September on TalkMum is all about life as a working mum, and finding a balance between the two world. Here's Charlotte's fantastically comprehensive guide about how to continue breastfeeding when you go back to work.
I went back to work when my son, William, was nine weeks-old.
And it was so hard.
Even more so because I had my boobs to worry about too.
I’d been exclusively breastfeeding up to that point and, while initially I didn’t think I’d make nine days, let alone nine weeks, I knew straight away that I didn’t want to stop. My little boy really enjoyed it and so did I. So I decided to try expressing at work.
Now, I’m almost at the 15 month mark, which is not something I ever thought I would say. But I couldn’t be prouder.
That said, it wasn’t easy and I had some serious ups and downs, and one thing I really wish I’d had was information, all in one place, that I could refer to. Some websites like KellyMom.com are useful, but I wanted first-hand information, because sometimes it was a stab in the dark.
So here are my tips. I hope that they will come in useful for those like me.
Your expressing kit
A pump – I had two. I had both the manual and electrical Tommee Tippee Closer To Nature pumps. Both of which I found simple enough to use. Two may sound excessive, but they came in useful for two reasons. Firstly - my electric pump broke (you can call the Tommee Tippee Customer Service team to arrange a repair/replacement - 0500 97 98 99 – couldn’t recommend them enough) and without my manual one I would have probably suffered with blocked ducts, a drop in supply and mastitis.
Tip: If money is tight, you can buy perfectly good pumps via eBay and even find them via Freecycle and similar websites. They just need a good clean and you’ll be good to go.
Microwaveable steriliser & bottles – Again I used the Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature kit and this worked perfectly for me. Most workplaces have a microwave that you can use, and your bottles will help you measure the correct amount of water to add too. I would bring two 9oz bottles and usually fill them, if not more every day.
Tip: If you don’t have a microwave at work – ask. You never know, your employers may provide one. If not, you can buy the Milton Sterilising Tablets instead.
Breast Pads – I stupidly thought I wouldn’t need them, but, while my gals adjusted I would get let-downs throughout the day and there’s nothing quite like the shame of a milky patch shared with your colleagues.
Tip: I liked the Lansinoh, Tesco (best for quality and price) and Boots ones, but Sainsbury's were awful for me.
Milk Bags – If you over-produce, you don’t want to waste a drop! I’d regularly use these to store my expressed milk in as they made for easy transportation too. I used both the Lansinoh ones, bought from Amazon here, and the My Baby ones, which you can purchase here, or from Home Bargains for slightly cheaper.
Tip: Take a permanent marker with you and date your bags so you now which milk to use up first.
A Clean Muslin – Expressing can get a bit messy and these are as handy for your leaks as they are for your baby’s!
Water – It’s thirsty work!
Entertainment – I used to watch YouTube videos on my iPad to help pass the time – it really helped me to keep going.
Before you go back to work, you need to do the following:
- Introduce your baby to a bottle and make sure they happily take it from a range of people. I made sure William took a bottle of expressed milk every week from three weeks old (I waited until then to ensure there was no nipple confusion) until I went back, with a few extras the two weeks before I returned.
- Get your breasts used to a pump. Sounds simple, but pumping is so different from breastfeeding. I started expressing when he was three weeks and at first I’d get a little at a time, sometimes not more than an ounce, but slowly, after every feed, I would express and encourage my girls to make a little more milk. In the end, I would easily get around 5oz-7oz as well as exclusively breastfeeding. By the time I returned to work I had over 150oz in my freezer, ready for emergencies and in case expressing at work didn’t work for me.
- Get a special expressing bag (I just used a hemp Tesco bag-for-life) and get everything ready in there, just so you feel ready.
- Notify work with plenty of time. I did this via email to keep things documented and professional. My employer was very flexible with me and it made everything a lot less difficult for me. I have a friend whose HR team told her: “One rule for cows and another for humans.” And she stood her ground and I provided her with a series of links to support her case and she happily won. There are lots of benefits to employers if they allow employees to express according to the NHS – including reduced time off as breastfed babies are generally healthier (according to the NHS, not me!), increased staff morale and loyalty, and a subsequent higher rate of return to work, lower recruitment and training costs; and an extra incentive to offer potential employees. Don’t be afraid to fight your corner.
Important: The HSE states: “You should provide your employer with written notification that you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to do this before you return to work, so your employer can ensure you return to a healthy, safe and suitable environment. It is not suitable for you to use toilets for expressing milk. Your employer may provide a private, healthy and safe environment for you to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so. However, your employer is legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down.”
