Pump action: Aoife Hearne on how to continue breastfeeding after you return to work

By expressing milk it’s possible to continue breastfeeding when you return to work, says dietitian Aoife Hearne.

NATURE’S BEST: Breast milk contains sugars, HMOs (human milk oligosaccharides) which cannot be replicated in artificial milks. Picture: iStock

I’VE realised I go through the same rollercoaster of emotions when it comes to going back to work post maternity leave. I start hating the thought of it, praying to win the Lotto so that I can stay home with my munchkins. Next, I start to think about juggling some work while still on ‘maternity leave’ and stress myself out way too much. Finally, I move on to taking time to work and sending my baby to our fantastic childminder, feeling a little guilty but realising time on my own is actually really good for my mental health and for everyone around me, and feeling lucky that I actually like the work I do.

The last few months seem a total blur. I think back fondly of the fantastic summer we had while Zoë was a newborn. She has now just turned four months, the time seems to have flown by.

Despite being a few days overdue, I resisted the temptation of induction and thankfully was happy to have a natural delivery this time around again— despite the epidural not really working, I won’t even go there. Suffice to say, I’m happy it’s over and everyone is happy and healthy.

In the past the early, crazy weeks are my favourite, although this time around things were a little tougher and I didn’t enjoy it quite as much.

Feeding this time hurt and I mean really hurt. Nothing I did made a difference and I knew something was wrong as this was very different with my two previous babies. I had self-diagnosed posterior tongue tie from my hospital room by the following day.

Zoë was born on Friday, my diagnosis confirmed by lactation consultant on the Monday and we were in the Dr Justin Roche’s office first thing Wednesday morning to get the tongue tie released.

Though it was all over in a matter of days, at the time it felt like a lifetime. And just to throw another challenge into the mix, on discharge Zoë was diagnosed with dislocated hips and one week after she was born she was in a Pavlik hip harness for 12 weeks. And just when I was getting the hang of feeding after the tongue-tie release, all of a sudden I had to figure out how to position her correctly with the harness. Those early days were really tough.

Slowly but surely we got there, and by two weeks we were in the swing of things and we haven’t looked back.

Why did I persevere with breastfeeding? Because it matters. It matters to my health — reducing the risk of ovarian and breast cancer, among other benefits— and it matters to Zoë’s health.

It definitely wasn’t easy at the start this time, there were many (many) tears, I can’t lie, but with some great people around me we got there and now at 19 weeks it’s a walk in the park.

‘Exquisite personalised medicine’ is how the medical journalThe Lancet describes breastmilk. Add to this research by UCC Prof John Cryan who says we are not only what we eat, but we are what the healthy bacteria in our gut eat and it’s clear that setting the gut on a right path matters.

Human milk is unique because it contains sugars, HMOs (human milk oligosaccharides) which cannot be replicated in artificial milks. These HMOs are only digested by the microbes in the gut and by about 100 days after birth the diversity of these healthy bacteria are set for the rest of the baby’s life. They also minimise the growth of harmful bacteria which affects long-term health and may reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. This is what sets a child on a trajectory for a healthy and robust microbiota.

And all that science is important of course, and it helps me just a little as I pull out my pump from the press one more time. It’s recommended to wait until around six weeks to start expressing milk, when milk production is more settled. I’m not ready to give Zoë anything other than breastmilk right now, or for the first year of life for that matter, but I do need to start getting her used to a bottle of expressed milk once a day at least.

Being self-employed means I don’t have the luxury of extended maternity leave and, like many families, we need two incomes.

Within a few weeks, the pump has become a fixture again in the house as the kids look on in amazement each evening watching as ‘milkies’ flow into the collection bottles and taking turns of pressing the “let down” button on the pump.

All of this prep work is in anticipation for when I am back at work full-time. And in case you are in the same boat and have any concerns, let me tell you it is possible to go back to work and continue to breastfeed. I did so for my last two children and I expect to do the same this time around. However, I will most likely need to pull out my copy of Working and Breastfeeding Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher to get my plan of attack in place. It is definitely something that needs to be figured out logistically into your work day — finding time to pump can be tricky— but it is possible and it is worth it.

But first things first. Becoming a parent is uncharted territory, especially the first time around. Doing your prep work before baby arrives when it comes to feeding your baby can really set you up for success especially when it comes to breastfeeding.

I can’t stress enough the importance of doing your research, making an informed decision and setting up your support system before baby arrives. There are so many great voluntary groups such as La leeche League and Cuidui and Facebook pages now to support women and families when it comes to infant feeding. One thing I know for sure, is that I would not have been successful if I had not taken a breastfeeding preparation class during my first pregnancy. This wasn’t a class to tell you ‘why’ to breastfeed — this was a practical class to explain how it works, what normal breastfeeding behaviour looks like in a baby and how to overcome common obstacles.

But whatever your decision when it comes to feeding your infant, own it.

My one piece of advice for you is to take it easy. Don’t expect too much from yourself too soon. Unfortunately that seems to be easier said than done and something that I can never quiet manage for myself.

- National Breastfeeding Week runs until October 7.


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