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Combining breast-feeding with your job

March 13, 1997|By Jo Ellen Barnhart

When my friend Carol returned to work after having her first baby, she was determined to continue her baby's breast-feeding program.

"Just because you are returning to work doesn't mean you have to wean your baby from breast milk," she said.

"Breast-feeding was good for me and my baby. It gave my baby the continued protection and nutrition of breast milk and allowed me a chance to be with my daughter at least once throughout the work day."

Recognizing U.S. Department of Labor statistics indicating that more than 50 percent of the labor force is female, and more than 80 percent of these women become pregnant at some point in their careers, many companies have become more sensitive to the needs of working mothers. Often, they're willing to modify the schedules of women with babies and small children. Some companies even provide day-care services with private breast-feeding rooms.

Benefits of breast-feeding

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Women who continue to breast-feed after returning to work enjoy several benefits:

Their babies are sick less often, thanks to the protective effects of breast milk.

Breast-feeding helps ease the mother's anxiety over separation.

The baby feels comforted and secure when reunited with the mother during nursing.

Making a commitment

When you're trying to strike a balance between working and motherhood, take a long range view of your priorities. Your career will stretch out many years, but your child's short period of infancy won't. Breast-feeding while working requires a big commitment. And while some companies accommodate breast-feeding mothers, most do not.

I clearly remember my friend Carol hiding in the stall of a restroom as she "pumped" with other women intruding to use the same restroom. She also held my office hostage on occasion because my office provided some seclusion and her glass office provided a stage.

Returning to work

If your employer asks about your plans to return to work when you announce your pregnancy, do some research before you agree to specific agreements. Find out what your company's policies are for leaves of absence and what work options your company may be prepared to consider.

Ask if any mothers in your company have been allowed to work at home for a period of time.

Have any mothers returned to work part time?

Has the company offered flex-time schedules as a choice?

Your work may not be suited to flexible scheduling that permits you to breast-feed your baby as often as you'd like or at the times you'd like.

For example, travel may be a part of your job. In this case, breast-feeding becomes more of a challenge. Yet, many women do it. Speak to your doctor so you thoroughly understand what steps are needed to maintain an adequate milk supply and how to properly store your breast milk.

Student hours

Scheduling can be a challenge for student mothers, although students usually enjoy a bit more flexibility than those who work.

On the other hand, college has stresses equal to those of most jobs. Student mothers should inquire with the campus day-care facility or student services division about breast-feeding accommodations.

Jo Ellen Barnhart is the working mother of three boys. She is freelance writer and owner of a home-based marketing and public relations business.

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