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The 21st century mother: Challenges with breastfeeding and working

April 30, 2014

To breastfeed or not to breastfeed: the looming question for soon-to-be mothers. The obvious response would be “yes, of course,” because breast milk contains antibodies that protect babies from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory, and urinary tract infections and have diarrhea less often, which means less trips to the pediatrician, and less call outs from work and out-of-pocket expenses. But, for a working mom, this is easier said than done. Not all women are confident in their decision to breastfeed after returning to work due to the stresses of pumping.

Today, mothers are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. labor force. In 2012, 57% of all mothers with infants were employed full-time outside the home, leading to shorter duration of breastfeeding. However, on the flip side, rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration were higher among women who had longer maternity leaves, worked part-time rather than full-time, or had breastfeeding support programs in the workplace.

What does this mean to me, as a working mother?

My first pregnancy was blissful, although I was unsure as to whether or not I would sustain breastfeeding. Being young and unprepared, as well as being a full-time student and working, did not make it any easier. I soon became overwhelmed. And well, you guessed it - I caved after a month! I felt horrible, guilty, and emotional, but in the end it was the best choice for me based on what was going on in my life. I can tell you my daughter is now 13 years old, has a 3.9 GPA, and is amazing! Guilt gone, she turned out okay.

The next joy of my life was delivered unexpectedly premature. But this time, I had a plan. I truly believe if I had not prepared myself beforehand, my son’s outcome may not have been the same. I knew that the best thing I could give to my son was breastmilk, so that is exactly what I did. I pumped, I breastfed, and used every possible opportunity to provide the nourishment necessary to give my little guy a fighting chance. He did great, and was home within a week! I felt motivated. I breastfed, I pumped. I breastfed, I pumped. I was going strong. But then, it hit me like a freight train. Time to go back to work.

I was established in a fast paced work environment that had no desire to slow down. I became anxious, scared, and tearful. I began to question myself. How can I do this? What will I do? I knew that breastfeeding was the best choice. I knew that it would help my son build a stronger immune system, so why was I experiencing such turmoil about continuing to breastfeed when I returned back to work? It just did not make sense.

Here is what I said to myself. Number one: I am a hero, a force to be reckoned with. Not only did I carry this guy for the last eight and a half months, but I also provided the biggest sacrifice of my body that no one else will ever be able to do for him. Number two: No longer is the question, “how am I going to do this?” Instead, it became, “how will I do this?” And to do this, I needed to know the facts, research my options, and develop a plan.

Did you know? Breastfeed anytime, anywhere in Florida! It’s the law!

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A momentous moment occurred when this bill was passed, in that the law finally caught up to the 21st century! The Breastfeeding Promotion Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect breastfeeding women from being fired, or discriminated against, in the workplace.

You now have the right to take unpaid breaks to pump, with reasonable time allotted for you to nurse in a private room other than the bathroom for up to one year after the birth of your child. You can also claim breastfeeding equipment as a tax deduction. This is all great news for moms who are anxious about returning to work after childbirth!

All companies are expected to comply, however, companies with less than 50 employees can apply for exemption if they can prove that the application of the law causes undue hardship.

Developing Your Plan

Seek out help, support, and guidance. Do not wait until delivery to decide this is the time to learn about breastfeeding. Talk to your human resources department to learn about what resources are available to you. Inform your employer of your plan to pump before you go on maternity leave. It does require work, and like anything else in life, you need to invest in it. I have a feeling this little package you are carrying in your tummy is worth it. When returning back to work, make a checklist of things to get done, and pack your bag the night before. Eat a good breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is best to double pump. Nurse your baby as much as possible. Bring icepacks to store your milk. Know your rights, be prepared for resistance, and never give up.

To learn more about the classes we offer for moms-to-be at Winnie Palmer Hospital, click here for class descriptions and registration information.