Returning to work while breastfeeding

Returning to work while breastfeeding

Moms are often anxious when their maternity leave is nearing its end whether they are breastfeeding or not. If they are breastfeeding, it adds another layer of concern: what will happen to our nursing relationship? Do I need to pump? How will my baby respond to me not being there to nurse? Will my baby willingly take pumped milk from a cup? Will they eat enough solids? These are just some of the questions moms ask themselves and worry about when they are preparing to return to work outside the home.

The early days of breastfeeding. My son is 2 months old here and I was already back to work because I am self-employed. Working from home and having flexible hours definitely helped continue breastfeeding but it is still possible if you are returning to work outside the home.

A good resource for moms facing this scenario is the La Leche League: it’s reassuring to speak to other moms who have been there (and as you’ll read below, it was a resource one mom tapped into). With that in mind, I’ve asked two moms what their experience was. One mom returned to work when her little one was a few month old, and the other returned to work outside the home after a year. Their experiences provide some insight on how to make your breastfeeding relationship continue to work even if you aren’t with your little all the time.

Mama #1:

I went back to work part-time when my little was 7 months old, opening my own business. Before this I was working from home seeing clients and taking my babe with me (starting at about 6 weeks postpartum, very part time). At 7 months I had arranged for my little to be watched by her grandparents Monday afternoons, her daddy Wednesday afternoons, and her Aunty Friday afternoons anticipating working from 2-6. Being she was a little older I wasn’t too worried about pumping for a 2-6 time frame but before I knew it I was booking clients from 11-6 or earlier and I was taking my pump to work. I was able to keep up pumping 2-4 times a day from 7.5/8 months to 1 year with no leaking. My little was fine with other people taking breastmilk from a cup and eating some solid foods. We started daycare full time when she was 9.5 months old and she did so great. Having her be able to play with other kids was awesome for her and for me. I continued to nurse her in the morning before work and when I came home. I also decided to continue co-sleeping so we could all get better rest and she could nurse through the night without much disturbance. My girl is now 2.5 and we have continued nursing until the past week or two – being pregnant has lead to some serious nursing aversion for me and my daughter still asks on occasion but we decide to snuggle instead so mommy can work on growing a healthy baby.

A lot of the time I found people would tell me ‘you’re back at work so you’re not nursing anymore then right?’. Well no actually, I don’t see any reason to stop nursing (unless you want to) when returning to work because your supply is determined by demand by this point anyways. If you don’t nurse as much your body quickly responds and there is less chance of leaking (unlike earlier when it’s hormonally driven and you just leak everywhere all the time). If cows can be milked twice a day, why can’t I decide to nurse twice a day on work days and more frequently on weekends? It worked for us; now it won’t work for everyone, and that’s ok. But there’s no reason to stop nursing just because you are going back to work.

I also believe that my identity, although I am now a mother, is also very firmly planted in who I am as a working individual and business owner as well. Does this mean this is right for everyone? No. But I also don’t think that going back to work makes me less of or a bad mother, in fact it makes me a better mother because I am doing something I love (which I am also very fortunate I get to do). I know staying home with my daughter would not be beneficial for our relationship at this point. I need something outside the home and sometimes people try to make me feel guilty about that. Is my house clean? Yup. When the house keeper comes once every two weeks (I can’t believe I waited almost 2.5 years to get this going for my family!). Is the laundry always done? At some point yes – is it put away? Not necessarily but it does get put away by the next time I do laundry. Do I make homemade pizza and pasta weekly? Nope. But we do make pancakes for supper because my little loves helping make pancakes. Going back to work away from my home was important to me, and we made it happen in a way that worked for our family. I kept nursing, we still did cloth diapers, and both baby and momma were/are happy. It makes me a better individual, mother and wife.

Mama #2:

I recall feeling so stressed about going back to work, especially when my little was 10 months old and still not filling up on solids (and refusing bottles of pumped milk). But I went to a LLL meeting and they reassured me that our relationship would stay strong, that he wouldn’t starve and that we could keep breastfeeding.

