When I found I was pregnant with Sander I knew I had some decisions to
make. What sort of work could I do that would allow me adequate time with
my child and yet provide me with an income relative to my needs? I quickly
decided to attend a teacher training course to teach at secondary school. Deciding on which course to attend was dependant on the institute that would
support me with my newborn. Auckland University allowed me to take my
newborn (five week old) to all classes and lectures. It was, overall, a very
I wasn’t comfortable breastfeeding in the class with my peers so I simply left
and sat in an empty room. I was worried that perhaps the stress of the
environment coupled with the impact of being a new mother might affect my
breastfeeding but my worries were never realised. However I did feed Sander
from one breast for the 20 months that I nursed him. He had completely
rejected the left breast from about his second week of life. Fortunately, as I
found out, one is as good as two and surprisingly no one ever noticed a
lopsided look. But who would be looking anyway!
When Sander was six weeks old I was on section (teaching placement). I had
arranged to go to the local school three minutes up the road and I informed
them of my needs regarding breastfeeding. I was able to slip home to feed
Sander and go home during any free periods. During this time my husband
was able to juggle his timetable to look after the baby while I was at school. I
expressed milk for this short period of five weeks. I had had a Caesarean and
I was still feeling fragile so the demands of expressing were an added
difficulty. However the time passed quickly and Sander seemed as keen to fit
in with me as I was to fit in around him. A darling boy. When I returned to
university Sander was able to stay with me through classes.
During this entire experience (which many of my peers thought was an insane
undertaking) breastfeeding Sander and having him share the bed at night with
my husband and I were the elements which provided relaxation and a fluid
sense of well being. These were moments of quiet and respite. I
completed the course and started as a teacher of 13 to 18 year olds the
following year when Sander was eight months old. Once again I feared that
this disruption to our lives would affect our breastfeeding routine. Our routine
did change but it was an adjustment that worked perfectly. I would feed
Sander first thing in the morning and as soon as I got home. Then we followed
the usual routine for evening and through the night. He fed every one and a
half to two hours at night until he was past the age of one year. Again my
friends expressed dismay at my way of doing things but it worked well for us.
It was in keeping with my ideals of parenting, our nursing relationship was
strong and my sense of our bond growing and strengthening was affirmed.
I found my breastfeeding relationship with my son to be the most important
factor in ensuring a smooth transition to work and sense of strong family in the
home in those early days. I was glad that I didn’t need to express for an
extended period and that my son as readily accepted a bottle while I was at
work and my breast when I was at home. I believe this was due to the six
months of full breastfeeding while I was able to take him with me.
In a few weeks I’m expecting my second child and I am anticipating an equally
rewarding breastfeeding relationship. I have six months leave before returning
to work. Once more I have made that all important contact with La Leche
League because support by women who are non judgemental and wish only
to see a mother build the best possible bond with her child is invaluable. My
experience with my La Leche League Leader Alison Stanton was fundamental
in providing me with the information and knowledge that everything is possible
to overcome the hiccups a new mother encounters.
Catherine Hutton, HowickPakuranga
Originally published in Aroha July/August 2003, Volume 5 Issue 4
In April 2008, while reading my local newspaper, I saw the ad that would signal a change in direction for my life, and take me on a journey through New Zealand’s legislation around birth and child rearing.
It was an advert for a position at an Auckland City Council Community Library in Onehunga. It was on the days my husband, Andrew, had off work, which eliminated the childcare question. I was looking for a change, and this job seemed to fit the bill. I could utilise my past retail experience, but explore a different environment in which to enjoy helping people. It was perfect.
I was hired for the position of Library Assistant, working Fridays and Saturdays, and loved it from day one. My oldest boy Matthew was at school, my second boy Aidan was in kindergarten, and my youngest, Fiona, aged about 19 months, stayed at home with my husband Andrew. I knew my young daughter was happy and secure, and on Saturdays all the children got to spend time with their Dad. I enjoyed having time to myself, and relished the return to a customer service role without feeling I had to sell anything. I enjoyed myself so much I almost felt like a fraud collecting my pay check!
