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Balancing Work & Breastfeeding

Balancing Work & Breastfeeding
Balancing Work & Breastfeeding

Kerri Langdon-Martin was anxious about returning to work after her son was born. She felt torn between being home with her child and earning a living. But the South Bend, Indiana, mom found that pumping breast milk at her desk helped her feel closer to her baby, so she felt less guilty about going to work each day. "Any way I can feel connected to my son is good," she says.

Resuming the daily grind can be stressful for any new mom, especially those who want to continue nursing. And pumping can extend breastfeeding, save you money, and offer your baby vital nutrients. To ease the transition, we've rounded up plenty of advice from experts and moms.

Most pumping-and-working moms spring for a hospital-grade pump with dual accessories kits. This device is worth the hefty price tag (from $200 to $300) because it empties the breasts simultaneously.

Skip the secondhand pump: you can pass viruses from one user to another, even with new accessory kits. Rental pumps have barriers to keep milk out of the motor, making them a safer bet.

A private place to pump is a must. The office bathroom isn't an appropriate spot, says Linda Wieser, a lactation consultant and La Leche League leader in Ann Arbor, Michigan. If you don't have your own space, ask your employer for an unused office or conference room.

Allison Orenstein, of Belmont, California, requested mini blinds for the conference room, which her employer provided. She stores expressed milk in the fridge that everyone else uses. "It was awkward at first," she says, but now "nobody bats an eye."

Milk production is all about supply and demand. That's why it's crucial to pump as often as you can. Each session will take 10 to 20 minutes, including cleanup. Plan to pump at least twice during an eight-hour workday. Amy Gudgeon, of Chicago, says she produces 3 to 4 ounces on each side during a session.

Stimulating the letdown reflex -- which signals the breasts to release milk -- can be a challenge. Stress produces adrenaline, which blocks oxytocin, the hormone that jump-starts letdown. A photo of your baby or clothing with her scent on it can help counteract this reaction.

Stefanie D'Angelo, of Cleveland, found that phoning her husband, who was at home with the baby, got the milk flowing. "Pumping was easier when I could hear the little bugger squeaking in the background," D'Angelo says.

Pumping at the same time daily helps too. "Don't go long periods with full breasts," Wieser advises. Doing so is a signal to the body that you don't need to produce milk.

Breast milk is perishable, so you need to take measures to keep your supply from spoiling. Knowing how to best transport, freeze, and thaw your breast milk is critical.

Johanna Moyal, of Los Angeles, stored her milk in bottles in a mini fridge in her office. She brought them home in a cooler, then transferred the milk to freezer bags marked with the date and the ounces in each. A stash can be a lifesaver when your milk production is low or if you have to dump expressed milk because of medications. Moms who travel for work depend on frozen milk for their babies when they're on the road.

Some women opt not to freeze much milk. Jodie Heisner, of Phoenix, more often put her expressed milk into storage bottles that she rotated in the refrigerator.

Breast milk can stay fresh in a refrigerator for up to seven days, Wieser says. In a freezer, it's good for four months. Once you thaw the milk, use it within 24 hours and do not refreeze it. Two ounces is a good volume for freezing. Leave some space at the top of the bag for the milk to expand while freezing.

Never microwave breast milk: hot spots can form, plus nuking can destroy nutrients. Instead, run the bag under warm water.

A breast pump is not as efficient as your baby, and it can be a challenge to squeeze pumping sessions into an already busy workday, so you'll want to have a few helpful tricks up your sleeve.

The morning is usually the most productive time for pumping. Heisner pumps on one side while her baby nurses on the other, making letdown a cinch. "It's nice to do it all at once," she says.

No one knows why, but eating oatmeal seems to increase milk supply, as can taking herbal supplements such as fenugreek and blessed thistle. And plenty of water is a must. But the best way to increase supply is to keep pumping and nursing. If your supply is lower by the end of the workweek, try nursing exclusively over the weekend. By Monday, you might find that things are back to normal. Sometimes, though, pumping isn't enough, so moms may mix formula with expressed breast milk.

Pumping can seem overwhelming in the beginning, but there are rewards to sticking it out. "I'm really happy I've been able to pump," Moyal says. "But it took time until I got it right."

Originally published in the February 2009 issue of American Baby magazine.

Looking for more ideas and advice on how best to balance breastfeeding and work? Be sure to check out these helpful resources: