Breastfeeding While Working

An NPN reader asks our natural parenting mentors:

I’m pregnant with my first baby, and while relatively new to natural parenting, I’m very excited and committed to the idea of breastfeeding my child to one year or beyond. I’ve read all about the benefits, but I haven’t really found any specifics on how moms accomplish this as part of day-to-day life. My husband and I are both self-employed, and while we can essentially dictate our own schedules, we still work outside the home.

My question is, how do breastfeeding moms juggle nursing and work, both immediately after birth and into the first few years? I now know that pumps and freezing a milk supply are part of the solution, but I’ve read lots of contradictory information on babies getting lazy and preferring the bottle over the nipple. Is there a magic time frame to introduce expressed breast milk in a bottle? I know there are different ways to solve these problems, but I don’t have any friends practicing extended breastfeeding to ask for details.

Here’s what our natural parenting mentors had to say:

Shannon: “I’ve read lots of contradictory info on babies getting lazy and preferring the bottle over the nipple. Is there a magic time frame to introduce expressed breast milk in a bottle?”

I can share my personal experience with this, after the birth of my son and breastfeeding for the first two weeks of his life, I EP’d (exclusively pumped) for two months. I returned to exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) after that. I needed the help of a lactation consultant and it took practice for the both of us. We did get our nursing relationship back, though. If it is possible for you to wait as long as possible to introduce the bottle until after the nursing relationship is established, that would be best.

In Four Ways to Supplement Breastmilk, Amy of Just West of Crunchy discusses four different ways to supplement breastfeeding and discusses some positioning and helpful tips for bottle-feeding a breastfed baby. Ideally if you are going to use a bottle, look for a nipple with a wide base and try to position your child’s lips on the base of the nipple as close to how they would be positioned on your breast as possible. You can switch back and forth, you will just need to be conscious of your child’s latch positioning during nursing.

“How do moms juggle nursing and work?”
At five months postpartum, I returned to work and needed to express and leave bottles. I was very up front with my employer about my needs and what I would require to pump and accomplish my workload. I checked in with myself once a week to assess whether or not this was working for me and was open to any assistance I needed. It is important to realize it is okay to ask for help and to know when you need that help. As I adjusted to my new way of life, I needed to check in with myself less and less. Now it is just how I live so there is no question that I can do this.

Before I returned to work I made sure I built up a two week supply in my freezer. If you have the ability to do this, that is great. If you can do more, even better! It will take some adjustment to get the rhythm of pumping and feeding down once your return to work. A good technique I used was to pretend I was nursing twins – I nursed my son on one side and expressed milk on the other.

When I ran into trouble I found inspiration by reading Melodie’s article called Why Nighttime Breastfeeding Is So Important. Breastfeeding at night is how your supply for the next day is determined, so it is important to respond to your baby’s demands for nursing at night. I found that with my schedule it was hard for me to get up and down to nurse at night 3-4 times and still function normally during my work day. I discussed it with my partner and we decided that co-sleeping was the best solution for all of us during the time I was adjusting to work and my son was still nursing around the clock. As he has grown and does not wake to nurse at night we have moved away from co-sleeping full time; now we use our discretion as to when it works for our family.

You really said it well when you compared it to a juggling act. We cannot just jump in and be an awesome juggler – it takes practice. You can accomplish a lot while nursing. You may find some inspiration from this NPN article called Eleven Things To Do While Breastfeeding. It is also very important that you have a support system. Your partner and the people you surround yourself with need to know and understand your goals for nursing so that they can cheer you on and help you when you need it.

Joni Rae: I never had experience with pumping until my last baby. I knew I would have to go back to work (part-time) when he was two months old. So I spent the first month getting the baby used to the nursing process. I started pumping after a few weeks and began bagging milk for the freezer. I didn’t want to introduce a bottle until I knew he was a breastfeeding pro, so I waited until he was a month old before we started giving him a little expressed milk in a bottle once a day, and after a little hesitation and trying out several nipple/bottle combos, he took to it just fine. Once I started working I would excuse myself to pump at the time he would regularly feed and then bring the milk home for our freezer. The rule was he would only get bottles when I was not home. When home I always breastfed him, and I never had any supply issues.

Congratulations on your new baby to be! I am so happy that you will join the breastfeeding mama club. It is an awesome thing to do for your baby. In my opinion, breastfeeding makes life easier. Make sure you breastfeed on demand for as long as the baby needs to eat so that you will establish a good supply. Just sit down and get comfy: use it as time to read a book, rest, have a snack, and relax. Once you get the hang of it, this can be the most peaceful part of your day.

Sheryl: First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy. This is a very exciting time for you, and I’m sure it can be overwhelming with so many things to think about and so much information to take in. Breastfeeding and working can be challenging, but many mothers make it work during the first year and beyond!

Exactly how you make it work is up to you. You mention that you and your husband are self-employed but work out of the house. Perhaps your husband or the baby’s caregiver can bring the baby to you while you are at work so you can nurse the baby. This is one way to make it work without having to pump. If this is not possible, you can try pumping at work and leaving bottles of expressed breastmilk for your baby.

It is possible for a baby to experience “nipple confusion.” This means that a baby begins to prefer a bottle over breastfeeding because it is easier for a baby to get milk out of a bottle instead of out of a breast. To avoid this, it is preferable to wait to introduce a bottle until breastfeeding is well established. This is different for every mother, but tends to be after 4-6 weeks of breastfeeding.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the time you have at home with your baby before you have to return to work. You will figure out a plan that works for you and your baby! For more information, check out La Leche League’s resources on working. Good luck!

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