Breastfeeding and Working: You Can Do It
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Breastfeeding and Working: You Can Do It

Breastfeeding is an excellent way to nourish and nurture your child. However, returning to work after your maternity leave ends can present obstacles to breastfeeding. Read on for tips about making a successful transition between returning to work and breastfeeding your baby.

Breastfed babies are healthier, on average, than their formula-fed counterparts. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes breastfeeding as the ideal method of feeding infants, and more women are choosing to breastfeed—approximately 70% in 2003. But more women are also returning to work outside the home during the first year after birth. This can create barriers to breastfeeding, and causes many women to stop nursing when they return to work.

Why Breastfeed After Returning to Work?

Scientific studies over the past few years have found evidence that breastfeeding decreases the risk of ear infections, diarrhea, and other illnesses in a child's first year. For these reasons, the AAP now recommends breastfeeding for the first year of a child's life.

Breastfeeding also benefits mom by reducing the risk of ovarian and breast cancers, relieving anxiety, speeding the return to pre-pregnancy weight, and possibly reducing the risk of ovarian and breast cancers. And since breastfed infants tend to be sick less often, working mothers who breastfeed avoid lost days at work. Finally, many mothers find breastfeeding convenient, since they avoid the preparation and expense that formula feeding requires.

According to Gale Pryor, author of Nursing Mother, Working Mother, two benefits of breastfeeding—particularly for working mothers—are that it helps maintain the mother-infant connection and helps boost a mom's confidence. A woman's confidence in herself as a mother and the bond with her infant may be vulnerable when she is separated from her infant for long periods of time.

While there are many ways to maintain the connection between mother and infant, breastfeeding ensures that the baby remains top priority, no matter what other pressures arise. It also increases a woman's confidence as a mother, since it serves as a tangible reminder that she is irreplaceable to the child. Given these benefits, why do many women stop breastfeeding when they return to work?

The Challenges

Work itself presents significant challenges to breastfeeding. In fact, University of Iowa professor Jennifer Glass noted in a recent interview, "Employment is the number one barrier to nursing."

There are several challenges you may encounter when you return to work as a breastfeeding mom. Working mothers who breastfeed usually have concerns about producing enough milk for their babies. Long work hours and stress can decrease their milk supply. In addition, working moms who breastfeed may be more fatigued and may need to plan their time more carefully than bottle-feeding moms.

Other challenges faced by breastfeeding moms at work include finding time and space to pump breast milk during a workday and lack of support at the workplace. How can you overcome these potential barriers and make a smooth transition to becoming a breastfeeding mom who works outside the home?

Making It Work

Linda Winslow, lactation consultant at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, feels that planning is one of the most important steps for overcoming the challenges of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work.

"l recommend that women try a dry run," says Winslow, "so they're not doing it cold turkey."

She suggests moms leave their infants with a child care provider for the same number of hours as a typical workday, to help plan their first day back to work. According to Winslow, other keys to success are the mother's commitment to breastfeeding, her ability to schedule her time, a supportive partner and family members, a supportive employer, and a day care provider who is supportive and educated about caring for a breastfed infant.

Here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace:

  • Talk to your employer—Work with your employer to create a workplace that is friendly toward breastfeeding. Try to find an advocate at your place of employment who is supportive of breastfeeding and can help you if any problems arise.
  • Maintain privacy—Ensure that you have a private space to pump, with an electrical outlet, a place to store milk, and facilities to rinse the pump parts.
  • Buy a good pump—You need an effective pump. For women separated from their babies for a full work-day, this often means a hospital-grade pump that will provide enough pressure and speed to reproduce the baby's sucking and stimulate continued milk supply over time.
  • Dress appropriately—Wear clothing that will hide any leakage and allow for easy pumping at work—avoid dresses, clingy, or transparent blouses. Use a hair clip to hold your blouse out of the way.
  • Pencil it in—Schedule pumping sessions in your date book as you would a meeting.
  • Fuel your body—Drink water often while at work. Remember to eat well.
  • Take it easy—The first two weeks after returning to work are often the most tiring. Cut back on other activities during that time. Get as much help with household chores as possible.
  • Talk to friends—Find other moms who have successfully breastfed while working and enlist their support.
  • Ask the expert—Keep the telephone number of a lactation consultant handy in case problems arise.
  • Nurse whenever you can—If you decide to supplement with formula, nurse frequently when you are with your baby to maintain your milk supply.

Remember, the period of time that you will be a working nursing mother is relatively short. Take it one day at a time.

Don't let anyone tell you that breastfeeding and working outside the home are mutually exclusive. With careful planning and forethought, you can break through all the barriers that hinder your ability to do a good job at work and be a nursing mom.


Le Leche League International

National Women's Health Information Center website


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


Breastfeeding. National Women's Health Information Center website.

Last reviewed January 2008 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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