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As if transitioning back to work after maternity leave didn’t bring about enough anxiety in and of itself, fretting about how to continue a successful breastfeeding relationship proved to be the icing on a very stress-induced cake. Or so this was the case for me.
After a milk and soy protein intolerance resulted in me ending my breastfeeding relationship with baby #1 before returning to work, it was all foreign territory for me with baby #2. I had worked especially hard for breastfeeding to work this time around and I was rather anxious to think that the end of my maternity leave could end up equating to the end of my breastfeeding journey. However, as often is the case in parenting, my fears proved to be unsubstantiated. Here I am one year later, with a continued exclusive breastfeeding relationship thanks to what I consider to be a few key elements to making the journey successful.
Looking to continue a healthy breastfeeding relationship yourself once returning to work? Below is my best advice!
There are three core parts of the equation. 1) the time at work when you are making the milk (i.e. pumping), 2) the time back at home/daycare/with nanny/etc. where baby is consuming the expressed milk when you aren’t present, and 3) the time when you and baby are back together and you continue feeding via breast.
1) Time at Work
Where would I go to pump? How would I store the milk? How would I make sure I had enough milk for my kiddo to use the following day? Would I freeze and thaw milk or use fresh? Would I continue to hit my productivity at work despite taking time out to pump?
Above are just a few of the fears I had in the days leading up to my return to work. Whether yours are the same or different, my first tip would be to identify your fears. Even going so far as to write them all down to best clear your mind, I’d then recommend addressing them one at a time. Whether by contacting your employer or asking co-workers… the more you can answer ahead of time, the less anxiety you will have when actually returning.
Going hand in hand with addressing your fears is doing your research. Prior to your first day of returning to work when emotions are running high and any free time is being eaten up by co-workers eager to welcome you back and enjoy photos of your little one… you will want to make sure you have the main research out of the way.
I highly recommend researching the following: 1) Where will you pump? (a certain room, office, etc.) 2) What times will you pump? (do you have to work around clients, patients, meetings, etc.) 3) Where will you clean pump parts? (is there a microwave nearby to sanitize parts in a bag, is there is a sink within a pumping space) 4) Where will you store the milk? (will you carry a small cooler with you in your bag, is there a refrigerator you can use) 5) How will you continue to tend to your professional duties? (can you type notes while you pump, will you pump while you eat lunch, will you need a hands-free pumping bra, etc.) 6) What do I need to bring? (will your employer provide a pump (i.e. if working at a hospital like I do, hospital grade pumps are often provided in pumping rooms), a hands-free pumping bra (highly recommend!), a cooler, a pumping bag to keep organized, soap to sanitize parts, etc.)
2) Time back at home/daycare/nanny
I can’t stress this one enough. You don’t, I repeat… you DON’T want to wait until the day before you return to work to trial a bottle for the first time. Unless you have a super easy-going baby, chances are the attempt will NOT go well. Baby will scream, cry and likely even outright refuse the bottle. This will only increase your anxiety knowing you have no choice but to return to work and you now fear baby won’t eat while you are gone. This is why I highly recommend you begin getting baby used to drinking from a bottle weeks before returning to work with the most success often coming from someone other than you offering baby the bottle. (Note: they may never grow to love the bottle as much as breastfeeding and that’s okay.. my little one still would choose the real deal over the bottle any day… but she now takes it happily when I’m not around.)
Choosing the correct bottle
Choosing the correct bottle for baby to use when they are unable to breastfeed directly is very critical. Not only will baby often refuse a bottle when they want the real deal, but the wrong bottle and nipple can also jeopardize a continued breastfeeding relationship. For example, a nipple that flows too quickly may result in baby favoring a bottle to the breast as the supply is instantaneous and baby doesn’t have to wait for let-down to occur.
After asking for endless advice from experienced mamas and trialing numerous bottles myself, I was instantly impressed by the “NUK Simply Natural Bottles” in that they are designed to simulate a mother’s breast. Varied nipple options allow for slow flow milk and multiple holes (as opposed to the traditional use of one) best mimic a mother’s nipple. In fact, I am not alone with this belief. Where more than 50% of mom’s end up trying multiple bottles before finding one that works effectively in their breastfeeding journey, a recent study showed that 93% of babies accepted the nipple on this particular bottle. Better yet, this bottle doesn’t require custom ordering and can easily be found (in sizes 3 and 5oz) at your local store like Walmart where I ended up snatching mine while on a diaper run. (Note: These bottles are featured in the “NUK Simply Natural Gift Set” and make for the PERFECT shower gift idea. Trust me, the lucky mom will definitely end up thanking you for this one when it comes time for her to return to work herself.) Follow and interact with NUK social channels for potential offers and giveaways, especially for Simply Natural September!
Sticking to a similar schedule
Just like how the recommended NUK bottle best simulates mom’s breast, sticking to a similar schedule will also help to not throw baby off (i.e. not jeopardizing your breastfeeding relationship). If you feed baby on demand via breast, then baby will likely seek this with the bottle. If you have more of scheduled feeds via breast, then continue that for designated bottle times. No matter the schedule, just make sure you properly share this with whomever is caring for your child.
If you are planning to return to work full-time, you can plan to utilize whatever you pump during the day to be used the following day. If you are planning to return to work part-time (like I did), then keep it mind that expressed milk generally stays good in a well-refrigerated area for 4-5 days. Knowing this, you can likely use whatever is in the refrigerator for you next day at work (thawing frozen milk if the 4-5 day window has passed).
3) Time together with baby
Nurse whenever possible
Unless you are planning to or are on board with the possibility of exclusively pumping, you’ll want to make sure that baby continues to want to nurse. In order to best ensure this, you will want to nurse whenever you are with baby. (i.e. if you are present, then a bottle should not be. Note that the older baby gets, they likely will be able to continue the desire to breastfeed despite having a bottle when you are around… however, I wouldn’t recommend this until the back to work scenario is well established.)
Above all else, be sure and trust your motherly instincts. You know what feels right and what doesn’t and just like anything, a certain amount of trial and error will take place until the final “ideal” schedule is implemented.
Wishing you the best of luck in your transition back to work and your continued breastfeeding journey with your most precious bundle of joy!