WBW 2016: 5 tips for a strong nursing relationship while working away from home

wbw2016-logo-textEditor’s note: Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals central to World Breastfeeding Week this year is a call for better workplace support of breastfeeding women. Certainly employers have a large part to play in meeting this goal, but women also need step up to advocate for themselves, their babies, and their right to express breastmilk while at work:

It’s that day…the dreaded day that no new mother wants to face — the last day of maternity leave.

For a mother able to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave afforded by the Family & Medical Leave Act, the last 3 months in baby bliss may instead feel like 3 short weeks, but regardless of the maternity leave length, the end of that special period arouses many emotions, especially for a nursing mother.

Naturally, a nursing mother’s mind becomes occupied with fears and questions:

  • How will I be able to provide enough milk while I am away?
  • What if my baby refuses a bottle?
  • Where will I find enough time to pump while I’m trying to work?
  • How will my boss and coworkers feel when I need time to pump?
  • What will happen to our nursing relationship?

This uncertainty creates even more stress and anxiety for the breastfeeding and working-away-from-home mother for she knows the important role breastfeeding plays in a secure attachment in addition to the numerous health benefits.

Mommy Kissing Baby LContinued nursing after the maternity leave period helps maintain a strong attachment between mother and baby. In his book, The Attachment Parenting Book, Dr. William Sears includes a chapter entitled “Working and Staying Attached,” in which he points out that giving your baby your milk is a very important way of staying attached to your baby after returning to work. Expressing milk for baby to drink during the day allows mother to, in a sense, be with baby while she is away at work. When mother and baby are reunited, their attachment through breastfeeding can resume as if she never left.

Nursing beyond maternity leave not only helps strengthen attachment but also provides numerous health benefits for the nursing mother and her nursling.  In 2012, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published their policy statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” in Pediatrics. In this document, the AAP notes the numerous benefits of nursing, including those of nursing beyond 3-4 months. Some of these benefits for baby include a lower risk for developing serious colds, asthma, and other allergies; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; and childhood and adult obesity. For the nursing mother, benefits include a lower risk of diabetes for mothers not diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a lower chance of arthritis, and breast and ovarian cancers. Essentially, the longer a mother can provide her baby with mother’s milk, the more health benefits received by both mother and baby.

In order to continue a secure attachment and experience the health benefits of breastfeeding, nursing mothers can maintain a strong nursing relationship while working away from home by following a few simple tips:

  1. Know your breastfeeding rights — Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, many U.S. employers must provide a nursing mother with break time and a place to pump for up to 1 year after the birth of her baby. It is to be noted that companies with less than 50 employees are exempt from this law and instead offer pumping breaks at the discretion of the employer. Information, along with instructions for filing a complaint, can be found through the United States Department of Labor. Many other countries have generous allowances for nursing mothers at work, so be sure to check with your nation’s laws.
  2. Plan a pumping schedule — This schedule will differ from mother to mother. Planning to nurse right before being separated from baby and as soon as mother and baby are reunited can help reduce the amount of pumping sessions needed at work. While at work, a mother should try to pump about every 3-4 hours. For a mom working an 8-hour shift, she might pump once in the morning, once during her lunch, and once in the afternoon. The idea is that for each time baby receives expressed milk from his or her care provider, mother is pumping. In doing this, mother should be able to pump the amount of milk that baby will consume the following day. Talk with a local breastfeeding specialist for a pumping schedule tailored to your work environment and other needs.
  3. Discuss needed accommodations with employer — When a mother meets with her employer, she should be prepared by knowing her legal rights. A working-away-from- home mother should inform her employer of the needed accommodations before returning to work. The employer may need some time to make changes in order to accommodate the nursing mother. When the mother meets with her employer, she should provide her employer with a copy of her nursing schedule. This may also include pumping space accommodations. For example, the room where milk will be expressed needs to have an easy-to-access electrical outlet and should be heated and cooled.
  4. Nurse on demand — Although a working mother must have a pumping schedule while at work, at home, she can nurse her baby on demand. Nursing on demand means that a nursing mother nurses when cued by the baby. This might be every 30 minutes or every 2 hours. Since how much milk produced is based on demand, a nursling can help increase a mother’s supply by nursing frequently. Nursing on demand also allows baby to re-establish the nursing bond that was missed during the day. Nursing on demand can continue during the night. Frequent night nursing may lead to reverse cycling, meaning the baby will nurse more frequently during the night than he or she does during the day. Some mothers who encourage reverse-cycling find that they don’t need to pump as much while at work during the day. For example, a baby may only drink 4-5 ounces of milk while his or her mother is at work, but the remaining amount of milk needed will be attained during the evening and all through the night. Essentially, in 24 hours, the baby will have consumed his or her total amount of milk needed.
  5. Get support — Most nursing mothers need support throughout the breastfeeding journey, and nursing mothers that work away from home are no exception. La Leche League International and other nonprofit organizations provide local and online opportunities for mothers to connect and support each other.