True or false?
If I take this entire pot of Fenugreek I’ll make enough milk to feed the whole of Manchester’s babies.
FALSE – I didn’t find it did a think, bar make my wee smell.
Drinking lots of water will help your supply.
TRUE – Okay so it wasn’t a milky Niagara Falls, but if I didn’t drink enough, I found it took longer to get my ‘usual’ amount.
If I get less today my supply is dropping and will soon dry up.
FALSE – At least on most accounts. My supply went mental during growth spurts, so much so that some night I would express before going to bed just to get my extra milk. It became a bit obsession, but a few days later, it would be back to normal. A good reason to build up a stash before you return though.
I’ll just eat lots of breast-milk cookies – that will help.
FALSE – My friend made me some lovely cookies, based on this recipe here. But they just tasted nice. In fact, so nice, my colleagues munched their way through too. A good diet, with plenty of water, fresh fruit and veg is all you need.
Breastfeeding my baby whenever possible will keep my supply strong.
TRUE – I am the only person ever to have done a night feed. It was a sacrifice I made and it wasn’t easy (my son doesn’t always sleep through) but it kept my supply strong. Your breasts will never react to a pump in the same way as they do your baby – it’s all about emotion and endorphins. And love. Corny, but true. It’s hard, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Nine weeks to Six months
- Fed through the night when he needed it (I should warn you that some babies, when their mothers go back to work early, reverse cycle).
- Feed him his breakfast (both boobs).
- Express both boobs at around 11:00am-12:00pm, depending on how work goes – average around 10oz. His morning feed for the next day.
- Express both boobs again at around 3:00pm – again 10oz. His afternoon feed for the next day.
- Feed him when I get home from work – 5:30pm.
- Feed him at bedtime – 7:00pm.
Six months to 12 months
Around Christmas last year, William turned six months-old and I had two weeks off to get myself used to dropping expressing during the day. He was weaning well and expressing had become a very hard thing for me to do. So I made the decision to use up what was left of my stash (which has only just recently run out) and move him onto formula during the day, and breast whenever he was with me.
But he hated formula. He took to weaning so well that he didn’t miss his daytime feeds at all and preferred to have water and lots of food instead. Babies tend to drop these feeds at this age anyway, so I encouraged food, which he took to happily.
I fed through the night as needed, because I know that was all he wanted and he would fall asleep once full. Then I fed him his first feed of the day, a feed at 5:15pm when I got home from work and a bedtime feed. He also had breakfast, lunch, dinner, water and snacks throughout the day.
12 months onwards
Now, he will typically have a morning and evening feed, which is mostly likely for comfort than anything else. I’m very confident in my boobs now and if he is ill, I will give him as much as he wants. It’s hard to think that I never believed I would get past a week of feeding, but it was worth the blood sweat and tears.
Final tips on expressing at work
- Breast milk lasts for five days in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer – remember this.
- Make good use of your freezer. I would express enough for two 9oz bottles and some smaller ounces to keep as top-ups where needed. I would leave one bottle in the fridge and then defrost 9oz of my stash from an earlier date and replace it with freshly expressed milk from that day. It meant that none of my milk went out-of-date and it lasted so much longer.
- Don't stress. Easier said than done I know, but it doesn’t help your supply.
- Babies have growth spurts, so expect your supply to rise and fall accordingly. Don't panic.
- If your expressed total is low, try and squeeze in an extra session just before bed, while baby is sleeping. It’s not the first thing you want to do at that time of night, but it’s easy to sit back and let it happen and just relax.
- Always pack your bag the night before. You don’t ever want to be caught short the next day – because not only will your baby not have any milk, but you run the risk of discomfort, blocked ducts and even mastitis.
- If at first you feel awkward, try to relax. Stick YouTube or iPlayer on and catch-up with some programmes you never have time to watch. Or look at photographs of your baby, it does help you to relax and to get things going.
- Always take a drink with you. Nothing worse than being thirsty when locked in The Milking Room.
- Be proud, not ashamed. Your colleagues will be curious – being open with it is far easier than scurrying away with your head down. And also, don’t feel guilty, you are a hard-working individual and if anyone raises an eyebrow, just point to the smokers clustered outside.
- Stop if you don’t enjoy it. Formula, no matter what we are led to believe, is not poison. My son doesn’t like it, but he’s clearly set up to be a boob man for life. But if the option is there, embrace it. Happy mummy – happy baby.
Well done if you managed to read all of this! I hope it does manage to help someone. If anyone has any questions, needs advice, or someone to talk to, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @CharlTaylor.