Some things I did:

  • got organized with meal planning and freezer meals;
  • matched nap and lunch times up to the daycare’s schedule;
  • started using the same blankie at every nap to establish a comfort object for use at daycare;
  • got his father to hold/rock him to sleep so he was used to someone else. (This usually happened when I was out of the house.);
  • had a conversation about household chores with my partner since I’d no longer be home to do the lion’s share;
  • made a transition plan with my daycare to ease my little in by increasing length of his visits over two weeks;
  • prepared and resigned myself to the possibility of reverse cycling (baby nursing lots at night to make up for missing mom all day);
  • planned to be connected as possible when reunited with my little (focused play, babywearing if I needed to cook, lots of snuggles and nursing);
  • I nurse him the moment we are reunited when I pick him up from daycare.

The first few weeks I hand expressed a few times during the day and saved the milk in the work fridge. I was sending it to daycare in sippy cups but he was refusing to drink it. So instead I froze and donated it. After a month my supply regulated and I no longer needed to express.

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As you can see from above, there are many ways you can keep your nursing relationship strong if you so choose. For more on breastfeeding and returning to work, watch my Facebook Live weekly mom chat on the topic:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UVx3x_A-04&w=560&h=315]

I’d love to hear about your experience: what impact did returning to work have on your breastfeeding relationship? Comment below or on my Facebook page.

The first of likely many big boo-boos

Our little guy loves our new driveway. We recently had all of our concrete done, and he loves to toddle back and forth, up and down the slope, often pushing his rake along, all the while chattering away.

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Tonight was no different, until he did a faceplant forward. It was awful. Screaming, blood, tears. My mom running to pick him up. Me running to the house to grab, I don’t know what. Ice. A wet cloth. Neither of which he really liked.

Thank god for boobs. Even without wiping off all the blood that was covering his mouth and face, he was eager to nurse and this eventually calmed him down. Stopped the crying, stopped the tears, as I sang “My Teddy Bear” and “Who Took the Cookie,” some of our latest favourite songs.

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My heart broke seeing him crying like that, and I know it’s just the first of many heartbreaks he and I will feel. Luckily I think there is just a fat lip and some scrapes. I know it could have been worse and I might seem a bit dramatic but man that was a lot of blood.

As he calmed down and the cries softened to whimpers and then disappeared completely, I had two thoughts: 1) Yay for boobs! 2) please don’t ever want to fight in the UFC or any other fight promotion. I admit I enjoy watching the fights but I’m not sure I could handle as a mom watching my boy get bloodied all the time. How the heck do moms watch their children fight or box?! Things you think of when your kid breaks his fall with his face. Things to further ponder next time I’m awake at 5 a.m.

This parenting gig is hard! And let’s be real: it’s even harder being a toddler. I can’t imagine how much it would hurt to fall from my height face first into concrete. I will likely take a moment later in the tub to cry about it and then make sure tonight we have lots of cuddles and ice cream if he’ll eat it. Maybe for Mommy, too, to go with the wine.

Doula at heart

There is actual evidence doulas improve birth outcomes.

Rather than bore you with statistics, though, here’s my personal story and review of what a difference having a doula made at our birth. I can’t say enough about how important, empowering, and wonderful it is for women to have doulas at their births.

When I first met Karen, we talked for almost two hours. It was as if I’d always known her. Sometimes you are blessed to meet people with whom you just click, and I felt that with Karen.

I was determined and truly believed my body was capable of a natural birth. Even though my contractions started nearly four weeks before my EDD, I never panicked, and that was in part because Karen was there. She calmly sat with me at my home and talked me through each wave. She continued this support at the hospital. When I felt I just couldn’t handle it, she grounded me and encouraged me that yes, I could do this. And I did.

Karen was excellent at relaying my wishes to hospital staff who seemed to truly respect her, which I think is key to a positive experience in the hospital. I also believe she helped my husband stay calm during labour and delivery, which meant he could encourage and support me.

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Karen visiting Cub when he was two weeks old.

Karen found me breastfeeding support as well as housekeeping after our baby was born. She visited us numerous times during our four – day hospital stay. She also visited us once we were home and helped around the house. She recounted the birth with us so we could document our birth story, something we will cherish for years to come. She went above and beyond what I expected of a doula.

I would recommend Karen to anyone having a baby. She will arm you with the knowledge and support you need to have an amazing birth, however you choose to do it.

I should also add I had two other amazing doulas, Carmen and Dionne. Carmen armed me and my husband with a lot of knowledge to prepare us for the birth. She also connected me with a great prenatal massage therapist, and I loved my prenatal pilates class with her: I met one of my best friends there.

An amazing friend, Dionne regularly sent me articles about labour, birth, and babies. She had also offered her home as a place to labour had my labour gone on longer than it had, and she was going to hold a blessingway for me, but early baby thwarted those plans! Dionne also gifted me sessions with a lactation consultant who visited me at home to help with breastfeeding. She responded to regular text messages, and continues to do so, when I’m struggling with breastfeeding.

My baby is no less perfect because he nurses at night

I didn’t want to do a post about sleep. I wanted to wait until my guy slept through the night and then I could reflect back on what had been instead of what is. I think I didn’t want to admit that no, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night. As if that’s somehow reflective on my parenting or on him as a person. It’s not, and I know that. But no one likes to open themselves up to judgement or vulnerability.

I had a lovely play date with a friend today and like many moms, we got talking about sleep. We’re obsessed with it, whether it’s our baby’s nighttime habits or their nap times, whether we had a “good” night and how much rest we are getting. It’s true: I’ve never thought about sleep as much as I do now that I have a baby. I didn’t give it any thought except when I was pregnant and couldn’t sleep because my hips hurt and I had to pee a zillion times. Truthfully, before I was pregnant, I never slept through the night. Ever. It’s not my thing (so you’d think I’d be used to it). I have always woken to pee or have a drink or try to get comfortable between two cats and a dog. (Oh, and funny side story: my mom used to tell me the reason they only had one child was because I was perfect, so they didn’t need another. Turns out this was half true. When I was older, she informed me that she didn’t get any sleep. The truth comes out…)

Anyway, back to the play date, which was so, so good for my soul. In addition to this mama and I talking about the nighttime cuddles our wee ones like, as she was leaving, she told me to keep blogging. So here I am!

And what I am is tired. Did I have a good sleep last night? Not really. Did I get a nap today? No, because my baby decided to only sleep while nursing or “nap boobin’,” if you will (a phrase I can’t take credit for but wish I could. It’s from The Milk Meg). Did I have a good sleep the night before or the night before that? Probably not. Most days I do get and need a nap, though. So do I accomplish much else aside from being a mom? No, but I’m ok with that. That’s still accomplishing a lot in my mind.

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Look how cute he is when he wakes from a nap!

Part of the reason I haven’t written explicitly about sleep is I don’t want advice. Trust me, I read a lot. I’ve heard or read it all, and a lot of it I didn’t want to see or hear. I don’t want to hear about self-soothing or crying it out or controlled crying or routines (I don’t think I even knew what “cry it out” was before I had a baby). I’m not going to leave my baby to cry because I believe in meeting his needs, whether it’s day or night, and babies and toddlers have more needs than just being fed, changed, and burped. I’ve read enough to know sleep is developmental. I’ve also read enough to know babies who nurse don’t just nurse for nutrition. I also know that babies who don’t nurse also don’t necessarily sleep through the night. I know that babies and toddlers wake for a variety of reasons, and that babies and toddlers are individuals, not robots, and will eventually sleep through the night on their own time, just like they each learn new skills on their own time.

And the other reason that I alluded to above is it makes me vulnerable admitting my baby doesn’t sleep through the night. Who likes to make themselves vulnerable? No one. But I like to be real, too, and I want other moms to know they’re not alone and that this is normal. Because it is. Night wakings are normal. Nighttime parenting is a thing. It’s real. (If your baby sleeps through the night, congratulations on your unicorn baby. Enjoy sleep. I hate you. Kind of, not really. Hate is a strong word.)