While the end of maternity leave marks a transitional period for mother and baby, a strong nursing relationship can be maintained by carefully preparing for this changed and remaining dedicated to the desire to nourish baby with mother’s milk.

The mother’s ‘guilt cyst’

Effie2 (2)I suspect that for nearly all women, soon after our first-born makes the exit out of our bodies and into the world, a “guilt cyst” begins to grow inside us — metaphorically speaking, that is.

When my first child was born, I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. That decision came as a surprise to me, but it felt right at the time.

However, once the overwhelming feelings of immense responsibility and sheer exhaustion subsided, guilt started take over. I felt guilty for my lack of financial contribution to our household. With me not working — in the “professional sense,” that is, because we all know that stay-at-home parenting is work! — we lost 50% of our combined income.

A few years later, another nagging feeling started to creep in: I missed having professional ambitions and a career. I felt guilty for not being a career woman.

One afternoon at a friend’s house, over a nice glass of wine, my friend Heather and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. Heather is a sweet, shrewd businesswoman. She is married, has three kids and a live-in nanny. She confided in me that she envied me and our stay-at-home mom friends. She explained that, unlike her, we get to spend time together and we are able to dedicate a lot of our time to our kids and attend their school activities. She added that she felt guilty for spending so much time away from her kids while her nanny spends a lot of time with them.

I responded that I envied her for having a career, for being able to drink a cup of coffee while it’s still hot and for being able to walk around without a “shadow” following her every move. I added that I felt guilty for not working and I was wondering whether I provided my little girl with a good example of what a strong, independent woman should be like.

We went on and on until I tired of our kvetching. “Listen to us!” I said. “We are different women who made different choices for ourselves and our families. Why can’t we just accept our choices and live with the pros and cons, whatever they may be for each one of us?” We toasted to that and decided to move on.

I tried to move on. I thought I found the perfect solution in quest for more balance: I became a work-from-home mom!

I used to pride myself on being an excellent multi-tasker. It didn’t feel that way anymore.

Some days, I found myself drafting a work email, making dinner as I tried accommodating each of the family members’ often very different ideas for what should be served on their plates, helping my kids with their home and answering my husband’s texts, often responding to the dreaded message “What’s for dinner?” — all at one time!

At the same time, the thoughts and feelings circulating in my mind were along the lines of: I am underpaid for my contributions and skill set at work. I am depriving my family of a nice, elaborate dinner. I wonder if my kids sense that I am not fully present; I am certain they are feeling my agitation. I hope my husband is not thinking I am neglecting my “wifely duties.” Hey, I’m doing my best here!

I felt like I was doing so much, and I wasn’t excelling at any of it.

Then, I heard TV news anchor Barbara Walters say: “You can have it all — marriage, kids, career — just not at the same time.” That hit a nerve. I found it to be my truth. Nowadays, I am a stay-at-home mom, contemplating on the next chapter of my career.

