Returning to work can be a daunting experience for many mums after any period of maternity leave. There are so many changes – from the morning routine, to the inevitable changes in the workplace. But one of the biggest changes is of course, in the amount of time that you are spending with your baby.
If you’re breastfeeding, going back to work presents some extra challenges. If you decide that you want to continue to provide breast milk you will have to consider whether your baby can take a bottle/cup and whether you are able to express the amount of milk that you will need.
I have recently returned to work on a full time basis. My baby is six months old and feeds somewhere between 8 – 10 times in a 24 hour period. During the week I am usually with him for more than half of his feeds. I know I am lucky – breastfeeding is something that has come naturally for me. I am able to express milk fairly easily and my baby is comfortable taking a bottle. All these things mean that my expressing journey is thankfully pretty straight forward.
This is my second return to work journey. I had my first child in 2010 and returned to work when my baby was almost seven months old. When I returned to work that time, I can’t recall giving much thought to the amount of time it would take me to express, the number of times I should express during the course of the day and whether there were other steps that I should consider taking to ensure that my pumping would be something that could be incorporated into my working day. Unfortunately, I didn’t express for too long after my return to work. I continued to breast feed a couple of times a day and my daughter had formula for the rest of her feeds. I gave my daughter her last breastfeed the week before she turned one.
This time around, having learnt from experience, I got myself organised. I have borrowed a dual pump, I have a pumping bra/tube which allows me to do other things while I am expressing (can you believe that I actually sit at my desk and work while expressing!), I have negotiated a change in my hours so that I start and finish my working day an hour early, I have a bar fridge in my office to hold my breast milk, I have blinds on my window and a lock on my door for some privacy. But more importantly I have discovered that my best bet at maintaining supply is to try and mimic times of day that I am pumping, with the times that my baby is feeding at home. Inevitably this means a series of text messages (with the odd photo) from my husband telling me ‘We will feed in five. Love you”.
I acknowledge that I am particularly lucky in my job. I hold a senior position in my firm, I have a desk job with my own office, and my workplace thinks that there is a benefit to having me back at work and therefore are willing to engage and negotiate around how that can be best managed.
But not everyone is this lucky and so I think it’s really important to know your legal rights around breastfeeding and pumping when you’re back at work. Understanding your rights can help you feel more confident in your choice and may also help to improve workplace practices to make it easier for you and for other women at your work.