It is commonly understood that breastfeeding mothers returning to work face multiple challenges. Balancing work and motherhood, carving out time to pump at work and maintaining adequate milk production are all topics that any employed, lactating mother can discuss at length. Studies have shown over and over again that employment outside the home reduces breastfeeding duration.
A new study just published in the Journal of Human Lactation (August 2011) has shed some new light on this topic. It sought to understand the relationship between breastfeeding and occupational type (professional, administrative, service, sales, etc.) and postpartum employment status. The researchers asked about initiation of breastfeeding as well as duration of breastfeeding. The subjects in the study included thousands of women in the U.S. from all walks of life.
Instead of boring you with all the statistics and methodology, I’ll just summarize the results. This study found that neither postpartum employment status or occupational type was a significant predictor of duration of predominant (mostly) breastfeeding. However – and this is big – full time workers were less likely to initiate breastfeeding in the first place! There was no significant difference in breastfeeding initiation between part time workers and mothers with no postpartum employment.
Mothers who were employed full time and chose to continue breastfeeding were also less likely to continue breastfeeding beyond 6 months compared to part time workers and “stay at home” mothers. Again, there was no difference in breastfeeding duration between part time workers and non-employed mothers.
Even when mothers have part time jobs that enable pumping breaks, access to lactation consultants, and other amenities, milk production can still be a problem when relying on a breast pump for a large part of the day. Other research has demonstrated that the strategy associated with the longest duration of breastfeeding after returning to work was breastfeeding the baby during the work day. Access to the baby is the number one strategy for maintaining breastfeeding for the longest amount of time.
How does all this relate to you? If you’re breastfeeding and plan to return to work, the following strategies will help you continue your breastfeeding relationship until you and your baby are ready to wean. You may not be able to do all of these things, but if you can do some of them some of the time, your chances of meeting your breastfeeding goals will increase!
- Stay on maternity leave as long as possible.
- When you start back to work, just work part time if possible. Even if it’s only for the first year. Consider job sharing.
- If you must go back full time, find a way to work from home part of the day or a day or two per week.
- Does your employer offer onsite day care? If so, go for it!
- Get childcare close to your job so you can have access to your baby. Nurse your baby at lunch whenever you can.
- Find a care provider who will bring your baby to you at lunch so you can breastfeed. Even having that option once a week will help tremendously!
Remember, even if your work situation is not what you’d like it to be, with persistence and good support, you can do it!