Breastfed babies are healthier, on average, than their formula-fed counterparts. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes human milk as the preferred nutrition source for infants. For women who choose to breastfeed, doing so may prove more difficult once it is time to go back to work. Returning to work outside the home during the first year after birth can create barriers to breastfeeding, and causes many women to stop nursing when they return to work.

Why Breastfeed After Returning to Work?

Scientific studies over the years have found evidence that breastfeeding decreases your child's risk of ear infections, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and other illnesses. For these reasons, the AAP now recommends breastfeeding for the first year of a child's life.

Breastfeeding also benefits mom by reducing the risk of postpartum depression, speeding the return to pre-pregnancy weight, and possibly reducing the risk of several serious diseases including ovarian and breast cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

And since breastfed infants tend to be sick less often, working mothers who breastfeed avoid lost days at work. Finally, mothers may find breastfeeding convenient, since they avoid the preparation and expense that formula feeding requires.

According to Gale Pryor, author of Nursing Mother, Working Mother, two benefits of breastfeeding—particularly for working mothers—are that it helps maintain the mother-infant connection and helps boost a mom's confidence. A woman's confidence in herself as a mother and the bond with her infant may be vulnerable when she is separated from her infant for long periods of time.

While there are many ways to maintain the connection between mother and infant, breastfeeding ensures that the baby remains top priority, no matter what other pressures arise. It also increases a woman's confidence as a mother, since it serves as a tangible reminder that she is irreplaceable to the child. Given these benefits, why do some women stop breastfeeding when they return to work?

The Challenges

Work itself presents significant challenges to breastfeeding. In fact, University of Iowa professor Jennifer Glass noted in a recent interview, "Employment is the number one barrier to nursing."

There are several challenges you may encounter when you return to work as a breastfeeding mom. Working mothers who breastfeed usually have concerns about producing enough milk for their babies. Long work hours and stress can decrease their milk supply. In addition, working moms who breastfeed may be more fatigued and may need to plan their time more carefully than bottle-feeding moms.

Other challenges faced by breastfeeding moms at work include finding time and space to pump breast milk during a workday and lack of support at the workplace. How can you overcome these potential barriers and make a smooth transition to becoming a breastfeeding mom who works outside the home?

Making It Work

Linda Winslow, lactation consultant at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts, feels that planning is one of the most important steps for overcoming the challenges of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. "I recommend that women try a dry run," says Winslow, "so they're not doing it cold turkey."

Winslow suggests moms leave their infants with a child care provider for the same number of hours as a typical workday, to help plan their first day back to work. According to Winslow, other keys to success are the mother's commitment to breastfeeding, her ability to schedule her time, a supportive partner and family members, a supportive employer, and a day care provider who is supportive and educated about caring for a breastfed infant.

Here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace:

  • Talk to your employer—Work with your employer to create a workplace that is friendly toward breastfeeding. Try to find an advocate at your place of employment who is supportive of breastfeeding and can help you if any problems arise.
  • Maintain privacy—Ensure that you have a private space to pump, with an electrical outlet, a place to store milk, and facilities to rinse the pump parts.
  • Buy a good pump—You need an effective pump. For women separated from their babies for a full work-day, this often means a hospital-grade pump that will provide enough pressure and speed to reproduce the baby's sucking and stimulate continued milk supply over time.
  • Dress appropriately—Wear clothing that will hide any leakage and allow for easy pumping at work—avoid dresses, and clingy or transparent blouses. Use a hair clip to hold your blouse out of the way.
  • Pencil it in—Schedule pumping sessions in your date book as you would a meeting.
  • Fuel your body—Drink water often while at work. Remember to eat well.
  • Take it easy—The first two weeks after returning to work are often the most tiring. Cut back on other activities during that time. Get as much help with household chores as possible.
  • Talk to friends—Find other moms who have successfully breastfed while working and enlist their support.
  • Ask the expert—Keep the telephone number of a lactation consultant handy in case problems arise.
  • Nurse whenever you can—If you decide to supplement with formula, nurse frequently when you are with your baby to maintain your milk supply.
  • Remember that medicine can affect your breast milk and your baby—Talk to your doctor before taking prescription and over-the-counter medicine, as well as herbs and supplements.

Don't let anyone tell you that breastfeeding and working outside the home are mutually exclusive. With careful planning and forethought, you can break through all the barriers that hinder your ability to do a good job at work and be a nursing mom.