Exclusive breastfeeding as a working mom… Is it possible?

The only question I had during my pregnancy – How to combine my work with exclusive breastfeeding?

I started my research by then. All seemed difficult yet possible. Firstly, I learned about human milk, storing it, transporting it and using it.

Little bit about human milk:

Human milk / breast milk gets divided into water and fat (you will see the fat on top) when left to stand and this doesn’t mean it is spoiled.  You can shake the container/bottle with breast milk, for it to look like cow milk out of carton. You have to understand that expressed at different time breast milk will not look the same, as various factors can influence the color and fat of it. However all of these can’t judge the quality of your milk. It is just human being is created in a way to survive. Breast milk is the only food and water for a baby at first 6 months of his/her life. Yes, breast milk is not just food, it is also a water for a baby, that’s why you get “thinner” or “fatter” breastmilk at times. I personally believe that it is a very well thought and planned magic of a creator (Allah, God) to let the human being survive by having both – food and water directly from mother’s breast.

Color of breastmilk varies from bluish white to yellowish white. Colostrum’s (initial milk) color is yellow to yellowish orange. Transition of colostrum to mature milk can take up to 2 weeks. You might also have pinkish white breastmilk expressed in container. This means the breastmilk contains blood from sore nipples. Blood in milk is not harmful for baby, however you have to consult with breastfeeding experts to sort the sore/cracked nipples issues to avoid the problems raising from incorrect latch-on (sore/cracked nipples are caused by incorrect latch on).

How long does your breast milk stay fresh? It depends on how and where you store it. Breast milk can stay fresh for 3-4 hours at room temperature of 15-25°C. (Personally, always kept the expressed breast milk in refrigerator only). It is best to refrigerate or freeze the expressed breast milk to keep it fresh. Refrigerator can keep it fresh up to one week. Freezer can keep it fresh up to 4 months. Most of the sources claim longer period, but I followed this shortest period as told by Pediatric doctor.

The second thing I did is – bought the necessities:

1.Breast pump machine.

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2. BPA free plastic feeding bottles

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3. Bottle warmer

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4. Sterilizer

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5. Essentials for washing/cleaning the above

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Credentials for choosing these items:

Electric breast pump machine.

I am a full time employee, this means I have to be away for long hours, which require often pumping. Hand expressing is painful and takes very, very, very long hours, so didn’t even take it into consideration. Manual pumping is better, but I heard it is time consuming too. I’ve chosen one side electric breast pump machine as it is quick and easy. Why one side? It is compact to carry around. I chose the brand Philips Avent (neither advertising nor advising, just sharing) because I know the company Philips and trust it, also liked its features:

  • BPA-Free
  • More comfortable pumping position due to unique design
  • Choose from 3 expression settings (low, medium, high) adder starting in the gentle stimulation mode
  • Soft, warm stimulation massage cushion now has a soft, warm texture intended to help stimulate milk flow
  • Compact, lightweight design for ease of use and transport- fewer light weight parts

 

It is always your choice and preference in choosing a particular brand, all I suggest is to choose an electric, lightweight and with special cushion (stimulating milk flow) pump machine.

 Containers to store the breast milk:

I am very sensitive in terms of hygiene. When I thought of storing the milk, the only requirement was in my mind: not keep pouring milk in and out. That’s why I decided to use the BPA free plastic bottles as a container (glass ones can break in the freezer). All I had to do is attach the bottle to a pump machine, detach it and cover it with cap to store in refrigerator. I used to pump the exact amount of milk required per bottle to avoid the milk waste. Whenever my son was hungry, my mother/husband used to get the milk out of refrigerator, warm it directly in the warming machine and offer to my son in the same bottle. If you are choosing the plastic feeding bottle, please make sure that is BPA free.

Bottle warmer:

I had a warming/heating machine from Avent. Again, it is your own choice and preference in terms of getting a particular brand. All I needed is a lightweight, compact and easy to use machine.

Sterilizer:

There are many varieties of sterilizers. The most important is to choose the automatic one I believe, because manual ones require a use of microwave. I am not keen using microwave in general, especially for baby items or food. We chose Avent as we thought “everything is being this brand, so why not going for it”. So, there were two options: 3 in 1 and 4 in 1. Both belonged to the same brand, electric, automatic. The only difference was first made of plastic, second had stainless steel parts in it. I regret for choosing the first one as it had rust soon after using. I think the stainless steel one won’t have such issue.

Essentials for washing/cleaning

Bottle cleaning brush is a must. Breast milk contains fat as any other milk and the bottles get stains. Therefore the bottle cleaning brush is designed specifically to clean the bottles well and is truly helpful.

Bottle drying rack: I find it useful as it helps to dry the bottles quick and hygienically.

Bottle cleaning liquid: I used to wash the bottles with hot water and brush only. However once a week I used to add the liquid (not “Fairy” certainly, the special once sold in baby section). Just make sure to rinse the bottles well after the liquid.

Through pains and tears…

I knew that sweet and precious days with my son will lessen up as I should go back to work as soon as he turns 4 months old. Though I planned and done my homework way longer (perhaps since I got pregnant) the real frustration and worry started the time closer to 4 months. I started understanding that I will not see my little angel for 9 hours a day and he will be missing me. The frustration came from guilt I felt for giving less love and care to my son, due to my work. Just to warn you first months will be terrible, you will feel guilty, you will always want to go back home, sometimes even cry, but you will get used to it or at least admit the reality. “All we do is for our children”, “we work to build a good future for them” – these thoughts could calm me down most of the time. In addition I used to leave my son with my mom initially (till he turned 7 months old). I trust my mom more than anyone that’s why I was more comfortable and confident enough.

How did I start?

I know and understand that human milk can be kept in the freezer for at least 4 months, but I felt like giving maximum of 3 days (kept in refrigerator) milk would be closer to the direct from breast. That’s why I never filled my freezer with my milk. One week in advance I started pumping my milk to store in the refrigerator for a trial. First two days my son refused having the milk from bottle, we tried different bottles, different wholes on silicone nipple, nothing worked at all. There I started panicking, because I was not prepared for it, I thought he will just start sucking the bottle as it has milk in it. My mom asked me to leave the room on third day, in our astonishment he started drinking the milk from bottle till the time I answered the phone call and he heard my voice. So next day my mom asked me to leave the house, so I did, and all went well. By day 5 and 6 he tried refusing initially but accepting the bottle with my breast milk 2-3 times a day. Day 7 – he got used to it.

Tips for a start:

  1. Start training your baby for a bottle at least 1 week in advance
  2. Ask the person, your baby is familiar with and best if this person who is actually going to take care of your baby during your working hours, to offer the bottle, as most of the babies don’t accept the bottle from the mother as they can sense the breast milk smell.
  3. Leave the room or even the house whenever your baby is offered a bottle with your milk. This is just for time being. Later on he/she will accept the bottle with your milk even from you. Some babies accept the bottle with mother’s milk offered by mother from day one. So all depends on baby.
  4. Have different silicone nipples on hand: #1, #2, #3 or #4 (wholes). Most babies prefer 1 or 2 wholes. Some babies who are born big have a great appetite so they prefer starting with #3. As your baby grows and you feel anxiousness or your baby refuses the bottle, try changing the nipple to bigger size as the current might not provide enough flow for his/her current size.
  5. Don’t panic, take it easy. You need time and patience. Practice makes perfect.

Pumping at work:

I will not mention all the sorrows I went through for the first weeks at my desk, all I can tell is you are a perfect mom, all you are doing is fine, and in fact you are a strong and caring mom who is breastfeeding by being a full time employee! Pumping is the easiest part, having special surroundings and required equipment is the difficult part. Therefore I suggest you to exchange the emails or phone calls (whatever is best approaching method) with the HR department or with your direct manager (whoever you are comfortable to talk the sensitive topic with) about the environment the company can provide you with, to support you as new mother.

You will need the followings from your company:

  1. Room for you to use to pump your milk. Should be without windows or with curtains on for your privacy. The room should have a lock. It should have a socket with electricity for your electric pump. It should have a chair or a sofa for your comfort. In my case, my management provided me the keys from the prayer room of our office which has sofas and an electric socket.
  2. Most of the companies have a refrigerator. You need to inform your company that will be using the refrigerator to store your milk. In case you have no refrigerator in the office and can afford to buy a small one (300-600 dirhams) agree with office to allocate your refrigerator within the office. We had a huge refrigerator in our office kitchen, which made my job easier. I used to cover the milk bottles with paper bag (to avoid the shock/astonishment of other employees, or else I am just over sensitive)
  3. Some companies are very strict with timings, so you need to clarify if your management can allow you to disappear from your desk or workplace for 10-20 mins twice/trice a working day or not. Otherwise you have to negotiate with them whether to use half of your lunch break or 1 of 30 mins break given to a breastfeeding mother.

For you to know:

UAE law allows extra 2 breaks for a new mother, each must long 30 minutes, till the baby turns 18 months old. It can be negotiated as lessening the working hours or else can be used for pumping the milk or leaving the office to breastfeed your baby (if you leave nearby). The negotiations can be done according to preference of your management, but you must know your rights.

You will need to prepare the followings from your side:

  1. Electric pump machine
  2. Containers to store the milk (milk bottles or special containers)
  3. Thermobag. This is a must item for carrying the milk in container of bottle from office to work.

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4. Breast pads. Milk supply tends to be very high for the first 6 months and 8-9 hours of separation from your baby might cause accidents, so it is always safer to keep extra pads with you.

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How long did I pump and when did I cancel the day feedings:

My son started going to nursery from 7 months old (I will have a special post on this topic) he had all types of solids and water from then on, which decreased the demand on breast milk slowly. I had excessive pumping till my son turned 9 months old. By then I started pumping only once a day as three bottles were enough for him. When he turned 13 months old he passed to 1-2 bottles a nursery day only (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ). Please keep in mind that remaining time (Morning, early and late evenings and the entire night) I breastfed him on demand. He simply stopped asking for bottle with milk when he turned 14 months old, so I stopped pumping as well. Also, I was not required to pump to soothe the pain unlike to first 10 months, when I wanted to pump just to relieve the pain from full breasts. However he still asked for breast before/on noon naps during weekends till he turned 16 months old. He was completely out of day feedings by 17 months old (till then he still asked by 5:30 p.m.) He is 20 months old now and he has only 2 breastfeeding: before/on going to sleep, at 3a.m.

Additional tips:

  1. Weekends get busy, so preparing by Thursday evening for the coming Sunday would do better. As I mentioned earlier, I preferred storing milk in refrigerator for maximum of 3 days. Therefore I always had enough for next day only milk stored in the refrigerator. I used to pump 1 bottle of milk by Thursday evening (which will be used by Sunday, so only 2 days aged), 2 bottles on Friday, and 2 bottles on Saturday. My son used to take 180 – 220 ml at a time, so I should make sure to have minimum 700 ml of milk (260 ml x 3 bottles) in the refrigerator. To be on safe side I used to have 1 more bottle as additional. Please note that this method is very risky, especially during birth spurt times, you might end up having no milk stored in the refrigerator. I took the risk on me as I could take a leave in such cases (which never occurred), also I had very high supply of milk and I used to nurse a lot throughout the night (night feedings increase the supply of milk).
  2. Pump both breasts (one after other if one sided machine and together if two sided machine) at work. Pump only one side and offer the other side whenever you are at home, in this case you need to make sure to replace the pumped and offered breasts by next feeding.
  3. Try to pump in small quantities time to time as an additional, whenever you feel your breasts are full and your baby is sleeping (small bottles 125 ml, but keep only 60-80 ml). These small quantities are used when your baby might seem not full, so you don’t waste the whole big bottle.
  4. Food or water will not increase supply of milk so you don’t need to eat or drink more than required. You only need to eat well for keeping yourself healthy and drinking more than 8 glasses of water per day is good for any adult.
  5. Pumping will affect the breastmilk supply in any ways there or after. The best tip to keep your milk supply it to breastfeed often at night (on demand) especially between 4 to 5 a.m.

Overall, combining work with motherhood is not easy but possible. You will get used to it and it is only for a year or so. Thinking of the advantages of breast milk we can go through a difficult year as a mother!

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