I’ve done and do the bed time routines. It doesn’t matter if we start that early or later, bed time is usually around the same time and the night is the same as it usually is: with a few wakings. Most of the time (with the exception of the last couple of weeks), I barely wake, I nurse, I roll over and go back to sleep, sometimes while still nursing. I don’t count how many times I wake, I don’t look at the clock to see how much time elapsed between wakings (unless it seems like a really LONG time, and then I might treat myself to a sneak peek). For whatever reason, I’m either waking more fully or more often these days.

All that said, we do have a routine. We have supper. Baby has a bath. I sneak away and have a glorious bath. We read books. We wave “night night” to Daddy and go upstairs. He points to what we need to do: close the door to the room and bathroom, close the curtains, turn on the fireplace. We get into bed and nurse. It’s all beautiful and serene (mostly, unless it seems like he’s switched boobs for the 76th time and then I start to feel like I’m going to scream or cry ‘Why won’t you sleep?!?!’ but eventually the sleep and serenity happens).

And after that, it seems like I wake and wake and wake. Because of this, I almost always go to bed when my baby does. I could stay up, but sleep wins. Sleep. Always. Wins.

I know this, too, shall pass. And it could be because of the cold he is fighting or the teeth he is popping or a new skill he is learning. I tell myself one day he won’t want to cuddle with me, and I will really miss those cuddles and the nursing. And I will – I know that I truly will miss the closeness and stillness. I’ve also read that as a parent, you’ll always be tired. That really sucks. I’m hoping one day for a pinch more sleep. Just a pinch, to prepare me for when he’s a teenager and I’m back to no longer sleeping because I’m awake, worrying about him.

In the mean time, please don’t ask me if my baby or toddler sleeps through the night as if this is something amazing to achieve, implying, ‘Why haven’t you achieved it?’ or ‘What are you doing wrong?’ Please don’t offer me advice unless I ask for it, and I promise I won’t ask for it. We’ll get there on our own time, we are doing nothing wrong, and my baby is no less perfect because he nurses or wakes in the night.

Why turning down a training opportunity made me sad

For the second time in as many months, I’ve had to turn down or postpone a training opportunity, and it made me kind of sad.

It might not be for the reason that you think, though.

Both involved long days over a weekend. One was near home, the other one involved travel. If I opted for the one involving travel, my husband and baby would both come with me. The travel part isn’t the issue.

The long days are kind of an issue. See, my son nurses to sleep, whether it’s for a nap or bedtime. If I’m around when he wakes from a nap, which I almost always am, he also nurses out of his nap.

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I don't feel tied down by this. I love the stillness.

I don’t feel tied down by this. I don’t see it as sacrifice. I see it as how I parent. It makes both me and my son happy. Some babies by his age (18 months) have self-weaned or have been weaned by their moms. He is nowhere near weaning himself. He nurses multiple times a day, and if I were to try and wean him (and why would I, when it works for us, and it clearly makes him happy), he would be so upset, and as a result, I would be so upset. There would be tears all around.

A friend once told me it was selfless that I had breastfed this long. I’ve often reflected on this: I take it as a great compliment. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no saint, and there are moments I’m frustrated and tired and wish I didn’t have to be the only one who can easily get him to sleep (this is usually when I’d like to be sleeping but he’s not quite ready!). But truthfully, 99% of the time I love it. I love the cuddles and stillness and our bond that has come from breastfeeding. I love that my guy can fall down (just a couple of) the stairs and nursing will make him feel better.

So I’m not sad that I can’t do the training now. There will be other opportunities. In fact, it made me think of one of the Sears’ books I read. The Attachment Parenting Book really resonated with me. At one point, Bill Sears said he made changes in his career so he could work from home to be with his growing, young family. He said it was what was best for everyone at the moment, and he was confident other opportunities would come along down the road when his children weren’t so young and they and his wife didn’t need him around as much. That’s pretty much how I feel!

