Breastfeeding and Returning to Work: Striking a Balance

Breastfeeding and Returning to Work: Striking a Balance

Breastfeeding is one of the most irreplaceable joys of motherhood women can experience. It has plenty of health benefits for both mother and the baby. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. Therefore, doctors advise starting breastfeeding immediately post-birth (preferably within half an hour of birth) and continuing it upto 2 years and beyond with appropriate complementary feeding after six months. However, working women face numerous challenges balancing work and breastfeeding their babies. Some employers extend support in the form of baby-friendly policies that can ease the stress for mothers and even work in their favour. Such policies also positively impact retaining existing talent and attracting new talent.

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It contains the right balance of nutrients and antibodies that protect against most common illnesses. Breastmilk also helps calm the baby, improve digestion, and avoid the early onset of obesity. Studies show that mothers who breastfeed feel better bonding with their babies and have a reduced risk of postpartum depression. It also lowers the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer later in life.Further, they develop stronger bones, have a reduced risk of osteoporosis, and have a low risk of iron deficiency anaemia. It has also been observed that babies who are breastfed for a longer period during their early life have better immunity and mental development.

Balancing Breastfeeding and Work

Laying down a strong foundation for breastfeeding during maternity leave can help mothers continue breastfeeding even after rejoining work. Therefore, it is essential to build good feeding habits by feeding the baby frequently and on demand. To build a steady milk supply in the long run, it is also essential to develop a good feeding technique at this stage.

Maintaining breast milk is a major challenge mothers face when returning to work. The production of breast milk occurs on a ‘demand and supply’ basis. The more mothers nurse their babies, the more the breasts are stimulated to produce milk. This will be important as it is important to balance work and breastfeed the baby. Therefore, it is critical to practice the right technique for expressing breast milk to keep this process going. It can be done manually or by using a good-quality electric breast pump to make the task easy. While it sounds simple, there is a slight learning curve associated with it.

Availing of 6 months of maternity leave would be ideal as it makes it simpler for mothers to breastfeed exclusively. For those unable to negotiate part-time work, flexible work timings, or work-from-home options, check if the organisation provides a nursery or a crèche. Alternatively, breastfeeding mothers could also consider a crèche nearby their workplace to visit and feed them regularly. Having a plan to express breastmilk and feeding the baby mother’s expressed breast milk in her absence is essential. The baby’s caregiver must also be trained in handling expressed breastmilk properly.

Even when the mother is away from the baby, the missed feeding sessions should be substituted with expressed breast milk to maintain a steady milk supply. Remember, it is important to collect the breast milk in a sterile container and store it using the appropriate methods. The freshly expressed breast milk can be stored at room temperature for close to 6 hours. It can also be refrigerated and used for up to 2 days. For longer storage, expressed milk must be frozen. However, ensure it is thawed before feeding the baby.

It is recommended to continue breastfeeding the baby when possible, even if the baby is fed expressed milk while the mother is at work. So, mothers can continue to direct breastfeed their babies in the mornings, in the evenings as well as night while balancing their work schedules. On the day off, mothers can continue feeding the baby full time.

Feel good about deciding to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible. It’s a decision that will have a positive impact on the mother as well as the baby’s growth.

Dr. Ravneet Joshi

Consultant - Lactation Specialist, Manipal Hospital Old Airport Road

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