Returning to Work AND Breastfeeding? It can be done!
Ahhhh! and Waaaaah….. your maternity leave is almost over! It’s hard to believe that a year has passed, and you will soon be heading back to work. So much has happened over the last year, and as your baby’s first birthday and your return to work approaches, some important questions that may come up, like :
What amazing birthday party theme should I choose or does it actually matter when my baby has no clue and would probably be just as happy with a single balloon?
Will any of my pre-pregnancy work clothes ever fit the same?
Will making a decision about daycare/nanny/part time/full time/gradual start/home daycare be easy?
Do I have to stop breastfeeding if I’m going back to work?
Short answer to all of the above? NO.
One of the most common questions I get is how to prepare for going back to work if you’re breastfeeding. If you’re lucky and live in Canada (and can live off Maternity leave for a year) then you may have a very different experience than most parents living south of us in the United States who have to return within weeks of their birth.
Although we can feel lucky that we have a whole year to be with our babies, and get a chance to establish breastfeeding in the early weeks and months, we also go through very different phases and many babies have never had a need to drink their breastmilk in any other way then straight from the tap.
Many people think that it’s expected that they will just stop at a year because they’re going back to work (and we’ll talk about how to approach that if it’s your choice) but MANY parents decide to continue breastfeeding once or twice per day or more, even if they are going back to work full time.
Breastfeeding an older baby is very different than breastfeeding a newborn. Often, many day-to-day things are intertwined with breastfeeding, including nap time, meal time, the need for magical nursing sessions to cure any problem/injury/injustice and even just chilling out and snuggling. Many moms don’t know that they can absolutely continue to breastfeed, even if they also want to make sure that baby can drink from a bottle/cup/straw so they can go to daycare, still have naps and have a way to get liquids when their usual source is at work.
1. FIGURE OUT YOUR PERFECT PLAN
What would your perfect scenario be for nursing/pumping/bottle/cup/weaning be?
There are many ways to continue breastfeeding even if you are going back to work full time. Many people breastfeed just first thing in the morning, right when they pick up baby or get home, or at bedtime. Some babies will nurse once overnight or early morning instead, and some will do any combination of these. Whatever works, what do YOU want to do?
2. DON’T PANIC!
Many breastfeeders think that they have to plan for MONTHS ahead of time for their return to work at a year, but many people need almost no drastic changes ahead of time. I usually say about 4-6 weeks is enough time for most plans, even if you want to drastically reduce the number of nursing sessions that you do per day.
Many people just continue to nurse as usual right up until the first day of daycare/return to work, and they may just have had their baby practice with a cup/bottle ahead of time so they know that their baby can take liquids in another way. Recommendations say that a child at a year doesn’t necessarily need replacement ‘MILK’ (pumped/cow/ formula etc) as long as they are breastfeeding two or more times per day. Water and food can be enough during the day, and baby can nurse and make up for it when you’re together again….. get ready to be tackled!!
3. BE READY TO PUMP OR EXPRESS IF NEEDED.
Sometimes moms are told that if they pump they will increase their milk supply (which can be helpful if needed see blog HERE. )…. If you are stopping, reducing or skipping a feed, then your body is still expecting that you will need that feed as usual and the milk will be ready. If you skip the feed then you may become very full and uncomfortable. Pumping or hand expressing just a little bit (not to empty the breast as much as usual) can be helpful and necessary to prevent painful engorgement and even mastitis. You’d still be removing less milk than usual, so you would still technically be weaning.
If you want to maintain your milk supply, or collect and provide expressed breastmilk for baby while you’re away, then you may want to pump once or twice for 10-15 minutes, and collect as much as you can. More pumping advice HERE.
4. TEACH BABY ANOTHER WAY TO FALL ASLEEP
If you nurse your baby to sleep, it can be very helpful to give them a chance to ALSO learn another way of falling asleep. I never stopped nursing to sleep whenever I was home, at bedtime or on weekends, but I made sure that during the few weeks before my return to work, my babes were able to practice being rocked, walked in a baby carrier, back rubbed etc to sleep.
If possible, ask your daycare provider what they are able to do for nap time, and what the usual routine is. Will they be willing to provide individual care? Rocking babies etc? Then have another member of your family give it a try a few times. At around 1 year, most babies are able to figure out that when mom is here they get to breastfeed, but when dad/partner/nana/friend/caregiver is here, I get the other way.
5. KNOW THAT IT WILL GET BETTER WITH TIME….
Everyone needs time to learn a new thing, practice a new way, and get used to a big change. Just like we can feel sad or nervous, babies will still have big feelings and nursing when we are with them can be a wonderful way to re-connect. Research shows that nursing even a couple of times per day can be very helpful for reducing illness during the transition to a new daycare situation, so it can really be worth it to keep it going if possible. Your body and your baby will adjust to the new routine.
If you need more help setting up a plan or want to discuss all the options for you and your situation, feel free to reach out for a chat, or schedule a ‘Return to Work’ consult with us. We’d love to help!