- Updated on Oct 10, 2023
Article written by @selma_bienetre, Naturopath and mum of baby Lana
This is one of (if not the) most stressful topics for a young mum on maternity leave. Even before you give birth, you are thinking about going back to work, and afterwards you are trying to make the most of it, but the clock is ticking like a pressure cooker ready to explode.
I've heard a lot of "No, but are you really going to continue breastfeeding after your maternity leave? You're crazy! You're going to be exhausted".
Let's face it, breastfeeding generally takes a long time to get going and to be appreciated: in the first few weeks, you feel a bit like a prisoner of your baby, who wants you 24/7, you sometimes feel a little sore and you often feel lost in this new role of mother. Then come the growth spurts that test our limits, push us to the limit and make us lose all self-confidence. Fortunately, feedings eventually become enjoyable. Each one becomes a moment out of time, a privilege, an exchange of gentleness, love and complicity with your baby. For several minutes, our eyes meet, a little smile to say thank you, a hand on our chest as if to say "I know, Mum, you give me a lot, I can see that you want the best for me and I love you for that".
Except that, when the going gets tough, we usually have to get back to work and don our new 'working mama' hats. Then comes the dilemma: to continue or to stop?
Personally, I chose to continue. I knew I might get tired but I chose to believe in it. Of course, I'm in no way judging those who decided to stop the adventure at that stage, and even less those who decided never to breastfeed. I'm convinced that it's better to keep the good memories and that every mum, whether breastfeeding or not, is the best for her child.
The only problem with deciding to breastfeed and work is that there quite no support and a lack of available information.
Let me tell you what has worked for me, now that I've been on maternity leave for 2 months and I am continuing the breastfeeding adventure with my daughter.
Prepare yourself, but not too much! Let me explain: Do not hesitate to contact breastfeeding consultants, they will be able to give you the best personalised advice, but don't think yourself to sleep either. Don't look too hard for information on breastfeeding groups, as you will mostly find very strict and extreme ideas. I've read "No bottles! No teats! Give in a cup, a glass or whatever". For example, don't feel guilty because your baby isn't going to be breastfed while you're away: too often I've read that a baby who takes a bottle is heading straight for confusion, that he will detach and won't accept the breast once he's home. This may sometimes be true, but it's often very untrue.
I think that the time and energy wasted thinking about whether or not to continue breastfeeding contributes enormously to mothers giving up.
As for me, the day before I went back to work, I didn't have any stock but I had prepared my body to do so, calmly and without stress. And how did I do that? I took advantage of my baby waking up at 3am to offer him a breast and then pull on the other side. So I got my body used to it. I repeated the exercise when I woke up at 7am. The secret is to be regular; take a moment, always the same one, every day at the same time, to express your milk. Our bodies are incredible, their memory is infallible and their design perfect: the more you empty your breast, the more milk you produce. But beware of overproduction, which can lead to engorgement and mastitis!
To avoid a drop in lactation during working hours, I made sure I pumped my milk every 3 hours.
At first, I pulled him into the toilet but I soon felt sick... I felt a bit like I was doing something stupid, like I was being hidden, and to be honest it wasn't pleasant or hygienic! I was lucky enough to bump into a colleague who saw me, conservation bag in hand, tiptoeing out of the toilet and said "what the hell are you doing? Didn't you ask for a room so you could pump your milk in peace? I can't thank her enough, she made me feel more confident about my choice and also made me realise that I had the RIGHT to continue breastfeeding and that I shouldn't hide from it.
Pumping your milk regularly throughout the day is, I think, one of the most important steps if you want to maintain your breastfeeding: keep stimulating your lactation. Not only will this enable your baby to benefit from the milk you expressed the day before, but you'll also be ensuring your own production.
I also really want to stress how important it is to trust yourself. And to be proud of what you do. Don't worry about your choice, because it's your right and your employer should understand that. What's more, the law is on our side. The world of work is changing and many women would have dreamt of being in our shoes, of having the opportunity to reconcile their professional lives with their work as mothers. No mother is perfect, and giving your baby a bottle of your milk doesn't make you a bad mother, and SPOILER: in most cases, your baby won't refuse the breast because of it. You are his refuge, his pillar, the person he will continue to snuggle up to, and that, in my opinion, is more than enough to keep him going. It won't be easy every day, you'll sometimes feel like letting go, crying or exploding, and that's NORMAL!
No return to work after giving birth is easy; we're faced with a new life, we're relearning how to live, we're rediscovering ourselves. My manager recently told me that breastfeeding represents almost 1,800 hours a year, whereas a full-time job is equivalent to 1,950 hours. That's a lot of extra work! But it's so worth it.
I love finishing my work, closing the computer, finding my baby and offering her my breast. We meet up again, we've missed each other, I tell her about my day, she looks at me with her big eyes, her hand resting on my breast, a few smiles every now and then; I realise every time that I've done well to hold out.
It's up to us to support ourselves, to make us feel less guilty and to ensure that a breastfeeding mum who also chooses to work is the norm!
Welcome back to work, dear mums <3