By Marcia Hall
With Yael Stein of La Leche League of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It can be very difficult for a new mom to return to work when her maternity leave is over, and there is a great mix of emotions that accompany this transition. On one hand, she might be enthusiastic about returning to a job that she loves and excited to be able to get out of the house again. On the other hand, however, she almost always feels guilty about leaving her child with anyone, even if it is someone that she trusts emphatically.
There is a maternal instinct that kicks in and cannot be denied. This guilt is compounded when she is making choices about feeding and breast milk. It can often be very difficult for a mom to continue to offer breast milk when she goes back to work. Caregivers that are helping to support her can make it easier for mom to make the choice to continue to nurse and offer breast milk to her baby.
If you are a caregiver and find yourself in this situation, you can:
Learn the benefits of extended use of breast milk and how it is different than formula. Though formula has come a long way in the last 40 years, there is nothing that can compare to the benefits of breast milk. It has antibodies that aid in fighting off infections and increase the effectiveness of the baby’s immune system. It can help protect against allergies and asthma. It has positive effects on obesity and diabetes later in life. Children often have issues with digestion of formula, but this is not the case with breast milk. It has natural vitamins and minerals that all babies need to grow healthy. And it is free.
Research the storage guidelines of breast milk. All the beneficial minerals, vitamins and antibodies are more effective when it is pumped, stored and re-heated properly. Caregivers should learn and discuss these guidelines with the mom so that she knows the person caring for her precious baby understands the extra work that will go into supporting her nursing efforts.
Suggest that the hours of work are extended a bit so that when mom gets home from work she can focus on the baby for a short time. If there are older siblings, caregivers can offer to have a special project to keep them occupied for 20 minutes at this time of day. If this is mom’s first baby, offer to get dinner started during this time.
Offer to bring baby to the workplace during the day for feeding. The invention of the breast pump was great and it works for a lot of working mothers. However, there can be some challenges to using it as well. They can be difficult to transport and it can be hard to find ways to store the milk. If a mom works a particularly long day, this drastically cuts down on the time she is able to bond with her child. For some women, continuous pumping begins to reduce breast milk production. By offering to bring the baby to her work place at least once during the day, both baby and mom can continue to build that bond and simultaneously reduce the need for pumping and storage.
Avoid feeding the baby within two hours of mom returning home so that baby is very hungry and ready to be nursed right away, because it is almost certain that mom will be ready. This can be done if a good feeding and pumping schedule is worked out. By working in cooperation with mom, caregivers can try to feed the baby at the same or close to the same time mom is pumping. That way the babies schedule roughly coincides with the schedule of mom’s milk production so that the days that mom is home with baby, they are still on the same basic schedule.
Find alternative ways to soothe baby without a bottle. When it is close to the time mom is going to come home or if mom is running a little late, it can be tempting to feed the baby, especially when he is really fussy. Instead, use a pacifier, hold the baby, rock him, play with him, and distract him. Do whatever you can to keep his attention off of feeding, because the moment mom walks in the door she is going to need to nurse. It could be devastating for mom to come home with the intention of cuddling with and nursing a very hungry baby, only to find out that he was just fed.
Ask the mom if you can wear the baby in a sling or a wrap. Breastfed babies are used to being held and comforted in their mother’s arms. This is another way that caregivers can soothe a baby instead of using a bottle. This might make some nursing moms uncomfortable, but if you explain the intention is to help soothe and remind the baby of his mommy and that it could never undermine the bond that she is forming with her child, she might not only understand it, but also be very excited about it. Caregivers can offer to do extra research in safe baby wearing practices and find the best option for the needs of the house. Mom and dad might also end up enjoying this form of connection.
Be flexible with the introduction of mom’s working schedule in early weeks. This is a very difficult transition. Remember that mom most likely does not really want to be away from her baby for an extended period of time. Emotions will be high, so the more willing the babies caregiver is to work with her needs and desires, the more comfortable she will be with leaving her baby. Encourage mom to return to work gradually to help ease everyone into a good schedule for nursing and pumping.