Not long after starting my new job, I found out I was pregnant with baby number four. I kept it under wraps for the first three months, and then decided it was time to fess up. Everyone, including my boss, was delighted. I intended to return to my job I loved so much, and would utilise recently legislated parental leave and breastfeeding breaks.
My pregnancy progressed well, and I enjoyed my colleague’s interest in how things were going. I continued to enjoy my job, although in the latter stages of pregnancy, things like shelving books on lower shelves proved to be difficult!
I put in all my paperwork in a timely manner, and at the end of January, with one week until my due date, I commenced my 14 weeks paid parental leave. As I had been at my job for more than six months, but less than twelve, I was legally entitled to 14 weeks paid leave, but that was all. I was fortunate that the Auckland City Council provides above the legal requirement, and could apply for to up to eight months extended leave. I chose to take the 14 weeks paid leave, with a few extra weeks, which would mean my baby would be four months old when I returned to work.
On Monday 9 February, my waters broke but no contractions were forthcoming, and I knew how this would pan out – the same had happened with the boys, and so I knew we were heading for a synto/epidural combo. I was right, and I headed into Auckland City Hospital that evening. Our gorgeous boy Joel was born early the next morning.
Joel’s early days were somewhat fraught. He had difficulty breastfeeding, and was failing to gain weight. Joel would latch, but not work hard enough to get any milk beyond the initial let down – which was keeping him hydrated, but not full and content. We pulled out all the stops – pumping, (and luckily then-two-year-old Fiona was still breastfeeding, and able to help keep the supply up) a supplemental nursing system (SNS), cranial osteopathy, a visit from a lactation consultant and constant and much valued support from an LLL Leader.
We emerged from all the problems at about six weeks, at which point Joel returned to feeding exclusively at the breast. I felt a bit sad that Joel’s newborn days were just a blur, and I hadn’t had the chance to really enjoy him, and soon it would be time to start thinking about returning to work.
Initially I had thought it would be easy to just go back to work and leave Joel with Andrew. After all, I had done it seven years ago with Matthew. But at six weeks Joel was following me with his eyes, didn’t like me out of his sight. Our breastfeeding hurdles had drawn us close together, and neither of us was ready to be parted for six hours at a time.
Enter Rachael, Community Librarian.
Whilst I was on parental leave, my manager left, and Rachael replaced her. I hadn’t met Rachael yet, but knew I had to talk to her about how we were going to deal with my return to work. I took a deep breath and sent her an email about how I was struggling to cope with the idea of me and Joel being separated for so long, and offered some suggestions as to how we could ease my transition back into work with minimum impact on everyone else in the workplace.
Another legislative change that had recently occurred was that relating to flexible work for people with dependents, and so Rachael suggested to me that we utilise the Auckland City Council’s flexible work policy. What was agreed was that for the first three months of my return, I would only work three hours each day, and the employee who had been on the temporary contract covering my parental leave would take up the remaining hours. I was thrilled!
This worked really well, and Joel coped with it fine. I would pump some milk in the morning, and because human milk is a living substance, I didn’t need to even refrigerate it for that short time, meaning if Andrew needed to give it to him, it would warm faster.
Three months came and went, and it was time to move back to my regular hours. And time to utilise another piece of legislation, this time relating to breastfeeding breaks. Rachael and Leeda, Duty Manager on Saturdays, agreed to me having fifteen minute paid time added to my lunch breaks in which I could pump milk. This is over and above the legislative requirements, and was a great relief. It meant I didn’t have to rush my lunch breaks, especially if I had errands to run, and so was relaxed and able to pump plenty of milk to take home. I had a clean and comfy room (a spare office) to use, and I made a little sign to let people know what I was up to in there. My co-workers were understanding and good humoured about my pumping regime.
After I returned from the Christmas break, as Joel approached his first birthday, I signalled that I no longer needed the pumping break. I also had by this time secured another job in a school library that suited my family life better than the community library did, so with some reluctance, I handed in my notice.