More importantly, my “guilt cyst” subsided and is under control. I suspect I will never completely rid myself of it, but I am at peace with its existence. I attribute this acceptance to the support of my friend Heather and my growth as a being.

This subject of mother’s guilt over working or not is one that has been debated for many years and will be debated for as long as we have choices as mothers. I now decide to focus on how wonderful it is that we have choices.

Jealousy, It’s Crawling All Over You

My mom used to sing a song to me as a child every time I got jealous. It started, “Jealousy, it’s crawling all over you. There goes your eyeballs…”

I’m jealous of my husband and his connection to our three year old. Sometimes I feel like a third wheel (I know it is normal; I Googled it). Nonetheless, I feel like a jerk for feeling jealous of my husband for having such an incredible bond with our energetic, spirited toddler. Three years old is such a fun age! Benjamin can express himself. He can open doors. He can lock doors. He can climb on top of a plastic organizer box and turn the light on in the living room. And oh yeah, he can work the Kindle Fire better than I can. And as I write this, I hear him say to his daddy, “I have your keys. I want to go in your car,” as keys jangle and more toddler murmurs come out.

Benjamin is very attached to his father.

My husband and son

I was on the receiving end of this affection when I was breastfeeding. Mama was what consoled him. And all I wanted was a little time for myself. Just a minute to go to the bathroom alone. Now, I could go to the next town over and use the restroom at the mall and perhaps my son would not notice I was gone, as long as Daddy was there.

Now he reaches for Daddy, sits on Daddy’s lap, plays with Daddy, wants to be with Daddy all the time. He is a daddy’s boy. (Now Ben and Daddy are playing spaceships. Daddy with Buzz Light Year and the Rocketship and Ben with the Star Wars X-Wing and Luke Skywalker. They are engaged in their own vocabulary of play, zooming around the galaxy. In fact, I was referred to as the Mommy Nebula, as my husband hid Buzz’s spaceship behind me. Ben came giggling along with Luke Skywalker in hand.

Most of the time, I sit back and grin from this bond they share. This language they only understand, played so easily and organically. I try to play like Daddy does and my play missions seem forced and well, dumb. Daddy’s play language is filled with intricate expressions only a grown up boy could articulate. Mostly, I am grateful, full, and happy about it. It is just those tiny (sometimes big) moments when I get completely rejected. “I don’t like you. Go away. I want Daddy.” Ouch, punch to the mom gut.

I thought this might be because I recently went back to work. I started a part-time job at the end of March. My brother-in-law (Uncle Tim) and in-laws (Grammy and Pa) watch Ben while I am at work. Three weeks before I started working, I tapered the lengths of my excursions out of the house. Ben would cry hysterically for me when I left him in the house with my brother-in-law. I felt so bad leaving him and so elated once I was gone. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. My first few trips were to the library where I basked in the silence and worked on research for a book.

Left to right: My husband (Daddy), my son (Benjamin) and brother-in-law (Uncle Tim)

Then I would miss him after an hour. I started with one hour, then two, and then three, increasing the time every day until I reached the hours I would be gone when I returned to work part-time. My brother-in-law said Ben would cry for a little bit and then he would be fine. Eventually he didn’t cry anymore.

When we first started this process, I only wished that the crying would stop. Then it did, and I kind of (OK — completely) wished he would miss me that much again.

Eventually, after many monologues of self-doubt and insecurity about my choices of returning to work, I realized that this was just part of the process. Just part of parenting. It. just. was. It was normal for him to feel comfortable with my brother-in-law and my in-laws. He was in good hands and loving arms. But still, I wanted them to be my arms.

This parenthood thing throws me for loops at every turn, just when I think I have it figured out — the reset button is hit. Learn all over again.


Ben says, “Pick me up Daddy. Pick me up.” He settles in up on his daddy’s hip with a view from top of the world.

I marvel at this sometimes. The way Ben looks when he is up on his daddy’s hip, long three-year-old legs dangling. Ben beams; he is proud. The two of them are symbiotic. Their hearts wrapped around each other, visible from the outside.

