A new study out confirms something that almost every working mom and dad already suspected — it can be a challenge to maintain breastfeeding goals when you return to work after only a few months with your newborn, especially when asked to return to working full time. The study out this week found that moms who worked about 1/2 time (19 hours or less) were able to continue breastfeeding similarly to those women who didn’t work.
Logical: the more hours a new mom works, the tougher it is for her to continue breast feeding. The amount of time we work may be more influential than the timing of our return to work. In this study, conducted in Australia, women who worked 19 or less hours in a week were much more likely to maintain breast feeding until their baby turned 6 months old, compared to moms who had returned to full-time employment. Additionally, women who work 19 hours or less only faced a 10% chance that they quit breast feeding altogether by the time their baby turned 6 months old. Your level of work place seniority will also affect your ability to continue breast feeding at 6 months, meaning those in managerial-type roles will have more success. Other factors that made it easier? Unsurprising it’s being older, higher education, better physical and mental health and being self-employed.
If we want moms to be successful with the recommended breastfeeding guidelines through infancy we should think on how we prime them for success. And how we support them.
It’s inconvenient but potentially important to acknowledge that it’s simply harder for moms to go back to the workforce, especially those who breastfeed, than it is for dads to newborns. In the first few months of life, the time it takes to nurse a baby is equivalent to a 8-9 hour work day for most women. Most babies will drain a breast in about 12-15 minutes if they are eager and actively feeding but babies often stay on the breast for up to 20 minutes or even 30 minutes at a time. Therefore, if you sit down, feed your baby on the right, feed you baby on the left, burp the baby and then change the inevitable diaper: poof, one hour. And, most newborns feed up to 8-10 times daily. 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1. Math is easy when you do it this way. Breastfeeding alone is a full time job for the first few months. The time spent with a baby nursing diminishes as the months unfold but it can still be a significant number of hours spent every day.
The take home for me here is that we may be more successful, culturally, supporting moms to return to work during the 1st 6 months after a baby is born if we give them options for part-time work. Especially if breastfeeding past 6 months is a goal.
Current Work Place Status:
Here’s the truth: most moms work. 70% of women who have children are working or looking for work. There are a few rare organizations provide exceptional parental leave like The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Netflix & Google. However, most employers simply can’t afford to do this, leaving the vast majority of mothers only protected by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for 12 weeks. Once back at work during the first 6 months of a baby’s life, most moms are expected to go back at pre-baby leave levels of work & hours. There are some conditions that have been found to benefit mom’s success: older age, higher levels of education, a managerial or director role at work, or being self-employed. But many of us struggle to keep predominate breast-feeding with an early or return to work at 12 weeks.
Some Benefits of Breast Feeding For Baby
- Lower SIDS risk
- Immune support – leads to reduced infections for babies (ear infections, diarrhea)
- Complete nutrition, no processed food!
- Good bacteria — the passing along of the microbiome
- Potential allergy protection
Benefits of Breast Feeding For Mom
- Benefits for a more rapid recovery from delivery
- Reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer in life
- Contraception support (don’t count on breastfeeding as a 100% contraception method)
- 400-500 calories and a potentially speedier return to pre-pregnancy weight!
Tips for Successful Transitions Back to Work While Breastfeeding
- Make a plan before returning to work on how, when, and where you’ll pump breast milk while away from your baby. Incentivize the work (stash chocolate, photos of your baby, or poems in the pump bag). Little notes from a loved one is a HUGE delight for a pumping mom (hint hint hint).
- Remember to do what you can and focus on success. One thing I think many of us forget is that partial breast feeding is better than no breast feeding. Take things one day at a time if the going is tough. Every ounce you make and get to your baby is awesome for your baby and you! Be gentle on yourself for little stumbles or goals missed here and there.
- Availability of a place to pump is a well-known variable in success — asking for support to have a room with a lock on the door that is clean and private can dramatically affect experience and aid success!
- Pumping breast milk at work is federally protected — all moms have a right to pump milk for their babies while at work. Rally the troops at work if you need support to ensure you’re treated fairly.
- US Breast Feeding “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law” information
- Washington Post Article on “What’s Stopping Paid Family Leave”
Tessa Curtis says
What a timely post for me as I’ve been stressing about this very topic all week! I’m really struggling to understand why large companies don’t see the benefits of allowing moms returning to work to have flexible schedules and work part time or telecommute as it would actually increase productivity for the employer and support a successful transition back to work. Our organization has gone backwards and just this last month got rid of telecommuting and is no longer allowing even a 32 hour transition back to work. By being able to telecommute and work a few less hours the productivity would actually be increased and stress lowered! How do we help large corporations understand this?
Amen. Why can’t we have more part-time professional options? I would get the same amount of work done in 30 hours a week and get to do more for my family. When I was nursing, oh my goodness. That would have been so helpful. I was sneaking naps in the lactation room because I was so tired. I was lucky to have FMLA but ran out of leave, so when I came back I had no leave. How is that supposed to work? Oh PS have you seen the Jessica Shortall book Work Pump Repeat? I found it so helpful for going back to work and pumping, I would definitely recommend it to a mom going back to work.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE says
I haven’t seen Work Pump Repeat. Googling it now!! Thank you.
Yoshiko Flora says
I never knew that 70% of moms are either looking for work or are currently working. In my opinion, it is important for mothers to gain more information about motherhood by talking to other moms. Doing so will not only help one raise a child better but also gain new friends that can help get through raising kids as well.