|My love letter to working moms|
This is my letter to the mamas who are committed to breastfeeding their little bundles of joy and to their outside employment. Juggling life is especially tricky as a working, lactating parent, and even more so here in the United States. So I am writing to you supermoms who work outside the home to help you with the specific challenges of simultaneously breastfeeding, pumping, and working for the man. ;)
The best possible piece of advice I have is: Prepare, Prepare, PREPARE... You have roughly 9 months to educate yourself, your partner, your supervisors, your family members, and any potential daycare centers of your goals and plans that come with becoming a mom. I HIGHLY recommend reading "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" as your starting literature. La Leche League sells it on their website, you can probably borrow the book from your local LLL group or WIC clinic, or you can buy it on Amazon here. Sure, there are plenty of other very helpful books, including "What to Expect When You're Expecting," but to be honest, their are apps on your phone that could get you all the info that is in that book and at certain pregnancy markers as you are able to absorb it.
Start making a plan with your HR rep and/or boss of when you'll be returning to work, whether you'll come back full-time or part-time (at least at first), how frequently and where you will be needing to pump and your rights protecting your pump breaks under federal (and state) laws, what measures, if any, you can/will take to store your pumped milk, and anything else you can think of to cover with your supervisors for your unique work/home situation. Virtually as soon as you see that positive signal on your pregnancy test, start formulating your goals and plans to present to your job as well as with your partner and daycare provider. Attending birthing and labor classes and infant feeding education classes with your partner or a support person will help you form a plan as it provides perspectives that maybe you hadn't considered on your own.
Next, is the matter of pumping and building a nice stock of expressed breast milk. When pumping milk for the time that you'll be away, keep in mind that babies may eat a bit more from a bottle, especially if the care-giver is not pacing the bottle feeds. Normally, I don't encourage moms to start pumping or introducing bottles until after 6 weeks. Of course, that's the entire maternity leave of most moms, and some more unfortunate moms go back much earlier than that. The next best timeline to give is the first 2 weeks focusing on exclusively breastfeeding, to get down the routine, and get in plenty of practice to perfect latching on, before adding in pumping, storing, and bottle feeding. If you're going back to work before 2 weeks postpartum, reconsider. Your body has gone through serious changes and, dare I say, trauma and it is not recommended that any postpartum mom be on her feet too much or do any strenuous activity while the body is healing. This is regardless of whether you had a c-section or delivered vaginally, although each has it's own particular precautions to consider. When it comes to pumping, I recommend pumping more often than the baby nurses, at least in the beginning. Fitting in pumping while nursing can help ease the extra work that comes with pumping that often.
Lastly, not everyone struggles with a little thing we call "mommy guilt," but if you happen to feel the burden of leaving your newborn and consequently the guilt of "abandoning" your baby for periods of time, take a deep breath. While going back to work when the baby is so very little is not an ideal situation, it is the reality for a huge number of moms. A reality that I don't see changing anytime soon. But remember that motherhood in and of itself is the hardest job you will ever have and there's no right or perfect way to be a mom. If you love your child and you do your best to provide your baby with the strongest, most ideal start to life, then pat yourself on the back because that is all anyone could ever ask for.
Being a mom is hard whether you stay at home for the first 10 years of your child's life or you're out the door to work while your baby is still a baby. Neither situation makes parenting easier, trust me. I'm speaking from my own personal experience here. While I stayed home with my oldest until he was 3, I was putting my youngest into daycare when he turned one to go back to school/work. Both situations had their own unique struggles and while I preferred being at home with my teeny, tiny little guys, I also welcomed the freedom of sipping coffee quietly in a cafe while studying without interruption. Either way, if you can nurse your baby while home and if you're even able to exclusively feed your baby your (pumped) breast milk when you're away, know that you are giving your baby liquid love with every drop. So good job, mama!!! Feel guilty no more. Take heart in knowing that your baby is well cared for just by the fact that YOU care for, worry about, and love him/her with every thought, breath, and ounce of breast milk.