Attached at the hip, father and son

As a mother, my heart is a vine and it reaches with invisible twines that wrap around my son’s. I feel this tug at each turn. Ben though, is sitting on top of his daddy’s shoulders, snipping the vine, letting go in some ways. I coil the string, and wrap it safely up for the next time he will need me. He does. He will. I will wait.

In the meantime, I have a little more free time. I should be writing instead of watching, with my green eyes. In fact, I had time after work this past Friday to stop and gaze at the flowers. There is a field of pink, red, and white poppies near my exit for work. I stopped at took some photos. This is something I would not have been able to do had I been in the car with my son, as it was near the highway.


Poppy field near exit ramp off highway (I pass this everyday on my way to work)
It's all about the angle you look at things...









Stopping to gaze at the flowers









Mostly, my eyes are aglow with love and adoration for both my boys. I may envy their magic, but I appreciate the warmth of the fire from the sidelines.

Watching the magic, enjoying the muse

What else can I do? This is a normal stage for children and I appreciate my son has such a loving daddy. And I appreciate that I have such a loving husband. I’m lucky.

Extra Pair of Eyes

Play MatesI cannot underscore the importance of a supportive spouse, partner, or mother’s helper when you’re a work-from-home parent of a mobile baby or preverbal toddler.

Just this week, my seven-month-old son has learned to climb the few steps between the family room, where my office is located, and the kitchen. I had hoped the steps would serve as a barrier between the two rooms for a little while longer, since the gap is too wide for a baby gate. After all, he wasn’t even rolling over consistently only a month ago. In just the last four weeks, he not only learned how to roll over but also how to scoot, sit up, and pull himself to a standing position. I’m envisioning him leaping off the couch in a couple months. I hope I’m not right.

As such, I’m finding it a little difficult to do certain types of projects without a second person keeping track of the baby – projects that require deep thought for more than the couple minutes it takes for my baby to cross the room and scale the steps before I need to get up to fetch him. Understandably, his five- and four-year-old sisters do not want this responsibility – and they shouldn’t have to, anyway – although I am grateful when they play in the family room, as the baby stays put when his sisters are near.

So, these projects have been relegated to mostly overnight hours, when baby is asleep, or when my husband is home. Certainly, my husband can’t be on danger watch every moment he’s home, as he needs to do things like mow the yard and work on the cars, so I try to work it out with him a couple days in advance so he can adjust his to-do list for the week. But as a parent, he does share the responsibility.

It doesn’t mean your spouse or partner isn’t being reasonable if he or she doesn’t want to watch the kids while you work every night. It’s one of those things you have to work out. For some families, it works out better to hire a mother’s helper than to rely on a spouse or partner, just because they’re so tired after a long day’s work themselves. But that might make you feel resentful. Both of you need to voice your expectations and concerns regarding your work-home situation, and find a solution that works for both of you.

When my girls were young, being only a year apart, I hired a mother’s helper during the day, as working with two babies at home is a bigger deal than with one baby. Or maybe, I think it’s easier now because I’ve finally got the hang of it? Either way, I found a mother’s helper to be critical when I was working on tough projects. I requested a mother’s helper – usually my mom, although I have a grandmotherly neighbor and a teen from church who also like the job – as needed, and basically she served the purpose of an extra pair of eyes. I still cuddled with my kids, fed them, and changed their diapers, but when I needed an extra minute to finish my thought, my mother’s helper would fill in the gap. She would also prepare meals, throw in the laundry, pick up the toys, and do other odds-and-ends so that when I took a break from the project, I could spend it giving undivided attention to my kids rather than on some chore. While she was here, my babies were always in the same room with me.

I know some work-from-home parents who do use a nanny or babysitter or put their children in daycare while they work, and that’s OK. I also know of some single parents who are able to work from home without hiring help. That’s amazing! But, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a parent if you do need an extra pair of eyes, or hands. A mother’s helper, or at least help from your parenting partner, may be just what you need to balance work with home while keeping your attachment bond as a priority.