We have all been told that breastfeeding is the best way to feed our babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least one year. However, many of us do not feel that breastfeeding is possible because we have to return to work so soon. Breastfeeding mothers returning to work have several options available to them. The mother may:

  • Wean her baby completely to formula.
  • Supplement with formula only while away from her baby.
  • Exclusively breastfeed by expressing milk.
  • Exclusively breastfeed by seeing the baby at feeding time.

Breastmilk Can’t Be Replicated

Some mothers feel that making an effort to breastfeed just to wean at the end of their maternity leave is too much trouble. However, there are many components to breastmilk that formula manufacturers have yet to identify, much less recreate. One component that is unable to recreate is the antibodies the mother passes into her milk. These antibodies protect her baby from illnesses such as ear infections, pneumonia and stomach viruses. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce a baby*s risk of allergies. This is a big plus in families with a history of allergies. Also, studies now show that breastfeeding increases a baby*s IQ. All of these advantages increase the longer a baby is breastfed out start at day one. So, even breastfeeding for a few days gives the baby lifelong advantages. The advantages to the mother are numerous including reduced risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer and easier postpartum weight loss. Also, breastfeeding is virtually free. Mothers on unpaid maternity leave would find this a great advantage.

Supplementing With Formula

Supplementing with formula while away from her baby is an option that works for many mothers. Mother and baby still get all the advantages of breastfeeding because the baby gets formula only while separated from its mother. This works because once her supply is established, a mother*s body produces milk only when it is needed. Therefore, most mothers would have milk during the evening and at night but would not be left engorged or leaking during the day. To make this work, a bottle should be slowly introduced to the baby only after breastfeeding has been successfully established, usually at about four weeks of age. Sometimes, the bottle has to be introduced by someone other than the mother. Some babies want their mother if she is around so they will not take the bottle. Another option is starting the baby on a cup instead of a bottle. Most babies can learn to drink from a cup at an early age. This may lessen the risk of nipple confusion, the confusion by the baby between an artificial nipple and mother*s nipple.

Mothers should introduce formula in place of a daily feeding early so that by the end of the mother*s maternity leave, her baby can be on formula during the day and nursing in the evening and at night. Because of the slow introduction of the formula, the mother will probably not feel much engorgement or leaking as each daily feeding is replaced with formula.

Exclusively Breastfeeding

Other mothers choose to continue to exclusively breastfeed their babies. This can be done very successfully even if they are separated for several hours. A mother may express her milk or visit her baby at feeding time. The main advantage to exclusively breastfeeding is it allows the mother to keep her baby off cow*s milk and soy products. Both are common allergens. The older a baby is when these are introduced, the less likely he or she is to be allergic to them.

Using A Breast pump

A mother who plans to express her milk needs four main things:

  1. a hospital grade breast pump,
  2. a qualified person to instruct the mother on the use of the breast pump,
  3. a private place to use the pump,
  4. and sometime during the day.


A hospital grade breast pump may be purchased or rented. I purchased the Medela Pump in Style which retailed for just over $200. It may be used in any private place the mother feels comfortable. This may be an office, car, restroom or locking supply room. The time to use it may take a break, lunch hour, or special time your boss let you have. Some mothers need two or three (ten to 30 minute) pumping sessions, others need only one to supply her baby with adequate milk. Breastmilk may be stored in a cooler with ice packs, a refrigerator, or may be frozen. A bottle of fresh breastmilk may be stored for five to eight days at 42 degrees. A bottle of frozen breastmilk may be stored in a refrigerator freezer for three months and a deep freezer for six months. It may be thawed by running under increasing warm water or overnight in the refrigerator. Once thawed, it should be used within 24 hours. No bottle should be heated in the microwave. However, it is very important that a bottle of breastmilk not be. Microwaving kills many of the components that make breastmilk so beneficial. A bottle of breastmilk should be heated in a cup or bowl of warm water. As with introducing formula, the bottle of expressed milk should be introduced only after breastfeeding has been well established. Again, someone other than the mother may hay to be the one to introduce the bottle. A bottle of expressed milk should not replace a feeding on a regular basis unless the mother takes that opportunity to express more milk. If the mother’s breasts are not emptied, her body may reduce the amount of milk produced. Also, an exclusively breastfed baby may be started on a cup rather than a bottle.

No Pump

Other mothers who decide to exclusively breastfeed need only one thing — the time to nurse her baby. The mother may go to her baby or have her baby brought to her. This gives the mother and baby a chance to see each other during the long separation. Also, no extra equipment such as a pump, bottles, and nipples is needed. There are many resources for breastfeeding mothers returning to work. The La Leche League (I -800-la leche) can provide information through local leaders, books and their website (www.lalecheleague.org) Area lactation consultants can provide information, breast pumps and, most of all, encouragement. Local bookstores usually have to order books on breastfeeding and working but can have them in a few days. Also, many books on breastfeeding, in general, have chapters on returning to work. Other websites may also be helpful.

Whatever Works For You

When considering the choice of breastfeeding, remember it is not an all or nothing deal. A baby may be breastfed for a few days or a couple of years or more. A baby may also have formula while continuing to breastfeed as long as breastfeeding has been well established first. One way or the other, breastfeeding is an experience well worth the effort.



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