Returning to work after having a baby is a double-edged sword for many moms who intend to breastfeed for the AAP’s recommendation of one year. On the one hand, moms want to provide their babies with the best possible nutrition that protects them from many illnesses and diseases, improves their cognition and creates a lasting bond between mother and child. But working moms also want to be productive in the workplace and not seen as “absent” during critical times during the work day.
Maintaining breast milk for babies when mom returns to work is tough, but it absolutely can be done. And the good news is, the law is on mom’s side. The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law passed in 2010 is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It requires employers to provide break time and a private space for mothers to feed their babies or pump during work hours until the baby reaches one year of age.
But even with this law, many mothers struggle to reach their breastfeeding goals. A recent study published in the Journal of Human Lactation showed that less than 30% of full-time working moms who intended to breastfeed for three months were able to meet that goal. It also indicated that when a mother returns to work effects how long she will be able to provide breast milk. Moms who resumed full time work before six weeks were 2.25 times less likely to make it to three months, and those who returned between six weeks and three months were 1.82 times less likely to meet the goal. Part-time working moms fared better.
Laws protect working mothers’ right to breastfeed because it is important to individual and public health for babies to get proper nutrition from birth. And breastfeeding rates in the U.S. have increased over the past decade. Yet most moms still do not meet the recommended six months of exclusive breastfeeding and one year of continued breastfeeding.
Many women face barriers to breastfeeding including not being educated on the benefits to mom and baby, not having proper support to navigate the logistics and challenges of breastfeeding and being subjected to misconceptions about breastfeeding. Working mothers face additional challenges due to time constraints, pressure to perform at work, additional responsibilities at home, and physical separation from their babies for long periods of time, which can affect milk supply and a baby’s desire to breastfeed. Even when employers cooperate, which they do not all do despite the laws protecting mothers, many mothers feel unspoken tension from supervisors or put pressure on themselves.
Working moms who are committed to breastfeeding can take some preliminary steps to ensure they meet their goals. First, take as much maternity leave as your company will allow to lay the foundation for a great breastfeeding relationship with your baby. Before you return, speak to your employer about your intentions to pump during the work day and establish expectations on both sides.
When you return to work, invest in a quality breast pump, ideally one that pumps both breasts at the same time and is hands free. Pump as much as possible during the day and make sure you have easy access to a refrigerator or freeze to store your milk.
Prepare your baby for your transition back to work too. Start offering occasional bottles of breast milk weeks before you head back to the office so your baby can get used to the difference between your nipple and a bottle nipple. Find the ideal child care situation, whether it is on-site day care where you can pop in for feedings as time permits, or a care giver who is supportive and knowledgeable about your intention to provide your baby breast milk. Train your care giver on how and when you want your baby to be fed.
We champion all moms who want to provide breast milk to their babies. Working mothers face additional challenges but we support them 100%. If you are planning to go back to work soon, be sure to take good care of yourself too. Happy babies start with happy mommies. We wish you much breastfeeding success at home and at work!