For any new mum, deciding if or when to return to work can be a massive decision. I went back to work when my first baby, Zebediah, was seven months. My maternity leave flew by and before I knew it, I was thinking about all sorts of new things like daycare, flexible working hours, and whether or not I would continue to breastfeed.
I knew I wanted to try and keep breastfeeding when I went back to work. I had no idea how it would go, but I decided I would keep an open mind either way.
In this blog I'll share a few insights from my experience. Remember this is based on my experience and what worked for me and my baby - everyone is different and I'm a firm believer that you need to find what works for you. Talk to other mamas, your midwife, and lactation consultants to get as much information to support you on your journey.
1. Talking to your employer
I told my manager I planned to keep breastfeeding when I started back at work and she was really supportive. We talked about some of the logistics, like where I could go to pump privately, and where I could store my milk.
It was good to know I had the support of my workplace and the flexibility to express during the day.
2. Finding somewhere to pump
Working in an open plan office, I needed to find somewhere private to pump. My workplace had lots of meeting rooms but these weren't lockable from the inside and they had glass walls, so they weren't private.
There was also a women's changing room but this was often in use during the day, so wouldn't be suitable either.
My manager and I decided the boardroom would be the best option - it was private, lockable, and was often free during the day. If this wasn't available when I needed it, I'd use the changing room as a second option and hang a sign on the door to let people know it was occupied.
3. Travelling for work
I didn't have to travel often for work, but every now and then we'd have overnight trips for conferences or events. I told my manger that I wouldn't be able to travel right away, that I'd need time to find my rythym with expressing and breastfeeding. She was completely understanding and we talked about how I could make sure I didn't miss out on conferences and other opportunities.
3. Using a bottle
I was lucky that Zeb easily took a bottle right from the start, so I didn't have to worry about introducing a bottle before he started at daycare.
However I do know lots of mums who have returned to work and continued to breastfeed, without introducing a bottle. Using sippy cups, spoon feeding, and/or leaving work during the day to feed, or having baby brought to you, are just some of your options.
Again it would pay to ask around other mums and see what worked for them, and talk to your employer to explain your situation. They may be able to put other flexible working arrangements in place to support you.
4. Expressed breastmilk or formula?
I decided to use formula for daycare feeds, while continuing to breastfeed before and after work and in the weekends. There were a couple of reasons for this...
I felt I had enough on my plate, returning to work and being a mum, without also worrying about making sure I had enough expressed breastmilk to send to daycare.
At this stage in my breastfeeding journey, I wasn't getting a lot of milk when I expressed - maybe 20 mls each side. I would have to do A LOT of expressing if I was going to keep up with his hunger during the day.
Also, breastfeeding can take a lot of energy and sometimes it really drains my tank. I knew life was about to get really busy, going back to work with a baby, and I wanted to make sure I had enough energy to balance everything.
5. Pumping at work
In the first few weeks back at work, I pumped around twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I kept the milk in the work fridge, and then I'd pop it in the freezer when I got home or send it to daycare the next day.
I found that my supply quickly adjusted, and after a few weeks, I didn't even need to express during the day - my boobs just didn't get full.
6. Breastfeeding friendly work clothes
I was fortunate that I could dress fairly casually for work. I invested in a few button-up shirts and dresses that I could easily pump in, and I could quickly breastfeed in once I got home.
These days, there are so many options for breastfeeding friendly work clothes! And because the breastfeeding access is so discrete, you're likely to keep wearing them even once you've stopped breastfeeding.
7. Maintaining your supply
I continued to feed Zeb in the mornings and after work, and then in the weekends. I really loved the after-work feeds - it was such a nice way to connect at the end of the day, and meant I had to put my feet up once I got home.
I breastfed in the weekends, and I found I still had enough supply to breastfeed, and didn't need formula. Zeb had also started on fingerfoods, so he was demanding less and less breastfeeding.
Overall, I found that going back to work while breastfeeding was much easier than I expected! For me, taking a relaxed approach and using a combination of formula and breastmilk really made the difference. We found our rhythym easily, and kept it up for around four months.
I even managed a two-night worktrip away for a conference! I borrowed an electric breastpump from my sister to take on the trip, but I actually only used it a few times. My supply just adjusted accordingly, and then I fed fed fed when I got home to give it a bit of a boost.
I eventually decided to completely stop breastfeeding as were heading overseas for a two-week holiday and leaving Zebediah (10 months) with my Mum while we were gone - now that's a topic for another blog!