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5 Challenges Breastfeeding Moms Face When Returning to Work

10/14/2013 08:07 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Looking back on Breastfeeding Awareness month, it's important to consider how to make nursing a practical part of a new mom's everyday life. Breastfeeding can be challenging enough as it is for many moms, so when you introduce the return to work and the need to pump milk, it can be daunting. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, but without the right tools and encouragement new moms are often discouraged and give up. In fact, the Center for Disease Control found that 75% of new moms initiate breastfeeding, but only 33% continue past three months and by six months that number drops to 13%. There are many things to consider such as equipment, employer's response, break times, pumping spaces and post-maternity workload, but with the right amount of preparation and support, breastfeeding can become a natural part of a working mom's life.

Challenge 1: Understanding the type of equipment you're going to need.
There are so many different marketing messages regarding what you need now that breast pumps are covered by insurance plans. It's important to evaluate your needs, as one pump does not fit all. For example, are you more hands-off and would your needs be met with a one-button system, or are you more hands-on and willing to learn a machine that is more engaging?

Solution: Do your research.

In light of the Affordable Care Act, do your research when your insurance provider gives you a list of equipment providers to call to obtain your breast pump. Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.com) is a great resource before you commit and will rank the quality of a breast pump. If your insurance provider won't give you the pump that suits your needs, say something. Every mother's voice counts and as this new benefit unfolds your opinion is going to help shape the standard. Another helpful resource is Pumping Essentials (www.pumpingessentials.com), which bridges the gap between new moms and insurance providers by serving as the middle-man and handling all communication and paperwork on behalf of new moms, at no additional cost.

Challenge 2: Negotiating with your employer.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act via the Affordable Care Act you are entitled to break times for expressing milk and an appropriate space for pumping. However, it can be awkward to approach your boss about your plan for returning to work.

Solution: Know your rights.

Don't hesitate to reach out to HR to help you with that conversation, as that is their job and they should be both knowledgeable and sensitive. Before you talk to your employer, understand your rights in the workforce as a new mother. The U.S. Department of Labor has clearly defined your rights in the Fair Labor Standards Act (http://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/), and this will help you become an advocate for yourself. It's important to clearly define your rights and expectations prior to maternity leave to minimize any bumps in your transition upon returning to work.

Challenge 3: Returning to a predominately male industry.
Even in a world where mothers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, there are many industries that are still dominated by males. You may run into awkward or uncomfortable scenarios, such as needing to step out of an important meeting to pump.

Solution: Talk it out.

Have a conversation with your boss or human resources representative early on to discuss your intent, and remember that breastfeeding is a normal and healthy thing that is good for your baby. While it may not be your job to educate your team about breastfeeding, HR can help navigate any awkward situations using the Business Case for Breastfeeding, a resource for employers from the Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/government-in-action/business-case-for-breastfeeding/).

Challenge 4: Knowing the ABC's of breastfeeding and pumping.

Breastfeeding isn't always intuitive. New moms often run into issues such as getting baby to latch or establishing a consistent supply. Introduce a breast pump, and you have a whole new experience to navigate.

Solution: Educate yourself.

There's a lot of great content online with useful tips and tricks. Isis Parenting, a leader in the parenting space and partner of Pumping Essentials, offers "Pump Talk," an online series all about pumping such as the mechanics of nursing and pumping, how to return to work and how to talk to your caregiver about feeding. Additionally they offer free weekly webinars for any mom with questions about breastfeeding, pumping and newborn care. La Leche League (www.llli.org), an organization that provides mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding moms, and the International Lactation Consultant Association (www.ilca.org), which has a directory of lactation consultants, are also great resources for breastfeeding moms.

Challenge 5: Tackling the first day back on the job.
Returning to work can be a harsh reality. You've spent your first weeks of motherhood at home with your new baby, and now you're not only separated and facing a full inbox, but pumping in a new environment.

Solution: Plan ahead.

Try to schedule your first day back on a Wednesday or Thursday. A short first week with a weekend around the corner will make for a smoother transition. Practice pumping at home and wear easy-access clothing so you don't waste any of your already limited pumping breaks, which are usually 15 minutes. Make a schedule so you know when you're going to pump, which will help you maintain a constant milk supply.

Ultimately, breastfeeding is a short-term journey for a long-term benefit. If you run into any bumps along the way, remember that this is not forever and you're not alone. Being prepared and having a plan will allow you to maximize the benefits of breastfeeding. If you have access to a community of moms that you can relate to, either locally or online, take part! Don't' go it alone and remember that you are doing the best thing for both you and your baby.