I will always be grateful for the understanding and support I received over this time. Firstly, for the Auckland City Council for having these family friendly policies in place and secondly, for Rachael and Leeda for providing me with support in practice by way of flexible work arrangements and pumping breaks. I didn’t only feel supported in being able to breastfeed and work, but felt that there was an understanding of Joel’s and my need to be together more than I had initially planned – and this was never treated as if it were an inconvenience or a problem, but rather that it was perfectly normal and reasonable.
I wanted to give the team at the library something relevant upon my departure, and so decided to get some of the international breastfeeding symbol signs to put up in the library.
I know for a fact that the Onehunga Community Library has always been breastfeeding friendly for patrons, but now I also know that it is breastfeeding friendly for employees, too.
By Donna Henderson, Auckland Central
Aroha | March – April 2010 | Volume 12 | Issue 2
“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.
While I was growing up, and during my pregnancy with my first child, Finn, now three and a half, I always thought I would work outside the home as well as having my children. I believed: it would provide ‘a healthy balance’ for me to work part time, that it was important to share in the bringing in of income into the household, that I would avoid the ‘trap of female dependence’ (I’d read a lot of Simone de Beauvoir and other feminist writers), and that it was important to keep my mind active.
I was entitled to one year’s maternity leave, and left work one month before Finn was due. I had discussed the possibility that I might return to work 10 to 18 hours a week. I loved my job, and the people at work were fantastic, encouraging me to leave it open and decide after Finn was born what would work.
Finn’s birth, attended by his father, Loren, my oldest friend, Cilla, and our midwife Yvette, was a truly sacred experience. Cilla’s six week old baby, my godson Ngaru, called Finn out into the world, and the six of us shared that awe, wonder, intimacy and intense physicality of welcoming a new baby. My heart opened so wide! Finn shared our bed, breastfed, lit up our sleep deprived lives.
Somehow when Finn was still tiny, I negotiated that I would return to work 10 hours a week from the time he was six months old. My mother would be Finn’s caregiver. She was going to move back to New Zealand from Scotland to be with Finn while I worked. I had it all planned!
When Finn was three weeks old, a Plunket nurse visited and reduced me to tears, telling me: he was old enough now to be left to cry for up to 15 minutes, he should be sleeping in another room, and if I didn’t keep picking him up every time he cried, he’d soon be off to sleep. She said the only reason I wasn’t letting him cry to sleep was that I lacked confidence.
I’d read The Continuum Concept by J. Liedloff long before I had my children and it made sense to me, but I felt vulnerable and distressed by this home visit, and quickly rang old friends for support. Debbie and Cilla told me to trust myself and that no one knew my baby better than me. A while later, everyone
in my antenatal group was having issues with their babies’ sleep. I wasn’t concerned about Finn’s sleep – he just snuggled into me and had his mother’s milk when he wanted to and we both slept fine but
he was rolling now, and I was worried about leaving him in our bed for a daytime sleep – Debbie
suggested I contact La Leche League.
I started going to meetings at Christchurch West Group, and I am hugely grateful to the Leaders, Anne Isbister and Faith Alexander and to the other women in that Group, not only for having lots of experience and helpful suggestions about cosleeping, but for being with me and for me while I was
tussling with what to do about going back to work.
I couldn’t leave Finn. He’d never seen or touched a bottle. At about five months I’d tried expressing and giving him my milk in a bottle. Wise baby. He would play with the bottle but wouldn’t drink from it. I can remember breastfeeding him to sleep on a mattress he had been playing on, on the living room floor, and saying to myself, “I can’t leave him!” There wasn’t a same time he slept every day, it was different from day to day, and he breastfed to sleep (another thing the Plunket nurse had told me was a real nono).
