Other than the part about sucking down milk, cuddly babies and mechanical breast pumps have little in common.
That’s one reason producing milk can be difficult for many women back at work or school after giving birth. Babies stimulate milk production – no baby, no milk.
Lactation educators say women can use some tricks and tips to help their bodies produce milk for their babies over the long term, and for their babies to get used to feeding on it, when they’re apart.
But support from other people is key, too, said Angie Tollefson, a registered nurse who offers breast-feeding education in hospital visits and in clients’ homes.
“They have to have their partner support. They have to have their child care provider support, and have a plan,” she said. “If they say, ‘Well, I’ll just see how it goes,’ I know it’s probably not going to last very long.”
She said it’s often up to employees to be assertive with their bosses about taking breaks to pump and finding a suitable place to do it.
“Moms really have to be the advocate for themselves,” Tollefson said. “We have to say, ‘No, this is what I have to do, and this is the law.’ I think a lot of women are afraid to say, ‘You have to provide this time for me and this space,’ because they’re afraid of repercussions.”
Other advice for mothers who are nursing and working:
• Count on your partner. Besides making dinner, mothers’ partners who clean bottles and label and freeze milk – while offering emotional support and gratitude for feeding the baby – influence breast-feeding success, Tollefson said.
• Practice. Xylina Weaver, a lactation consultant, suggested that working mothers start pumping before they plan to return to work – after about a month of successful breast-feeding – to give them time “to bond with your pump.” Start pumping after early-morning feedings, she suggested, when milk production is highest.
That also lets fathers or others introduce babies to bottles and gives time for parents to find an artificial nipple the baby likes, Weaver said.
• Find a caregiver near your workplace. Weaver recommended trying to place babies in day care that’s close to their worksites, making it easier to breast-feed them right before and after work, and maybe breaks.
Some caregivers – such as grandparents – can bring babies to mothers’ workplaces during their shifts, allowing at least one mother-and-baby nursing session during the workday, said Tiffany Schamber, of the Spokane Regional Health District’s WIC program.
• Carry physical reminders of your baby. Pictures and videos of your baby can stimulate milk flow, as can a blanket or piece of clothing that smells like the baby.
• Loosen up. To encourage the flow of milk, Weaver advised relaxing the muscles in your chest and shoulders, massaging your chest in the elevator on the way to your pumping room, and drinking something warm before pumping.