No matter how long your maternity leave was, maybe the weeks seemed even like a lot (or not) before you started, but then you certainly get to the end of this time and face the harsh reality. You’re still exhausted, your baby is still very small, and you probably don’t feel like leaving your baby with someone else. But what about breastfeeding? Although all official organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, it seems that governments in many countries have not taken note of that. And notably, in the United States, there is no mandatory paid maternity leave at all, and you are lucky if your employer is generous and gives you some time off. And in some cases, you can simply not afford to stay out of work.
On this basis and knowing that it’s all a very complicated issue, the only option left is to plan all the details when it comes to organizing your return to (paid) work.
Preparing for the big day:
Many mothers feel the need to prepare their babies for the inevitable separation that is approaching. So sometimes, days or a week before going back to work, they start to replace feeds at the breast with bottle feeds, either with their own pumped breastmilk or with formula milk, to get the baby used to the new situation and to the new feeding method.
But what might sound like a good idea is not very helpful because you only bring forward the moment of stress of separation. Exclusively breastfed babies usually refuse these feeds in any method other than the breast, which makes the mother even more worried. If you want to prepare for that difficult day to come, it is better to focus on other more practical things:
- Get familiar with your breast pump and decide which storage and freezer containers to use.
- Prepare the supplementing methods, ideally more than one, that you want to leave with your baby’s caregiver in your absence.
- Prepare a small breastmilk stash “for emergencies,” In case the milk may spill one day, you might forget your pumped milk at work, or the baby might be hungrier than usual.
- Get a cooling bag to transport breastmilk with its corresponding cooling elements.
Although it may seem impossible to you at first, most breastfeeding mothers manage to return to work and maintain breastfeeding. Each mother should consider her own needs and those of her baby by taking into account three basic criteria: your baby’s age, who your baby will stay with, and how many hours you will be separated.
1. The baby’s age
Babies less than four months old must only be fed milk. Even so, if your baby has never had formula milk before and you want to avoid introducing it at this time, and if it is not possible for your baby to have breast milk for a few hours from 5 months onwards, you can try giving one (single) feed of complementary solid food per day. From 6 months onwards, they can already eat food while the mother is away, together with expressed breast milk.
One issue that breastfeeding mothers often worry about is how much milk the baby will need, but the truth is that there is only one person who knows exactly how much it will be: the baby. They will determine in a few days how much expressed breast milk they need. However, as a guideline, we recommend leaving small amounts of milk 50-75ml (1.5-2.5 oz), and you will see in the first few days how much your baby needs. Some babies decide to wait for their mother and do not feed in her absence, and others happily have everything offered to them.
2. Who are they going to stay with
Whether your baby will attend a nursery or daycare facility or stay with a partner or family member, your baby can continue to have your own breast milk. Nurseries and daycare centers should facilitate storage for your pumped milk and guarantee that it is given to your baby, so you can continue breastfeeding for as long as you both want to. Usually, milk is given to babies in a bottle. If this is the case, you should try to find a slow-flow teat and remind caregivers that the bottle is given to the baby very slowly so that they can regulate their intake, just as they would at the breast.
If your baby is staying at home with someone, there are more supplementing options that are less likely to cause nipple-teat confusion, such as cup, syringe-finger, and spoon feeding. Each baby and each caregiver should find the method that works best for them.
3. How many hours will you be separated
It is not the same to be four hours away from your baby as 12, so it is important to calculate the number of hours you will be apart, as this will allow you to better judge the amount of milk you will need. Although breastfeeding is on demand, your baby will ask for food approximately every 2-3 hours; this is how you can calculate how many feeds your baby will need in your absence. But also keep in mind that babies can take very different amounts of milk: 50ml (1.5 oz) per feed, 75ml (2.5 oz), 150ml (5 oz), or nothing. So, it is always better to keep frozen milk and test it to see how much milk is needed each day.
Maintaining breastfeeding is not easy, but it is almost always possible, and when a mother wants, she can cope with almost anything.
There is an entire section in the LactApp app about the return to work, including the possibility of preparing a personalized plan for your own case. You can download it for free on your iPhone or Android mobile.