“I have a new baby and am planning to return to work at 14 weeks while my partner, Dave, stays at home with our son, James. I will be working three full days to start with and be away from home for nine hours each day. I want to keep breastfeeding but I am unsure if I will be able to express enough milk to leave at home and how Dave will manage if James is unsettled and I’m not there to breastfeed. My manager has said that I can have breastfeeding breaks at work and she is trying to make it a breastfeeding friendly place. How have other families managed the first few months of mum returning to work with a baby who is breastfed?”
Melissa Paul, Hamilton – I too returned to work for 20 hours per week when my baby was the same age, leaving bubs with her Nan. Honestly, I found it tough having to find the time in my work day to express, but SO worth it! Could Dave bring James to you for some feeds? (My baby was far too unpredictable for this). I hired a double, hospital grade pump which was fantastic and greatly reduced expressing time. I also stocked up the freezer before I went back to work and expressed on days I wasn’t working so I didn’t have to worry our girl would go hungry. Organisation is the key and remember to allow time to sterilise etc. Expressing can take a bit to get used to (looking at a pic of James may help). Dave will cope and find other ways of settling James and I’m sure they’ll have a close bond as a result. Also be prepared that bubs may reverse cycle, which for us meant feeding two hourly at night after previously sleeping through. Good luck!
Anna Marburg, Christchurch – I too returned to paid work three days a week after 14 weeks maternity leave. My partner stayed home two days a week and my daughter, Evelyn, went to day care one day a week. I’m very glad that I was able to continue breastfeeding my daughter – it helped me feel connected to her even when I was away at work. The long nursing session as soon as I walk in the door is a nice way to shift gears between work and home. As an added bonus, she seems to be sick less often than other kids at day care (touch wood!).
I’m also glad my partner got an opportunity to stay home with our daughter when she was small. Days home with me had a very different rhythm to “dad days” but she enjoyed and, I think, benefitted from both. I know we both enjoyed (most days) having the time with her. How will your partner manage a fussy baby when you’re not around to nurse? Be it long walks in the pram, cuddling James close and humming with that soothing deep male rumble, or a quick trip outside to listen to the wind in the trees, Dave will find his own way. It’s natural to be apprehensive in advance of a major transition, but in the end we all develop our own parenting style. My partner and I did some “practice” days before I started back. Turned out I needed more practice letting go than my partner needed practice being in charge!
As far as the practicalities go, I found the book Nursing Mother, Working Mother by Gale Pryor to be very helpful. In my experience, the key to expressing enough milk is to relax, and just commit to being there as long as it takes. When you first start back, it feels like you are always interrupting yourself to go pump – but trying to hurry and thinking about the clock just made it hard to get a good let down. Small things also make a big difference – turning on the heater in my ‘lactation lounge’ was good for another 10 mls. I used a plain lunch bag with a reusable ice-pack to store my milk in the tea room fridge. In my nosy and very frank office, no-one said a thing. I also found that microwave steriliser bags sold by a breast pump company to be very useful – no need to fuss with a bottle brush in the tea room or lay pump parts out to dry in a shared office – and at 20 uses per bag, reasonable value for money. A terry bag made out of an old hand towel was an easy way to keep clean pump parts separate from the other essentials in my pumping bag (hand soap, a water bottle for me, spare batteries, grease pencil for labelling bottles). Best of luck.
Aaron Marburg, Christchurch – Here’s the dad’s perspective:
We were quite lucky as our little girl was eager to drink from anything that had warm milk in it. Before Anna returned to work we had a few practice “dad days” where I would try doing the feeds and Anna could get used to pumping. It didn’t take long for us to develop our own routines, and having dad days certainly let me develop my own parenting style. Give yourself a bit of time to warm up the bottle, and find a comfortable position for the feed. Often I would sit on the floor and prop Evelyn up on my knees, facing me. Once she was big enough to hold the bottle on her own we could feed just about anywhere – on my lap in a cafe or even in the pram.
The hardest part was managing the milk inventory. On average we would drink a little less than Anna was pumping each day, but sometimes it would be more. You always have to keep an eye on how old the milk in the fridge might be, and be ready to freeze, or to thaw as needs be, particularly early on when milk is the only available food. Being able to manage the milk inventory was a real help when we transitioned to a carer, and then to a crèche. Thawing milk is just one more thing you don’t have time to do when getting ready for work in the morning. Other than that, get used to washing bottles.
Averil Sheehan, Palmerston North – A couple of things worked for us in a similar situation although Clare was nearly six months old. I started expressing milk daily prior to returning to work to build up a supply in the freezer. This was a back-up for days when I may not have been able to express as much or for the odd accident when spills happened. Initially I expressed twice during the day at work. John was able to bring Clare to work for a close to lunch time feed. In the first few weeks this was sometimes earlier than planned as Clare had got unsettled. She would always settle well after this and have a sleep. This lunch time feed encouraged by my La Leche League Leader was the best thing for all of us. In the afternoon, John would usually bath Clare if she was unsettled and it was close to me arriving home. She took a couple of anxious days to take the bottle so a spoon had to suffice initially. I didn’t think it would be possible but many people still remember Clare’s daily visits, 22 years on! Be prepared to feed last thing before going to work and first thing on return. It will be tiring but it is possible, Clare continued her lunch time breastfeeds at work up until 18 months, and I reduced the expressing to just once a day at work from about eight months. Talk to your colleagues so they know what you are doing; their support is helpful though not everyone wants to know all the details.
Heather Kinnell, Hibiscus Coast – I returned to work when my son William was three months old. Luckily I work close to home and I was able to arrange with my employer to work afternoon shifts, from 1pm to 6pm, so my husband could look after William once he had finished work. My employer allowed me to have flexible break times; whenever I needed to breastfeed was the time I could have my break. In the early days, I would feed William just before I left to go to work. At about 3:30 my husband would bring William up to work for a feed. When I got home just after 6pm, William was always starving and as soon as I got in the door it was feed time. It was pretty rough for the first few weeks. We had to get William a dummy for times when he got upset while I was away. And there were days when he was so distracted by all the lights and machines at work that he didn’t have a full feed. I knew on those days that he wouldn’t last until I got home. I would warn my husband that William was probably going to get hungry, and if he started getting upset my husband would put him in the pram and they would walk up to meet me as I was finishing work. William would have a feed and we’d walk home. It didn’t take William long to figure out that when Dadda put him in the pram, he was going to see Mum-mum and get milkies, so he was never upset for long. This second trip up to work became unnecessary once William was on solids; so long as he had a bread crust to chew, he was happy until I got home. Today, William is almost two and coming to visit Mum-mum at work is part of his routine. My husband tells me when it gets to 3:30 or 4 o’clock William will stand on the doorstep and say “Mum-mum milkies snack”, and off they’ll go on their afternoon walk.