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Life after birth : Combining Breastfeeding & Work

Situation at work

Going back to work does not necessarily mean that you will have to stop breastfeeding your baby.

Broadly, you may find yourself in one of the three situations:

Your baby will be left at home (either with a childminder or with a relative) or at the nursery away from your workplace. If such is the case, you can still partial breastfeed by breastfeeding your baby in the morning and evening. During the day, you can leave a bottle or two of expressed breastmilk. You will need to give formula feed to your baby for his other feeds and this will reduce your own milk supply.

You manage to get a place for your baby in a nursery close to work or a nursery in your workplace. If this is the case, you can easily feed your baby at his regular feeding times by visiting him at the nursery, keep up your milk supply without the need for formula milk.

Your office has the facility for you to express and store milk which you can take home with you and continue to feed your baby normally with your milk. Your baby will not need any formula milk and your milk supply will also be maintained.

See which option works for you and try to make the most of it.

Q: What facilities should I ask for at work if I want to express milk in the office?

A: If you are planning to express your breastmilk in the office, make sure you ask for the following facilities:

  • a private room which can be locked from the inside

  • place to wash as well as to leave the equipment for sterilisation

  • use of a refrigerator to store the expressed milk in bottles

  • a comfortable chair in the room where you can sit while expressing

Q: My employer has allowed me to breastfeed at work. What equipment should I buy?

If you've decided to breastfeed at work, you will need:

  • breast pump or if you are planning to express by hand, you will need a bowl.

  • Breast shells to catch any drips

  • Breast pads

  • bottles or suitable containers to store the expressed milk (you can buy special breastmilk storage bags as well)

  • steriliser or sterilising tablets(if being used)

  • cool bag to carry your expressed milk home

Q: How do I store expressed milk?

Breastmilk should always be stored in sterilised bottles. You can even buy special pre-sterilised bags meant for the storage of breastmilk. If you are expressing at work, remember to place the milk in the fridge and take it home in a cool bag. If you have expressed surplus milk, you can freeze the milk in appropriate containers. To use, defrost in the fridge overnight or stand the container with frozen milk in a bowl of warm water.

Breastmilk can be stored for different times at different temperatures:

  • room temperature: 8 hours

  • fridge: 24 hours

  • freezer compartment of fridge: 7 days

  • freezer: 3 months

Q: When should I express milk when at work?

The time when you express milk while at work or by going to your baby's nursery really varies from one individual to another and a great deal depends on your baby's appetite, amount required, your nature of job and the attitude of your employer.

Boss's attitude: Your manager could be really flexible and allow you as many breaks as you need to express to match your baby's feeding pattern. Other managers may allow you the required number of breaks but deduct the time spent in expressing from your official lunch breaks. Others may be really rigid and not allow you any additional breaks and ask you to utilise the official lunch or coffee breaks for expressing.

Nature of job: Sometimes, your boss may be really nice but because of the nature of your job, you may find it impossible to stick to your baby's original feeding pattern. Your job may involve a number of meetings at all odd hours or may be more demanding like looking after sick patients.

A word of advice: Whatever your circumstances, express whenever you can and even if you can't somehow combine work and breastfeeding, continue feeding at home. If all else fails and you have to start your baby on formula, don't nurture a feeling of guilt. At least you tried - many working women don't even think about breastfeeding once back at work. Well done to you!

Q: Do I have to tell everyone at work that I'm going to express milk?

Your decision whether you want to tell your colleagues at work (apart from your boss) about you expressing milk at work is entirely yours. It largely depends on the size of the workplace and the attitude of your colleagues. If yours is a big organisation, no one will even notice your regular absences and you may be able to express discreetly. However, if you are a part of a small or very small organisation with a handful of employees, you may feel it necessary to tell them. The advantage of telling everyone is that it makes the experience much more enjoyable and it may not seem like a big secret and task everytime you go out to express. Also, you may be able to generate some sympathy and praise from others especially if you have many female colleagues, a great source of much needed inspiration. The downside is that if you have a younger age dominant circle of colleagues, they may not take the whole thing seriously and sneer at you. You will have to consider all this before you decide whether to tell them all or not.

Q: What are my legal rights while at work and still breastfeeding?

Unlike other European countries, the law in United Kingdom does not offer paid breastfeeding breaks or shorter working hours for breastfeeding mothers but some legal protection is offered in the UK for all breastfeeding mothers. This broadly includes:

  • flexible working conditions

  • facilities for rest

  • protection from harmful substances while at work

Your rights (as a breastfeeding mother) as set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 and theEmployment Rights Act 1996 include:

  • If there is a risk to your health and safety or that of your child from your working conditions, your employer must do all that is reasonable to remove the risk. This may include changing your working conditions temporarily

  • If the identified risk above cannot be avoided, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work, on terms andconditions which are not substantially less favourable than your original job.

  • If no alternative work is available, your employer must suspend you on full pay

Food for thought...

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