breast) and press back firmly against your breast. Then bring your fingers together and compress the areola using the finger pads. You are encouraged to compress your breast in a rhythmic manner when expressing milk.
By Hand Pump: You are advised to use a pump which allows you control over the suction. Ensure that the flange of the pump is placed over the areola to form a complete seal, just as your baby's mouth would when you breastfeed. Pump continuously for five minutes, alternating each breast and massaging the breast in between. Each session should not last more than 30 minutes in order not to tire yourself.
Battery or Electric Pump: If you choose to use the battery-operated or electric pump, remember to begin with minimum power before increasing the intensity to which you are comfortable with. Fully automatic electric pumps and those that allow for double pumping reduces pumping time and promotes milk production.
It is important to always store the expressed breast milk in feed-size amounts in sterilised bottles. This will prevent wastage and make it convenient during feeding times.
Expressed breast milk can last for 48 hours in the refrigerator at four degrees Celsius or three to six months in the freezer compartment at zero degrees Celsius. Label all the bottles with the dates and time of collection. Always remember to use the milk expressed at the earlier date.
When transporting expressed breast milk, put the bottles in a cooler box with ice packs. Transfer the bottles into the refrigerator once you have reached your destination. Always give the freshly expressed breast milk to your baby. It is not necessary to freeze your breast milk unless you have so much excess that your baby is unable to consume it within 48 hours.
To feed your baby with the expressed breast milk, simply thaw and warm the milk by putting the bottle in warm water for 10 minutes. Frozen breast milk can be transferred earlier to thaw in the refrigerator before standing the bottle in warm water just before feeding. Do not boil the milk or warm in a microwave oven. Do not refreeze the milk once it has been thawed as it may be contaminated. Discard any excess milk left in the bottle after a feed.
Some mothers are concerned that their babies will become so used to feeding at the breast that they will reject bottle feeds. This can be prevented if you let your baby learn to feed from the bottle after the first four weeks. However, do not introduce the bottle until your baby has learnt to suck well at your breast. Introducing the bottle too early will confuse your baby, as the sucking actions are different.
When you wish to introduce the bottle to your baby, let your husband or a family member offer the bottle instead to prevent your baby from searching for your breast. You may start to bottle feed your baby with expressed milk once a day when he is one month old. Two weeks before returning to work, slowly increase the frequency according to the number of feeds which your baby will miss while you are at work. This will help your baby gradually adjust to the change.
In preparing the caregiver, it is important to make sure that she understands and supports breastfeeding. Some people are concerned that giving expressed milk stored in the refrigerator will cause the baby to have abdominal “wind”. This is a misconception as expressed milk is warmed before baby drinks it.
In addition, the protein in breast milk is easily digestible, thus reducing the chances of the baby developing “wind”. Moreover, this method of feeding has successfully enabled mothers to combine work with breastfeeding.
Educate and reassure your caregiver that expressed breast milk still continues to provide the nutrients and protective substances which your baby needs to stay strong and healthy.
As a working mother, you may adopt either total or partial breastfeeding after you have returned to work. If you want to do total breastfeeding, you should express your milk during breaks at work. You then give it to your baby the next day when you are not at home. Meanwhile, continue with direct breastfeeding when you are with your baby.
With partial breastfeeding, you can breastfeed your baby when you are with him and give him formula milk when you are at work. If you plan to partial breastfeed, substitute breast milk with formula feeds and give your baby the number of feeds which he will miss while you are at work. You can start by replacing one feed for two to three days before increasing the number of feeds to be substituted.
During initial weaning, you may experience overfullness at your breasts. To overcome this, express only the minimum amount till you are comfortable. This will allow your breast to get used to the reduced stimulation and therefore suspend milk production while you are at work.
Under unforeseen circumstances, working mothers may not have time to express their milk. This may cause the milk to accumulate, thus causing a hard and painful breast. You can prevent this by allowing yourself to have a quick five-minute expression. This quick expressing will help relieve the tension with the release of some milk from your breast. This will prevent your breast from becoming full and uncomfortable. Expressing to make yourself comfortable is important even if you do not have the time to express and store the milk.
Leaking of breast milk may occur in some mothers. Using absorbent padding can help to ease the discomfort. Folding the arm across your chest to apply pressure on the nipple may help to stop the flow. Wearing floral clothing may help conceal any staining on your clothing. Wearing a jacket may also help conceal wet clothing when leaking occurs.
Your desire to combine breastfeeding with your work is a commitment on your part. Your husband and family members need to understand this to support you.
Fatigue from work, looking after the baby, handling household chores and breastfeeding may often cause you to be both physically and emotionally drained. Constant encouragement from your husband will lend a psychological boost for you to persevere. Getting help from your family members to look after your baby and doing some of the household chores will also relieve you from some of the physical strain and will allow you to have more rest.
The emotional and physical support from your husband is crucial as it will strengthen your relationship and will enhance your success in breastfeeding your baby for as long as possible.
Most working mothers will be able to successfully combine working with breastfeeding once they are able to establish their milk supply before they start work. There will be some adjustments during the initial period when you have returned to work. Most important of all, you should enjoy the time spent with your baby.
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This article was last reviewed on
22 Nov 2023
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