Breastfeed and return to work? Don’t count on it.
Well most wouldn’t even attempt it, but there are a lucky few that perhaps have flexible hours, an understanding boss and colleagues, a quiet place in the office where they can express milk and the ability to get away from their desk for about 20 minutes at pretty much exactly the same time each day to do so, and these people could perhaps give it a try.
I am one of the lucky people whose work pretty much meets all those criteria – except for occasionally, but not often, not being able to get away to express for 20 minutes at exactly the right time. The baby is five months old and I wanted to continue breastfeeding until she was at least six months. But the breastfeeding-after-returning-to-work isn’t working out.
I started a new job last week. Just four hours in the morning. Perfect, one would think (except for the pay that barely makes it worth working after paying for childcare, but that’s for another post). I thought I could easily continue breastfeeding with this kind of easing-back-into-it schedule, ‘The baby will only skip one feed and I can express one feed at work’.
Several problems have emerged with this.
1. Timing of the home feeds: Skipping just one feed over the five hours the baby in day care would require the her last feed before being dropped to coincide perfectly with, say, 15 minutes prior to my departure. It hasn’t. The little minx feeds at 4 or 6am and then won’t feed again before I drop her off. So then she’s actually due for two feeds in my absence.
2. Expressing and the milk that only takes orders from baby: When I do remember to pack all the sterilised bits, make sure the expressing machine has fully charged batteries and manage to disappear for 20 minutes without explanation, quite often my breasts and milk will not co-operate. The let-down doesn’t happen. I get 40ml of milk after 20 minutes. I find this very annoying (not to mention uncomfortable). It’s also difficult to refrain from shouting chestwards – ‘I know you’re in there milk goddammit, why won’t you come out?’ Seriously, WHY? Why some days and not others? Is there a milk bad hair day phenomenon?
3. Bottle/Hunger Strike Until giving the bottle became a daily occurrence, on the rare occasion we went out and left the baby with a bottle there was no problem. After three mornings in day care she realised this was becoming a permanent arrangement and decided she wasn’t having any of it. She spends the entire morning crying with hunger and unable to sleep but won’t take the bottle. Obviously I am quite upset to hear this and you can imagine the childcare workers are not delighted. With remarkable stubbornness, even for a child of mine, the baby has decided she will wait until I arrive thank you very much. She knows that if she waits I will breastfeed her in a few hours and that she can and will wait until I do. The little buggers really are smarter, and more stubborn, than you think.
Personally it’s really this last reason more than any other that has meant having to give up breastfeeding. Combining bottle and breast just isn’t working. As it can’t be all breast it has to be all bottle.
How many people manage to overcome problems with expressing and bottle strikes I am not sure, but we all know that not many even get to the starting gate — the kind of work arrangement that lets you express up to as often as every three hours at the workplace is almost non-existent.
Even for mothers who do manage it, how does it go down at work with bosses and colleagues? All those 20-minute breaks. Not really OK. Unless it’s to have a smoke, and even smokers are coming under pressure to give it up the smoking breaks lately. Plus, just mention the word breast milk and the idea of milk-expressing to most men and pretty much anyone who doesn’t have children and they’ll shudder. If they realise that you’re popping breast milk next to their yoghurt in the fridge every day they’ll really turn on you.
If there is anyone out there who has managed to pull this miracle off I would love to hear your tale.
This article was inspired by a very informative and interesting article on the blog Empty Pockets