About 4 years ago, I had the opportunity of staying with my aunt for a short while. At this time, she had a baby who was a few months old. I watched her give everything to ensure he was exclusively breastfed. She’d get back home around 11pm with bottles of expressed milk and still pump before going to bed and setting out again by 4.30am. At the time, I didn’t know what I know now and I remember thinking to myself; ‘’can’t you just give him formula’’? today, I know there’s nothing ‘just’ about a mother’s feeding choice. Nutrition is extremely important in the formative years of a child (0-3yrs) and a mother’s choice must be carefully and intentionally done.
As a working mum myself with two jobs, I know how frustrating and difficult it can be to be able to breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months. One of my best sayings is “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’’. You’ll need a solid plan to be able to achieve your breastfeeding goals while working. I promise you, it is not impossible to achieve your goals. I’ll share with you all the tips that helped me and that I learnt on my own journey. Here goes:
Tips For Successful Breastfeeding For Working Mums
- Make a Decision and plan towards it: When I had my son, I assumed just knowing that I wanted to breastfeed him was going to be enough to get me by when the tough times came. If it wasn’t for my own sheer stubbornness and an inability to give up easily, I’d probably have given up by the second day. Before your baby comes, decide what feeding method you want to employ and work towards it. Have a support system in place. For me it was my mum, mother-in-law, friend, husband and aunt. They’d take care of everything else while I breastfed. Do not be afraid to ask for help nor assume you won’t need it. For others, a support system could be a nanny or a cook or a dry cleaner or even a neighbor who’s willing to help. Be willing to accept it.
- Get the Right Accessories: Having the right accessories can make things a whole lot easier for you. I once spoke to a mum who used to hand express her milk at work. She soon got tired as it became too much work for her. For mums looking to pump long term, a high grade double electric pump is the ideal tool (Medela, Avent, Lansinoh and Tommee tippee are good brands). The pump should have the option of battery operation and possibly come with a car adapter so you can pump while on the go. You should also get a manual pump as back up. My manual pump is still the best thing I ever got. It served me so well that I passed it on to my sister who has used it to express for two babies while studying law! If she can do it, so can you! If you’re buying a pump from the United States, be aware that the voltage requirements are very different so you may not be able to use it in Nigeria. Other equally important accessories include a cooler bag, breast milk storage bags or bottles and an ice pack.
- Begin to Pump Early: One or two weeks towards the end of your maternity leave is too late! You should aim to begin pumping at least 4 weeks before resumption so you can settle into a routine and you’re familiar with the process. It’ll also help you to build a stash that you can rely on for the first few days of resumption. It’ll help you in determining how much milk your baby will need at each feeding. You can then deduce how much you’ll need to pump daily. For example, if you’re away from home from 6am – 7pm, it means you’ll be away for 13 hours. Your little one should be fed every 2-3 hours so let’s say he’ll be fed 5 times during this period. If your little one consumes 70mls at each feeding, it means you’ll need to express 70mls x 5 feedings = 350mls. I’d advice you add an extra feeding so 420mls of expressed milk will be required when you’re away.
- Introduce the Bottle at the Right Time: It is important that you introduce the bottle early enough to your baby. Anytime from around the 5th or 6th week postpartum is ideal. You want to make your baby as familiar as possible with the bottle. Try letting someone other than you feed him so he gets used to that too
- Have a Pumping Schedule: when you’re away, you’ll need to empty your breasts every 3 hours to be able to maintain your supply. It is best if you already have a schedule before you resume work so you can just easily slip into a routine. Make your schedule around the time your baby would normally eat.
- Dress the part: This is super important! Try as much as possible to wear pumping friendly clothing. Pumping bras, camisoles, tank tops, dresses with zippers are such a hit! This saves you time when you have to pump at work
- Have a Storage Guide: Breastmilk is a living fluid and as such needs to be preserved at the right temperature. Freshly expressed milk can be stored at room temperature for 4 hours. It can be refrigerated in a fridge for 4-8 days depending on the position in the fridge. If by the door, then 4 days. If at the back of the fridge, then 8 days. Note that these guidelines only apply when the fridge is mostly or constantly on. To get a more comprehensive guideline, check here.
- Look for an Ally at work: Currently, Nigeria has no laws explicitly allowing mums demand time to pump at work. Truth is, if employers don’t realize that this is a huge burden for working mums, nothing will change. We need to start having these conversations with relevant stakeholders (employers, the government). Studies show that mums of babies who are breastfed are more productive (they’re not dealing with the excruciating pain of engorgement), they leave work less to tend to a sick child (breastmilk protects against illnesses) and are more loyal (they appreciate companies who care about their families). Consider speaking to a colleague who just had a baby to see if you can support one another at work. Speaking to your manager or HR with a solid plan in place can help make things easier. For example, if you normally get a one-hour break at work, speak to your manager to see if you can take 15mins 4 different times rather than at once. Or if you work in a team, consider striking a deal with your team members to help cover for you while you pump.
- Nourish and Nurture Yourself: This is super important! Pumping is Hard Work! If you need a break, please take one. Only a healthy Mama can raise a healthy baby. Relax, unwind, breathe, take a walk, anything to help you recharge. It’s also super important to eat well and choose healthy foods to keep up your supply. Consider taking a lactation treat to help make your pumping session more efficient. It may help you pump more in less time. Our treats are very popular with working mums looking to continue breastfeeding once they resume.
- Don’t be Afraid to Get Professional Help: If you need a solid plan on continuing breastfeeding when your leave is over and you need some help, consider speaking to a lactation specialist or a veteran mum. Remember, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You don’t have to do it on your own, we can navigate this journey together!
Feel free to drop comments in the comment box or send me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org