I couldn’t see how I could do it but more importantly, I didn’t want to. I worked through my concerns about letting them down at work after they had bent over backwards for me, and about my mother having set aside six months of her life to be there for Finn, and booked her tickets which were nonrefundable, and about our family income, and my future prospects in the career world. It all finally came down to me wanting to be with my baby, me wanting to be with him. And my partner Loren wanted that too. I can still remember us doing arithmetic and budgets and working out together what it
would mean, how we could do it. My LLL Group was alongside me throughout. Within the next few months, after not going back to work, Finn had chickenpox, infant measles, impetigo,
surgery for a perianal fistula and developed eczema. Working first with orthodox medicine and then with a naturopath and an anthroposophical doctor we had a 24 hour regime of care for him. Many times a day we administered drops, ointments, things to take with his food. I ate no wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts or tomatoes. We worked on his acupressure points and did other treatments. It was a fulltime
We started Playcentre when Finn was 14 months old. He loved it right away and still does. Our Playcentre whanau has given tremendous support to our family and we’ve seen Finn grow from a very
attached baby and toddler into the independent and self assured (and still very attached) three and a half year old he is now.
When Finn was 16 months old, Lila was born at home with the same awesome team and Julie and Rose, our midwives, as well as Finn and Grannie (my mum) and our friend Cathra. Cradling my tiny wet daughter in the birthing pool and seeing Finn’s look of wonder, my heart was full to bursting. Finn and Lila exchanged a look, of recognition, I thought, and then Finn wanted to show his baby sister how to breastfeed, and hold her little hand. I remember my astonishment when Finn went from breastfeeding about three times a day and not at night, to feeding all day and all night at every opportunity like
his newborn sister. Loren was an amazing support, especially at night. He would bring me whichever child needed their “num nums”, and hold and cuddle the other, settling that child with him. Again, the support of my LLL Group helped get me through. Our current Leaders, Linda Dockrill and Susan Proctor, devoted a whole meeting to looking at how I might wean Finn to one less feed a day, helping me chart each time he breastfed, and suggesting alternatives I might try. Sometimes I was feeding Finn
because I just wasn’t able to put in place all the other things that he needed as well as meeting Lila’s needs.
Thank you Linda and Susan for your encouragement and care that helped me find my way. I am still tandem feeding, and can’t believe Finn is having “num nums” only every other night at bedtime. This was his idea when we were talking about how he is growing up and someday he won’t have “num nums” anymore. He decides and we mark it on a calendar for a week or so ahead whether it’s a “num nums” night or not a “num nums” night. He checks his calendar and proudly lets us know what’s happening that night. Lila is still having lots of “num nums” in the day and in the night, and I am so much more relaxed with her as I realise that she will let me know when she is ready for her next step. I am really loving my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter.
It is all so worth it! Being at home and out in the community, at Playcentre and other places with my children means I am there with them in all or most of their experiences. I know what they are talking about when no one else does, and what they are remembering because I was there with them. I am rewarded by events such as: coming home from a busy morning at Playcentre and going to bed in the middle of a Finn and Lila ‘sandwich’ (with a few extra “num nums” to keep them sleeping); stopping what I am doing to help make a hut or build blocks or read a story or play in the sandpit. For a time, I was doing nothing much else except being with them, seeing them roll, crawl, walk, learn to eat solid food eventually after playing with it for a long time. Yes the laundry did somehow get done and sometimes meals on the table too, though we share with Christie Means (Aroha Vol 5 no 2 – March/April 2003) the fish and chip solution. Articles, such as Christie’s, in Aroha have been uplifting, inspiring and also very practical support for me over this last year when it hasn’t been easy to get to meetings.
I am grateful to be able to live life to our timetable, to know (or at least have an intuition or instinct) when tiredness, hunger, teething or getting sick affects my children’s behaviour; and how to comfort them. I am able to support their development at their own pace, knowing it is right for me to be with my
children, right here, right now. And what of my development? I have learnt not to blame the children for what they do, not to get angry with them when I get hurt. The list goes on and on. Sometimes it seems hard, especially when I’m very tired, and I imagine walking out the door in the morning dressed beautifully and spending a day achieving something tangible. But I am sure deep down that this may be the most important work I will ever do, together with my partner; the raising of these two human beings to be all they can be, and along the way to strive to be all I can be.
By Robyn Madden, Christchurch West
Originally printed in Aroha, March April, 2004