Once upon a time, nursing a baby involved few if any complications. Since most women were stay-at-home moms, keeping up with feedings was relatively easy.
Not so today. As more women fuel the workforce, more new mothers must now deal with breastfeeding issues and career demands at the same time.
"Seventy percent of employed mothers have children under age 3 -- with one-third returning to work just three months after giving birth, and two-thirds returning within six months," says Suzanne Haynes, PhD, chairwoman of the subcommittee on breastfeeding for the Department of Health and Human Services.
"This is a huge chunk of women whose breastfeeding needs must be accommodated," notes Haynes, who helped develop a Blueprint for Breastfeeding, the first federal ad campaign to promote the importance of breastfeeding.
Although many new mothers believe they must choose between breastfeeding and returning to work, the two activities can peacefully coexist. However, experts warn not to wait until you are back at work to begin.
The first step to successfully combining breastfeeding and working takes place during the first four weeks after your baby is born -- a time when you are setting a feeding schedule and establishing your milk supply.
"If a woman gives herself and her baby about four weeks of quiet nursing time -- without talking on the phone or working on the computer or in any way being distracted -- then she will not only be setting up a definite feeding pattern, which can help with milk expression later on, but she is also helping to build a strong milk supply within her breasts," says Linda Hanna, program coordinator, Lactation and Prenatal Education Services, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.
"This will continue to flourish even when she goes back to work," Hanna adds.
Once back at work, you can ensure a continuing milk supply by expressing your milk on the same schedule you kept when breastfeeding your baby, she says.
Pumping Breast Milk on the Job
Talk over your plans with your employer long before you return to work, even before your baby is born, suggest experts.
"Don't be afraid to mention that you will need a clean and private area -- with a lock on the door -- where you can pump your milk. If you don't have your own office space, ask if you can use a supervisor's office during certain times, or if you can have access to a clean, clutter-free private corner of a storage room," says Haynes.
If you sense any resistance on the part of your employer, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests asking your doctor to write a short letter to your boss citing the health benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby. Your doctor might also want to detail what your needs are for breastfeeding -- such as a clean, private environment -- and offer a few suggestions on how these conditions can easily be met in your workplace
A Breastfeeding Mom's Legal Rights
To help pave the way for your success, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced the Breastfeeding Promotion Actin May 2005. This federal legislation would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding by new mothers; provide tax incentives for businesses that establish private lactation areas in the workplace; provide for a performance standard for breast pumps; and provide families with a tax deduction for breastfeeding equipment.
But you don't have to wait for that federal law to pass before asserting your rights. Many states have laws in place to ensure the rights of breastfeeding moms. While the regulations differ slightly in each state, Haynes says they all require an employer to set up a space for a woman to pump her milk and allow her time out of the day to do it.
To check if your state has such a law, visit the La Leche League web site at https://www.lalecheleague.org/LawBills.html or call (800) WOMAN.
"You should not be afraid to speak up and claim your rights as a breastfeeding mom. You should be able to take the time you need -- about 15 minutes every few hours -- to pump your milk, and be given a clean and private place to do so," says Haynes.
While you may hope that your employer will cooperate with your desire to breastfeed your baby, there are times and situations where this may not be easy. Sometimes the nature of your job, or your location or situation, is such that you cannot pump your milk more than twice a day.
If so, experts say you shouldn't worry. You can still maintain some milk production.
Says Hanna: "Even if it's just one pumping session a day and you must supplement the rest of the feedings with formula, you're still doing something important for your baby."