Returning to Work and Breastfeeding

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! This is truly one of my favourite weeks of the year – a time to celebrate moms world wide and their commitment to breastfeeding!

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week coordinated by WABA placed an emphasis on supporting women in combining work and breastfeeding – the right to claim her and baby’s right to breastfeed, regardless of the workplace setting. This is a topic commonly discussed with new moms, and is an issue that can be a significant source of stress and anxiety.

Benefits of long-term breastfeeding are well-known. For baby, breastfeeding provides the ideal nutrition for optimal growth and development (Innocenti Declaration, 1990). Prolonged duration of breastfeeding confers increased immune function and decreased prevalence of diseases like allergies, asthma, eczema and other atopy, in addition to lowering risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and being overweight or obese later in life. For mom, breastfeeding decreases chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer, improves bone density, lowers rates of obesity and improves maternal mental health outcomes. For these reasons, it is important to remember that returning to work does not mean that the breastfeeding relationship has to end.

Here are some helpful tips to sustain breastfeeding when returning to work:
  • Educate employers prior to heading back to work on the benefits of supporting your breastfeeding goals. Improved health outcomes associated with breastfeeding can result in fewer employee absences to care for sick babies, and reduced health care costs and turnover rates for employers. Higher job satisfaction and commitment to the company has also been reported in moms supported to maintain breastfeeding. Many employers are not aware of the number of women breastfeeding or the ways in which breastfeeding can optimize employee satisfaction and health.
  • Find a space at work to breastfeed or express milk. Spaces may include: small closets, offices or small rooms that have been converted for this use, or installing partitions or dividers in areas of larger rooms. Access to an electrical outlet is important.
  • Schedule time to express milk. Taking a break every three hours is ideal for mental health and work performance, but is also important for removing milk in order to establish or maintain supply. Milk expression needs and frequency may vary depending on the baby.
  • Though baby is by far the best pump, if baby is not present at work to feed, ensure that you are selecting an appropriate pump. A double, electric pump will help to save time by expressing milk from both breasts at the same time, whereas a single pump or manual pump may require a bit more time and effort. Hand expression can also be a good method of expressing milk that does not require electricity
  • Safe storage of milk is crucial. Encourage your employer to provide a small fridge (that is not shared with other employees and their food), or an insulated container with ice packs.
  • Discuss alternate options to returning to work full-time. Many employers are happy to discuss alternate return-to-work schedules that will meet the needs of everyone. Phasing back in, flex-time and a compressed work week may be options.
  • Do a trial run week before returning to work. Leaving baby at home while you go to work will help you to navigate potential challenges that may arise, while also helping to decrease stress and anxiety.
  • Acknowledge you and your baby’s right to breastfeed and choose the appropriate people (i.e. Human Resources) to help advocate for you
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Kristi Prince
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Dr. Kristi Prince, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who empowers her patients through health education, equipping them with the tools to make long-term sustainable changes. Kristi believes in supporting ‘healthy mothers for healthy families’ by providing holistic, individualized treatment plans. Dr. Kristi Prince is passionate about working with new mothers and women at all stages in life, in order to help them achieve their goals for optimal health and wellbeing.
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