Women's Health

How working moms can make breastfeeding work for them

How working moms can make breastfeeding work for them

As if being a new mother isn’t hard enough, new working moms have a different set of struggles to deal with when it comes to caring for their babies. New mothers are recommended to breastfeed for at least the first six months after birth, but, not surprisingly, work schedules can interfere, researchers have found.

In fact, a new study revealed mothers who work more than 20 hour per week within six months of giving birth are less likely to follow the recommendation of breastfeeding for six months than mothers who did not go back to work. The results also showed working less than 19 hours per week is linked to better chances of continued breastfeeding, regardless of the length of maternity leave.

According to the World Health Organization, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their child up to 2 years old with the addition of other foods, as it enhances nutrients from regular food and prevents infections.

Nearly 77 percent of mothers breastfeed initially after birth, with only about 16 percent doing so exclusively six months later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“To increase the longevity of breastfeeding, take as long of a maternity leave as allowed by your employer and personal finances,” suggests Lucinda Edgren-Gebhardt, a registered nurse certified in Inpatient Obstetrics and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.  A longer maternity leave builds a more established milk supply, she adds, and even starting back part-time would be beneficial.

Most states have laws which encourage mothers to breastfeed, as seen from the data of the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • Forty-nine states allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.
  • Twenty-nine states exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.
  • Twenty-seven states have laws associated with breastfeeding in the workplace.

Could the workplace environment be a discouraging factor for new breastfeeding mothers returning to work? It’s possible, but the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act obligates most employers to offer their employees break times to pump up to one year after birth. An area, other than a bathroom, is also required for comfortable, safe and private expression of breast milk.

Working moms are encouraged to pump the same amount as if they were actually feeding their baby, usually eight to 12 times in 24 hours, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “The milk must be removed on a regular basis to continue production,” notes Edgren-Gebhardt, “and when milk is not regularly removed, it has an inhibitory effect on production.”

Many mothers use their breaks and lunch hours to pump and may come in early or stay late to make up lost work time. HHS suggests that new working moms invest in a breast pump, as it may be the most efficient way to express milk during work. If you have an office with a door, another option would be to have a hands-free breast pump, so you can work and pump simultaneously.

“Many mothers unfortunately have erratic work schedules, making it difficult to pump as often as they would like,” Edgren-Gebhardt says. “Moms should do the best they can and try not to stress about how much milk they can pump.”

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