If you are like most working moms, you’re probably feeling a little anxious about returning to work after the birth of your baby. Becoming a mother is a life-changing experience and in your heart, you might really want to stay home and enjoy every precious moment with your little one. However, sometimes circumstances require that you return to work – and hopefully to a job and responsibilities that you enjoy. There are so many things to consider – from how to educate colleagues about the needs of a breastfeeding mom, to the simple logistics of having a comfortable place to pump, store milk and establishing a routine for fitting private pumping times into a busy work schedule. It is important to remember that everything is possible with open and clear communication. People react to things that they do not totally grasp and so this can be a wonderful opportunity for a new mother to help colleagues and management be aware of the needs and challenges of a breastfeeding mom returning to work. Here are some tips to make the transition back to the workplace a lot easier.
Have a Plan
Women have the right to continue breastfeeding their baby when they return to work, but having a very specific plan in place before you walk in the door that first day back, will make the entire process easier. If you take the time to define and agree a plan in advance, everyone will know what to expect. Since most moms are not able to breastfeed their baby or babies at work, pumping is the best alternative. Talk to your boss, agree your breastfeeding plan in advance, and explain that in order to continue to give your baby the nourishment they need for as long as they want, you will need to keep up a breastmilk pumping schedule as close to the routine you have at home. This means pumping every 3 to 4 hours – so twice during the 8-hour workday. Agree with management exactly where you will pump and make sure that it is somewhere that can be scheduled for your exclusive use, with an electric outlet, access to a sink, where you will be comfortable and stress-free. It is important to think about the entire daily schedule and create a routine that includes breastfeeding just before you leave for work, and when you return home. You will also need a place to store your breastmilk at work. Decide how you will label it and how you will answer any questions that your colleagues may have.
If you plan to pump breastmilk at work, your daily kit should include:
- A good quality breast pump. Check out your options and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle.
- Extra bottles, breast shields, bra pads, wet wipes and tissues.
- If you do not have a refrigerator at work, ice packs to keep the expressed milk cold.
- A picture or phone video of your baby to help make the pumping easier and more relaxed.
- A snack and a bottle of water for yourself.
- If you can, consider keeping a spare breast pump kit at your office.
Know Your Rights
Most Canadian mothers are eligible for about a year maternity leave at home with their babies while their jobs are held. However, some moms have to make the difficult choice to come back to work earlier and want to understand their rights in the workplace. Most moms know that the World Health Organization and the Canadian Paediatric Society recommend that babies eat nothing but breastmilk for the first six months of life, so continuing to provide them with this is an important consideration. The truth is that it benefits the mother, the child and the employer. Fortunately, there are now laws in place in Canada to allow a working mother to continue to provide her baby with breastmilk by pumping or breastfeeding at work.
Workplaces in Ontario for example, must support breastfeeding to stay in compliance with the law. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states, “Women cannot be discriminated against in any way because they have chosen to breastfeed.” The employee and the employer need to collaborate on the arrangements to permit the mother to breastfeed upon her return to work.
The Commission also says that “Employees who require breaks, such as for pumping or breastfeeding, should normally be accorded those breaks, and not be asked to forgo normal meal breaks as a result, or work additional time to make up for the breaks, unless the employer can show undue hardship”.
So a working breastfeeding mom is protected by the law, and can be comfortable asking for these rights to be given in her own situation. Educating her company management and colleagues is a very important role that she can play since many people may not be aware of these advancements in the rights of working moms.
Helping to develop a breastfeeding friendly workplace policy and making colleagues aware of it is a great gift that breastfeeding moms can give their companies and society. Raising awareness within your workplace and ensuring supervisors are supportive of other new mothers as they return to work, will start a culture change and greater acceptance for future generations.
Talk to Colleagues
Most work colleagues will be supportive of your return to work and with a bit of education, they will understand why you plan to continue to provide your baby with healthy food. They may be a little embarrassed because breastfeeding is new to them. But by explaining everything in a sincere and positive way, you will help them to learn and allow your breastpumping to become a normal part of your daily work routine. Let everyone know where you plan to pump and if you will be pumping in your own office, make a friendly “Do Not Disturb” sign for your door. Just let your workmates know your plan and aim to get their support.
Don’t Feel Embarrassed – Be Proud of Yourself!
Do not be hard on yourself. At first, you may be a little self-conscious and nervous, but above all else, feel proud of yourself. You are doing something amazing by juggling a career and balancing your role as a mother. This can put a lot of strain on you personally– but take one day at a time and try not to worry about tomorrow. Just focus on the present, manage the things you can control and know that every day you pump breastmilk you are giving your baby something that only you can provide and that you are giving them the best start in life. Pumping and providing breastmilk for your little one even though you are working, helps you maintain a close relationship that is priceless. Don’t try to be the perfect multitasking super work/mom, just be the best you can be. Know that by creating a simple harmonious balance between mom time and work time you are giving a precious gift to both you and your child.