Breastfeeding... at work

March 16, 2010

Returning to work at six to 12 weeks after the birth of each child, I have pumped at work, on call, while traveling, and even on the road one very chaotic day. Both personally and professionally challenging, it causes me to appreciate why so many of my patients give up breastfeeding shortly after returning to work.

I have breastfed all four of my kids. I strongly believe the research – breast is best. It is the healthiest nutrition for babies and provides long term health benefits. It is healthier for mom allowing the average mom to consume an extra 500 calories a day. A definite fringe benefit!

Returning to work at six to 12 weeks after the birth of each child, I have pumped at work, on call, while traveling, and even on the road one very chaotic day. Both personally and professionally challenging, it causes me to appreciate why so many of my patients give up breastfeeding shortly after returning to work.

I breastfed my first child until he was five months, having to wean him rather quickly in anticipation of a deployment to Afghanistan that fortunately never occurred. My second child “fired me” after eight months. She was and remains a daddy’s girl and I secretly think she preferred a bottle from dad to milk from mom. My third child was 14 months old when we gave it up by mutual agreement. Number Four is a tenacious breastfeeder, continuing to almost exclusively breastfeed at eight months, despite our daily attempts to convince him of the benefit of eating cheerios, squash, or oatmeal.

After doing this four times, I have learned two important things.

You must allow time to breastfeed or pump. This means getting up a little early (if my husband is reading this, he is probably snorting with laughter as he usually gets up over an hour before I do and brings me coffee in bed), carving out time in your clinic schedule to pump, and taking frequent breaks no matter what you are doing to breastfeed or pump – whether you are teaching at a conference, in the airport, or at a restaurant.

I have found it helpful to make a 15-minute appointment with myself in each half-day of clinic to allow me time to pump. This gives me enough breathing room to actually get it done, despite a hectic schedule. Sometimes I have to leave a meeting early or arrive late so that I can take care of what needs to be done.

One thing I struggled with was how to inform colleagues, staff, and residents what I was doing without making them uncomfortable. I heard about one woman who had a picture of a cow she would hang on her office door whenever she was pumping to let everyone know she was occupied. That seemed a little too strange and self-deprecating to me (what new mom wants to be compared to a cow?!?). I made a laminated sign that informs people of what I am doing and how long I will be gone that I put on my chair in clinic when I head off to my office to pump.

It is not easy to continue to breastfeed once you return to work. Like every other aspect of combining the personal and professional gracefully, it requires patience, planning, persistence, and practice.