Transitioning back to work after maternity leave marks a significant new chapter in a mother's life. It's a period of adaptation and change, and for breastfeeding mothers, it often brings concerns about maintaining a healthy milk supply. Our annual Lactamo survey revealed that 75% of mums experienced a negative shift in their breastfeeding journey upon returning to work, with many reducing or even stopping breastfeeding altogether. The most common challenge? A decrease in milk supply.
But, take heart, mamas! It's entirely possible to sustain your breastfeeding journey and keep up your milk supply as you reintegrate into the workforce. We're privileged to have the insights of Kate Bird, a Registered Neonatal Nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and the owner of Little Bird Lactation. She's here to share her expert advice on navigating this transition.
The transition back to work
Returning to work doesn't mean you have to end your breastfeeding journey. It's a change, yes, but with some planning and adaptation, you can continue to breastfeed. "Many mothers worry about maintaining their milk supply when returning to work, but with the right approach, it's entirely achievable," says Kate.
Some key points to discuss with your employer to help you transition back into the workplace when breastfeeding are as follows:
- Flexible working hours: when you do return to work, consider a flexible schedule or work part time for the first week or two. If you must return to work full time, plan to return on a Wednesday or Thursday so your first week is shorter.
- Pumping sessions: you will need to take breaks to express your milk – approximately two to three times within an 8-hour work day. Ask your employer if your schedule can accommodate this and if there is a private place for you to express your breast milk i.e. a lactation room
- Storing breastmilk: you will need to store your milk safely. Ask your employer if there is a refrigerator you can store your breast milk in during the day. If not, you will need to take an insulated cooler for storage.
Remember, every mother's journey is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. The key is to find what works best for you and your baby.
Breastfeeding rights for working mothers in Australia
In Australia, working mothers have rights that support their breastfeeding journey. The Fair Work Ombudsman provides guidelines that protect breastfeeding mothers, including the right to flexible working arrangements and the right to a safe and private place to express milk. You can learn more about your rights as a breastfeeding mother returning to work here.
Kate's top tips maintaining your milk supply
- If pumping, try to mimic your baby's feeding schedule: Ideally you would aim to express as often as your baby would usually feed. To make this fit into your work day this may look like pumping on the way to work with 1-2 additional breaks to pump during the day.
- A good quality pump: A quality pump will help ensure you are able to express comfortably and efficiently to support your milk supply. Finding a pump that has a good suction strength (ideally over 300mmHg), the ability to get the right flange size and a range of modes and suction levels will help you to get the most out of your pumping sessions.
- Utilise breast massage: Breast massage with Lactamo will not only help support the let down reflex when pumping if you are otherwise used to feeding directly at the breast; it can also help you to manage any engorgement or potential blocked ducts associated with a change in your feeding routine.
- Proper hydration and nutrition: Stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet. Your body needs fuel to produce milk.
- Rest: Returning to work can add another stress to an already overwhelming load as a parent. Ensuring you are leaving time to get adequate rest to support not only your milk supply but also your mental health.
"Ensure your baby is being fed an appropriate volume of milk when you are apart. A common reason we see a drop in supply is due to babies being overfed when in childcare and this drives down their hunger at the breast when mother and baby are reunited. It also sets mums up for unrealistic volumes to pump while they are at work " adds Kate.
Remember, you're not alone in this journey. Reach out to lactation consultants, healthcare providers, and your support network whenever you need help or reassurance.
Where can I find support and help with breastfeeding?
Ask your GP, midwife, obstetrician, or healthcare provider to connect you with a lactation consultant locally. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has many resources available including a 24-hour helpline for new mamas, face-to-face workshops, and online classes.
We hope this post has provided some helpful insights and reassurance. If you found it useful, please share it with other mamas who might be navigating the same journey. And remember, we're here to support you at every stage of your breastfeeding journey. Check out our other blogs for more tips, advice, and stories from the heart.
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