No, what makes me sad is when I decided I would wait, I wasn’t sure who I could reach out to, who would really understand my emotions and decision. Don’t get me wrong: I am surrounded by many wonderful friends, moms and otherwise. However, almost all of them returned to work outside of the home after a year or sooner because their maternity leave was finished. In some cases, they never had a maternity leave because they are self-employed, so they, too, have returned to work. Many of these moms use day homes or daycares because in order to return to work, they have to. I’m only aware of one other mom in my circle who extended her maternity leave to stay home longer, and I think I only know one stay-at-home mom. Other friends don’t have children yet or their children are much older.

This isn’t me saying there’s anything wrong with the above scenarios. There isn’t. It just doesn’t describe us. Years ago, before we had our son but when we talked about starting a family, the plan all along was for me to have a job where I could work from home, part-time, especially while he was young. The plan was that when he was older and in school, I could take on more hours if I wanted. I hearkened back to my childhood: my mom was always around. Even once I was in school, she was the mom who drove everyone to field trips and sporting events. I walked or biked home to have lunch with her (and the Flintstones). That’s who I want to be now and later.

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My mom and me.

A few months ago, when I considered doing a weekend of training, a well-meaning friend told me that my son would adjust to my being away all day and during nap-time. I do believe this to be true: it’s well known that breastfed babies adjust when their moms aren’t around. Many moms continue breastfeeding after they return to work and their children are in daycare during the day. I’m the first to assure a mom of this fact if she’s returning to work and nervous: because a) it’s true and b) it’s what she wants to hear. But the thing is, I’m not returning to work outside of the home, there is no pressure to do anything (like career development) right this instant, and so, that isn’t what I want to hear. I admit to sometimes being overly sensitive, but the comment from my friend hurt – especially because I know she considers herself an attachment parent as well. The point all along has been that he and I don’t have to adjust to my being away for long periods of time. That’s why we have the arrangement that we do. In his own time, he will be ok with my being away for longer stretches, and in my own time, I will be ok with that, too. But right now, neither of us is ok with that. If it isn’t broken, why fix it?

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Snuggles are the best.

The funny/sad thing is I thought of emailing an author I reached out to a few months ago. I was so moved after I read her book, I sent her an email telling her so and was thrilled when she wrote back! A brush with celebrity, if you will. She mentioned she wasn’t ready to be away from her three and a half year old for 10 to 20 hour stretches yet, and that he wasn’t ready for that either. I thought to myself, she would totally understand! The stretches aren’t quite as long, and my son isn’t that old yet, but she would totally get it. I know from reading her facebook posts and articles that she nurses her son into and out of naps as well.

I don’t write this looking for sympathy. If I’m honest with myself, I could text one of my best friends this post right now (and probably will), and she will tell me I’m crazy to think she doesn’t empathize. I know all that. And I’m grateful for it. I partly write this so I can remember the moment and the feelings years from now when my toddler is a teen and this is all a distant memory.

I also write this for other moms and dads. We all make decisions that are best for our families, and as a result, they aren’t the same decisions as everyone else: and that’s obviously ok! Sometimes that can leave you feeling alone, but the reality is you aren’t alone. I know I’m not the only mom who parents through breastfeeding, just like you aren’t the only parent who returned to work when your baby was six months old, you aren’t the only mom whose child has a blast with his buddies at daycare, and you aren’t the only mom whose toddler will only eat bananas while watching YouTube videos.

Sometimes it’s just nice and reassuring to find other parents who do some things similarly to you because you know they’ll “get it.” And if they don’t do things the same as you, that they love and support you so that you can confidently keep doing your thing. It can be lonely or scary on a parenting journey, because you’re learning and feeling new things all the time, and knowing you’re not alone makes it just a little bit easier.

As for the training, it will happen all in time. Babies change and grow every day. We’ll both know when we’re ready for it.

 

 

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