15 Nov

#MakingItWork – what if expressing doesn’t work for me?

Gemma Scott is a registered midwife and health visitor, and currently works for Plymouth City Council Public Health Team. Since her work focuses on children and young peoples’ health, she was familiar with some of the challenges she might face when returning to work as a breastfeeding mum – but what happens if you find it difficult to express milk when you’re away from your child? As she discovered, it needn’t spell the end of breastfeeding.

Some of the most common questions I see mothers asking about returning to work are,

How much breastmilk should I leave with my child?

How often should I pump?

I don’t have enough expressed breast milk, do I need to switch to formula?

My own experiences of returning to work whilst both my children were still feeding (around the clock!) and both around 9 months old, suggest these issues might not matter as much as you would think

Personally, I could never pump a huge amount of milk no matter how hard I tried. I have spent a whole week pumping a measly 100 mls for my daughter! And do you know how much of that precious liquid gold she drank? ZERO, choosing instead to have cups of water, solid food and cuddles with her nanny instead. I’ve tried, pumping and hand expressing religiously in office spaces, cafes, supermarkets, the car and everywhere else in between, terrified that my supply will dwindle whilst away from child, all to no avail. So, as you can gather, none of this stuff worked for me, …but something did, as we continued through our breastfeeding journey well into their toddler years.

Instead, I’ve learned that some good questions might be,

Who or what is my support system?

How can my support system adapt to support me on my return to work?

So, who or what was my support system? Well, it was completely a team effort and it began well before the babies came along.

Preparing my employer and particularly my immediate colleagues for the fact that I would be breastfeeding on my return to work was so important. The ‘what’ of course, was an HR policy which supported me as a breastfeeding mother – so do find yours and if there isn’t one, start asking some questions! Alongside this, during pregnancies I made sure that my work mates knew how important breastfeeding was to me, and how I might need to manage that on my return.  In my case I did make it very clear that I would need to go out of the office to either express or feed my baby during regular breaks.

I kept in touch with my colleagues during maternity leave.  I took opportunities to bring baby in to work to for events and occasional meetings when I could and so, my children became part of my work identity. I believe that this made it easier for my work system to adapt around me and be empathetic to my needs as a parent. I can recall a number of corporate events where I attended with baby in a sling, who was of course then passed continuously around everyone in the room. I mean, who doesn’t love a cuddle with a baby?!

Gemma and her baby at work.

It wasn’t only my employer who was prepared for the need to adapt and support us, but my partner’s also. By asking to flex his hours around our family well before baby arrived, he was able to work a shorter week and to be at home more as needed.  By being provided with the necessary IT and diary considerations, he was supported in supporting me. On his days at home if I wasn’t able to get away from the office for some reason, he would often bring baby to me for a breastfeed. Working in a fairly male dominated sector, he was initially reluctant to request this change to his schedule presuming that it would not be approved or, that it wouldn’t be a priority; but of course it was, so do ask!  

By also having additional childcare close to work, I was able to organise my day around visits for breastfeeds, never being further than a 5 minute drive away.  There were times when I would arrive and baby would be too busy to be interested in feeding, or fast asleep, but to arrive and see that they were happy and settled that was always good enough for me. It wasn’t long before myself and baby were ready to be separated for a little longer, but the transition felt like a process that we were both very much in control of.

Of course looking back, I was very lucky! I had good relationship with my employer, as did my husband. We had childcare from someone we knew and trusted. We had choices. I know unfortunately that this is not the case for lots of families, but some of the questions we asked and the steps we put in place, might be just a bit easier than the challenges women like me face with pumping, storing milk and being physically away from baby for the day.

We know that given the right support baby and mum will adapt around each other, it’s actually up to everyone around us to make sure it happens.

To read more about Making It Work, BfN’s campaign for breastfeeding mothers returning to work or study, click the image below: