Time can pass very quickly when one is a mother. It seemed like it was only yesterday when one’s child was just an adorable baby, and she seems to be growing up so quickly with every day!
Also, just around the corner is the end of the mothers’ maternity leave. While some mothers may welcome a return to a familiar routine, most may experience a twinge of concern about how they can continue to breastfeed their little ones when they return to work.
It's best to get prepared early
“Getting everything in place early helps the mother resume work knowing that her baby is in good hands,” Dr Tan Sue Yee says. “It also allows the mother and her baby to transition smoothly into a new routine that allows the baby to continue to receive the goodness of breast milk.”
What is the new routine like?
Generally, life on a working day for Mom and her baby can go about like this:
- Mom breastfeeds her baby before she goes to work.
- When she drops off her baby at the babysitter, she also drops off a day’s supply of expressed breast milk for her baby. Moms have a good idea by then how much milk their baby needs in a day, but it is good to leave some extra in case Mom is late in picking up her baby due to traffic jams, etc.
- The babysitter cares for the baby. She stores the expressed breast milk properly in the fridge, thaws and warms the breast milk to give to the baby.
- Mom comes home after a day’s work and breastfeeds the baby.
There are a few things Mom (and Dad) should look into before it is time to go to work.
#1 Decide how to express breast milk.
A breast pump is a popular option, as it allows Mom to collect and store her breast milk, which can then be fed to the baby by the caregiver while Mom is at work. The other option is to express breast milk by hand. Moms prefer breast pumps due to the convenience offered by these devices.
Dr Tan explains that there are two main types of breast pumps available: manual (that requires Mom to keep squeezing a handle to collect breast milk) and electric-powered ones. These breast pumps have either a single pump, which collects milk from one breast at a time) or double pumps, which collect milk from both breasts at the same time. Prices may vary depending on the brand and the features of the breast pump, but it is not always necessary to get the most expensive one. Many Moms have gotten by just fine with manual pumps or more inexpensive electric-powered ones.
There are many breast pumps available in the market, so how does one choose? Dr Tan advises Moms to ask family members or friends who have breastfed for recommendations. They can even borrow breast pumps from these people for ‘test runs’.
Some criteria to consider when choosing a breast pump are:
- Is it comfortable to use?
- Do you find it easy to use?
- Do you find it easy to clean and sterilize?
- Are you comfortable with the amount of noise it produces?
- And, of course, is its price within your budget?
Note that it is a good practice to sterilize breast pumps before use. This can be done by using a sterilizer or just immersing the breast pump in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. After use, wash the breast pump immediately. Doing all this helps reduce the risk of germs contaminating expressed breast milk.
#2 Learn how to store and prepare expressed breast milk for your baby.
Dr Tan Sue Yee explains that there is a simple art to storing breast milk: label the date of collection (and the baby’s name too, if the baby’s caregiver has more than one young charge to care for) on the container. When storing breast milk in the fridge, place the newest ones at the back. This way, Moms will always use the older milk first and there is less chance of milk still being kept after it has spoiled.
Breast milk should be kept in the coldest part of the fridge or freezer. The table below shows how long breast milk can keep at certain temperatures.
- Room temperature - 4 hours
- The regular space in the fridge (2-4°C) - 8 days
- The freezer (0°C and below) - 2 weeks
“This is why labeling the date of collection properly and accurately is important,” Dr Tan says. “We don’t want to store spoiled milk and accidentally give it to the baby.”
When it comes to preparing the breast milk for the baby, it is pretty simple.
- Thaw and warm the milk by placing the container in a bowl of warm water.
- Moms may find fatty blob-like globules in the milk. This is normal, as they are just milk fat that has become separated from the rest of the milk. Just shake the milk gently and the appearance of the milk will be back to normal.
- If the milk has a soapy or metallic smell, it is still fine to be consumed. On the other hand, do not use breast milk that smells sour or rancid – such a smell is a sign that it has spoiled.
- Moms can test whether the milk is ready to drink by tipping a few drops onto the inside of their wrist. If the milk feels lukewarm, it is ready for the baby’s tummy.
- A word of caution: do not use a microwave to thaw or warm the milk! Doing so creates pockets of heat in the milk which can scald the baby’s tongue and mouth. Also, discard any leftover milk.
#3 Prepare your baby for this new way of feeding.
Babies need some time to get used to new things – sometimes even longer than adults! – so about 2 weeks before Mom goes back to work, she can introduce feeding expressed breast milk to her baby. Dr Tan recommends, if possible, to get someone else to feed the baby during these sessions, so that she would be comfortable being fed by another person once Mom goes back to work.
Dr Tan explains that, to do this, Moms can start by replacing one breastfeeding session with expressed breast milk, and slowly replace more breastfeeding sessions as the days pass.
#4 Find the right person to care for your baby.
The right person isn’t just someone who is good with the baby – she must also understand how to store and prepare breast milk. “A friend of mine once placed her daughter under this babysitter’s care,” Dr Tan recalls, “only to discover, when she went back to retrieve something she left behind, that the babysitter boiled the expressed milk directly in a pot!”
Therefore, Moms should take time to talk with a prospective babysitter or the family relative who will care for the baby. Feel free to demonstrate on how to store and prepare expressed breast milk, if that will help them understand better. If the babysitter is not working out, they should not hesitate to look for one that is more understanding about their baby’s needs.
#5 Other things to do
Moms should also check to make sure that they can comfortably express breast milk back at their workplace.
- It won’t hurt for the Mom to let the employer or her immediate colleagues know that she wants to take some time out every day at work to express breast milk. This may sound daunting, but Dr Tan assures Moms that there are many women today who express breast milk while at work, so there is usually strong support for such Moms at the workplace.
- Some workplaces have special rooms for Moms to do this. If the Mom’s workplace does not have this facility, however, she can make enquiries in advance. Are there any places that she can use, such as an unoccupied meeting room? (Storerooms are not recommended, but they are an option if the employer does not provide any other option.)
- Does the pantry have a refrigerator that the Mom can use to keep her expressed breast milk, and will her colleagues be comfortable if she does this? Is the temperature of the fridge right? Moms can bring cooler bags containing ice packs to store their breast milk if there is no available storage at work.
- Last but not least, take plenty of pictures of the baby on the phone. Looking at them will make the temporary separation from the baby much easier to bear! “And stimulation the production and flow of breast milk too!” adds Dr Tan.
#6 And, of course, breastfeed when you’re back from work.
Even when the baby is comfortable with being fed expressed breast milk, there is always time and place for breastfeeding. After all, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both Mom and her baby, and many Moms find that breastfeeding their precious little darling is a great way to de-stress after a hard day’s work.