Many new moms struggle with balancing the needs of their careers and their children. They want to return to school or work, but, they also want to give their kids the immunological, nutritional and emotional benefits that breastfeeding can offer. This is not always an easy balancing act. But, the good news is that, with planning and determination, it can be done!
In many ways, Canada is actually a relatively supportive environment, with new parents being able to take 52 weeks of parental leave from their jobs. As a comparison, in the U.S. there is no government-mandated paid parental leave, although new parents are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
Even if you have a supportive employer, you may be concerned about the cultural aspects of breastfeeding or breast pumping at work. Will your co-workers understand your unexpected short breaks? Will you be able to find the privacy that you need, while at work? The good news is that, if you’re prepared to explain your needs in a calm and constructive way, all of these concerns can be addressed.
Here are a few tips to make it easier for working moms to keep nourishing their babies with breastmilk while keeping their career on track:
Pumping – Questions to Ask Around Choosing the Right Breast Pump for Your Needs
There are a lot of breast pumps on the market. Medela offers a variety, with a range of features depending on your needs and lifestyle – you can check out the full range here. Of course, since we are manufacturing them, we are naturally going to think that ours are the best. From handheld manual breast pumps to mini-computerized breast pumps that allow for hands-free mobile pumping while you train for that triathlon (okay, maybe triathlon training while you breast pump is a bit farfetched…) However, here are a few things to consider when choosing the breast pump that meets your needs:
- How long will you be feeding breast milk to your baby? While you might be on parental leave now, if you want to give your baby breast milk once you go back to work, you will need to pump more often than you may be pumping while on parental leave. Health Canada recommends providing babies with breast milk for 24+ months. Whatever your goals are for breast milk feeding your baby, try to think about what your life will be like over that period, and not just the first few weeks or months. This will help you find the breast pump that will best meet your needs now and in the future. As an FYI, Medela’s electric breast pumps come with a 2-year warranty.
- How often do you need to pump? We recommend you think about it in terms of how many times per week you and your partner plan to feed your baby with breast milk from a bottle. If your partner is going to be involved in feedings more than twice per week, we would suggest you look at getting a breast pump that allows you to pump both of your breasts at once. The reason for this is that the more you are pumping, the more you are relying on the breast pump to effectively drain your breasts and maintain your breast milk supply. When you are full-time breastfeeding, the baby does this. Once others are involved in feedings on a regular basis, you will need to rely on the breast pump more frequently. This chart lists all of the Medela breast pumps that are available in Canada, to help you choose the best one for your work and lifestyle needs.
- Where will you pump? Ideally you should get a light, portable and quiet breast pump that enables you to pump milk in a variety of locations, such as school, work, home, the cottage, or elsewhere.
Deciding Where to Pump
Depending on where you live, most companies are expected to provide reasonable accommodation for breastfeeding moms to pump breastmilk during the workday. Ask your employer about the availability of lactation rooms or a private area or office you can use. You shouldn’t have to pump in the restroom. Most employers will happily accommodate your needs to pump breastmilk, especially if you can help by suggesting easy ways to fit it into the workday. One tip for keeping your milk supply at a good level is to keep pumping at the same intervals you breastfeed at home.
Storing Breastmilk at Work
Breastmilk can be stored in bags or bottles in the work refrigerator or freezer (just make sure the milk is clearly labelled as “breastmilk” to avoid any misunderstandings!) If you don’t feel comfortable with this, you can also bring your own cooler to work and keep the breastmilk cool with ice packs.
Some people at work might notice, but, if you are relaxed and casual about it, they will understand. Perhaps you can put a picture of your baby and her name on the cooler with a little sticker with a smiley face saying “Madison’s Milk”. If you have the choice, it is always best to refrigerate your breast milk instead of freezing it, especially if you know you are going to use it in the next few days. If you want to know more about how long you can store breast milk, check out this link.
Talking to Colleagues About Your Pumping Pastime
If you’re new to breastfeeding, you may be concerned about how your colleagues will react. In most cases, this is a non-issue. Don’t treat the breast pump as a burden or something to apologize for. If anyone asks, just tell them why you’re pumping and keep the conversation light. Thank your colleagues for their help while you were gone on parental leave and let them know how much you appreciate being in a supportive environment. Plus, it’s in your work and colleagues best interests as well, since healthier and smarter babies turn into healthier and smarter people, which helps benefit the economy and puts less demand on our healthcare system. So feel proud about what you are doing!
Working moms have a lot to balance, between the demands of home and family and the expectations of their job. Fortunately, returning to work as a breastfeeding mom is easier than ever. In most cases, you should experience the situation to be stress free. With just a few small modifications to your daily routine, you can keep working while still nourishing your baby with the breast milk that they need to get the best possible start in life.
Are you a working breastfeeding mom? What advice would you give to other working mothers who may be breastfeeding for the first time? Please add your thoughts and questions in the comments section below or join the conversation on the Medela Canada Facebook page.