Mothers often wonder if they know there will be returning to work full-time if they should still bother to breastfeed? There is an easy answer to this one – YES!! Any breastmilk is better for babies than no breastmilk at all, plus the breastmilk the baby receives in the early days of life is critically important.
The first breastmilk a baby receives immediately after birth and for the first 3-5 days of life is called colostrum. Colustrum contains incredibly important immunities, almost like a baby’s first vaccination, except personalized to the exact environment of the mother. Colostrum also helps to avoid jaundice when the baby nurses frequently (10 or more times each 24 hours) in the early days of life. It is extremely high-protein and is the perfect food for a newborn.
Breastfeeding in the early weeks and months can protect an infant from illness and studies have shown that infants who are exclusively breastfed have less illness later in life, which can be invaluable to a working parent (the longer the baby is breastfed, the greater the effect). Breastfed babies also receive a myriad of other physical and health benefits. There are also health effects for the mother including reduced risk of reproductive cancers.
Mothers worried about pumping before their babies are born, or who are unable to pump at work should know that there are plenty of options besides pumping during the day. Mothers may be able to sustain a milk supply during the night and the hours they are home from work, while allowing milk supply to wane during work hours and supplementing with formula (or, with some planning and effort, milk pumped during non-work times of the day).
Working mothers and their babies often like to co-sleep at night to be able to spend time physical time together missed during the day. Once the baby is 3-4 months old, co-sleeping can be the best way to get sleep at night, which is essential for a mother who must head off to work in the morning. By that age, babies sleeping next to their mothers can essentially “self-attach” and nurse with minimal waking from the mother – especially compared to having to get up and prepare a bottle several times a night!
Working mothers do need to take special care to ensure that they introduce a bottle at about 5-6 weeks of age, or at least a couple weeks before returning to work, to ensure that the babies ability to bottlefeed is well-established, and then continue to give a bottle at least once a day, moving towards the pattern that will develop at work by the time of return.
Even if mothers are dead-set against breastfeeding at all once they return to work (although I do really recommend they rethink the night nursing, for sleep’s sake!), nursing until that time is definitely worth it for you and the baby. Weaning is a relatively simple process that can be managed over the course of a few weeks, or sometimes even days with herbs and deliberate action. Breastfeeding is not only healthy but a wonderful way to bond with a new baby and make those most of those precious weeks or months at home.
For support for mothers returning to work, considering breastfeeding for any length of time, I recommend the following excellent book:
Nursing Mother, Working Mother by Gail Pryor
Additionally, for those who would consider nursing only while away from work, see the following written just for you:
The Maternity Leave Breastfeeding Plan by William Wilkoff