When I hear the term “make it work,” my mind jumps to a meme of Tim Gunn from the show “Project Runway.” His role was to coach upcoming designers and, in the heat of a design challenge, often remarked “make it work” when unseen obstacles or concerns emerged. “Make it work” is a cultural mantra, at least for my generation. We’ve learned to get comfortable being in uncomfortable situations, to fit round pegs in square holes while we’re working at something.
Except, here’s the thing. Making it work shouldn’t apply to new mothers who are fresh from birthing babies. According to recent reports, 1 in 4 American mothers return to work within 10-days of giving birth. With no national paid family leave policy, postpartum women are often exploited without time to awaken from the hormonal haze of having a baby.
I can’t change this grim reality, but I can continue to support mothers who do return to work and who are eager to breastfeed their babies. And though mothers are not biologically hardwired to leave their babies weeks or months after bringing them into this world, the reality is that we work to provide for the family we love.
If your return to work is quickly approaching, read these 3 “make it work” tips as a breastfeeding mother:
1. ACCLIMATE EARLY TO THE PUMP & BOTTLE
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are fundamentally different: to breastfeed, our little ones extend their tongues past their bottom gum line to undulate the breast; to bottle-feed, our little ones actually hold their tongues up and back to create a different suck and seal altogether. To avoid bottle refusal, aim to introduce the bottle at around 3-4 weeks of age and once breastfeeding is already well established. And always, always practice paced bottle feeding (see Tip #3 from my Best Ways To Introduce the Bottle to the Breastfed Baby).
Breastfeeding and pumping are fundamentally different from one another, too: while our little ones undulate the breast with their tongues to remove milk from glands at the back of our breasts, the pump pulls milk out from just around the nipple and areola. It’s not nearly as effective as the suck and pull from our little ones. To increase milk output with the pump, massage your breasts for a minute or two before pumping and halfway through a pump session (sessions should last 15 minutes, on average). A study out of Stanford reports that massage/compression during pumping can increase milk output by up to 40%.
2. PUMP FOR BABY, NOT THE FREEZER
A freezer full of frozen breastmilk in neatly packed storage bags might be Pinterest-worthy, but it’s not necessary for working mothers. The goal is to leave roughly 1 ounce of breastmilk for every hour you’ll be away from your little one, usually 10-12 ounces for a typical workday. Aim for a few extra ounces in the early days to account for spillage (yikes) or caretaker error, and ensure that bottles of breastmilk never surpass the 3-4-ounce mark. While at work, express breastmilk every 3-hours for 15-minutes using the massage technique mentioned above to mimic baby’s own nursing habits as best as possible. This milk will go directly into the refrigerator when you get home for baby to consume the next day.
3. SNUGGLE UP AND REUNITE
Enjoy as much breastfeeding as you can when you’re reunited with your little one, both before and after work and on non-working days. Our bodies are supremely smart and regulate to our baby’s needs the more they’re with us. Take a delicious mid-afternoon nap with your little one — complete with open access to nurse — and worry of compromised milk supply will go out the door.
Sarah is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor who believes in giving mothers, mothers-to-be, and their partners the support and education to make informed decisions about how to feed their little ones. She’s the owner of IM•MA, a lactation education practice in Los Angeles that offers prenatal and postnatal breastfeeding classes, consults, and support groups. She holds a Masters in English Literature and Education and pinches herself silly to get to do the work she loves with moms and their sweet babes. Her greatest role is as mom to her cuddly and ever-curious 16-month-old son, Noah.