When it comes to feeding a new baby, the medical community agrees: when possible, “breast is best.” But when it comes to reality — and going back to work after maternity leave — breastfeeding is not always easy. Just ask a new mom.
Before Jackie Formoso had her baby Caleb in October 2011, the Lincoln Square mom knew that she wanted to breastfeed for at least a year. She also knew what that meant: after her three-month maternity leave from Shedd Aquarium where she works as a learning portfolio coordinator, she’d need to take time at work each day to pump.
Jackie spoke with her supervisor and that discussion was the easiest part of the process —her workplace was very supportive. The idea of fitting pumping into the workday, however, made her nervous.
“I knew how busy I had been at work before maternity leave, and I know that the day can slip away from me,” she explained. But she knew the litany of benefits that come with breastfeeding.
Studies have shown that breast milk can lower a child’s risk of infectious diseases, decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, reduce the risk of diabetes, lower obesity rates, asthma rates and more. With those in mind, she committed to it.
Now, six months later, she’s a pro at finding a private space at work and pumping between meetings and deadlines. But her initial instinct was right—scheduling time can be the biggest challenge.
“Making time in the day to take those breaks has been a bit of a challenge, but it’s important to me so I’ve been able to do it,” she said.
According to Kathleen Gale, a certified lactation consultant and registered nurse at Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Family Birthing Center, both moms and babies benefit from breastfeeding.
She explained that babies who breast feed are usually healthier, which means mom won’t have to take as much time off from work to care for a sick baby. Breastfeeding can also lead to decreased rates of cancer in both mom and child later in life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months (exclusively for the first six), and longer if mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to two years and beyond.
Gale says that many moms are nervous about speaking to their bosses or HR departments about pumping at work, and stressed that this is a topic that should be addressed openly.
“It’s really great when women advocate for themselves, because they’re also advocating for other women and pioneering the way so that more workplaces provide this for mothers,” she said, also point out that, after all, it is the law.
According to Illinois statutes, an employer is required to provide “reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.”
The law also states that the employer should make “a reasonable effort” to provide a nearby space, “other than a toilet stall” where an employee can pump in private.
Gale shared the following tips for moms who are (or will be) nursing at work:
- Inform your employer. Talk with your boss or the HR department either before you go on leave or while you’re on leave so that they can prepare any necessary accommodations.
- Find the pump that best suits you. Some moms are fine with home-grade pumps, while others may want to rent a more powerful hospital-grade pump. About a month after your baby is born, start getting used to the pump.
- Take a cooler to work for storage if it makes you more comfortable. There’s nothing that says you can’t store milk in a workplace refrigerator. But if you’re not comfortable with that, take a cooler bags with ice packs in it and the milk will be good for up to 24 hours.
- Relax. Stress can impact milk let down. Once you’re back at work, do whatever it takes to get into a relaxed state while pumping. Bring in a picture of your baby, play some quiet music, take deep breaths and use breast compressions while pumping to help express the milk more quickly.