Heading back to work after maternity leave and worried about continuing to breastfeed? It’s perfectly possible to do it with the right advice and support, says Dru Campbell, senior midwife and lactation consultant at Health Bay Polyclinic.
With only 45 calendar days of maternity leave available for working mothers in the UAE, many women end up putting their babies on formula because the prospect of continuing to breastfeed while working, understandably seems a challenging task. Considering it takes most mums approximately six weeks to establish a stable milk supply and feeding routine for their babies, this mindset is hardly surprising. But if you really want to make a commitment to further breastfeeding, it is possible, especially as the UAE Labour Law states that lactating mothers are allowed one hour off per day, either for expressing milk, or to return home and breastfeed their babies, for up to 18 months after delivery.
Take as much time off with baby as possible
The longer you actually spend relaxing with and breastfeeding your baby, the better your milk supply will be, making that transition back into the office much easier when the time comes. Six weeks seems to be the golden rule when it comes to breastfeeding. Before that, lots of mums experience difficulties with supply, latching and so on. But once you hit six weeks, generally speaking it all falls into place. Even if you can only take an additional two more weeks of unpaid leave from your job, that time will make continuing to nurse, much easier.
Notify your place of work
A couple of weeks before you go back to work, visit your HR manager and explain that you want a private place where you can express milk, and space in a fridge to store it. You are in a good position to demand this because the UAE Government is highly pro-breastfeeding. Companies are bound by law to support nursing mothers, either by allowing you to finish or start the working day an hour earlier or later, or by providing you with a place to express breast milk.
If you’ve never experienced a breast pump before, using one can feel quite alien. Some women get on fine with a manual pump, while others much prefer the efficiency and speed of an electric one. Select a suitable model and practice with it for a few days before you go back to work. The process of letdown is triggered by a hormone called oxytocin, which is naturally produced when you nurse your baby. But when you first start expressing, the letdown might not be so efficient. Basically, your baby is much better at getting milk out of your breasts than a pump is – but with practice, you will get used to the process.
Get baby used to the bottle
This can be quite stressful, as little ones who have always been nursed often resist the transition to a bottle. However, persevere, and also try giving the baby to another adult who can feed them the bottle instead. Very often, the bottle is rejected if it’s offered by mummy, but will be taken perfectly if dad lends a hand.
If you’re planning a long working day, you’ll probably need to express a maximum of three times (once every three hours is sufficient). Save yourself time and stress by getting organized so you don’t have to wash and sterilize attachments throughout the day. If you double pump, you’ll need to pack six, sterile attachments and bottles every morning. But if you express one breast at a time, you’ll only need three attachments. Once you’ve sterilized the breast funnels and valves, dry them off with kitchen towel paper, and wrap them up, either in cling film or by placing them in a new zip lock bag. Use a fresh one every day. This is so the attachments stay as clean as possible.
24 hours in advance
The milk you express during the working day will be fed to your baby the following day. Bear this in mind and try to express a small supply for the fridge or the freezer before you go back to the office. On the last day of the working week (Thursday), store your breastmilk in the freezer so it can be used the following Sunday. Then make the most of breastfeeding your little one over the weekend. It will help you both reconnect following your absence, and will be good for your milk supply too.
There’s no need to stop
If expressing at work really is too much of a headache, simply cut back and continue to breastfeed in the mornings, and when you get home in the evenings instead. After all, some breast milk is always going to be much better than no breast milk at all.
Dru’s top tips for successful expressing
• Don’t stress out. The more adrenaline your body produces, the less oxytocin will be released, which will affect the amount of milk your body lets down.
• While expressing, read a magazine or a book and try not to look at the bottle and amounts of milk you are producing, as that can lead to more stress. The more relaxed you are, the better the result will be.
• If you are breastfeeding before you go to work, expressing during the day, and feeding your baby once you get home, then expressing every three hours at work is absolutely fine.
• Drink plenty of water as keeping hydrated is essential for your milk supply. Fenugreek tea and fennel tea are also known to boost flagging milk supplies. These are available from most supermarkets and health stores.
For more information and advice on lactation support, email Dru Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org