Monday, February 13, 2006

Supporting Working Moms who Breastfeed

It's not just about teaching them how to leave breastmilk behind, though many people seem to think that covers it. Here's what else I think:

The kind of support I really needed from La Leche League wasn't so much the pumping logistics, I had those figured out and could find other answers to "mechanical" questions online pretty easily. I appreciated the creative ideas about the SITUATION of a mom who has to separate from her baby (suggestions about how to keep baby close to mom, even in a more traditional work setting; suggestions about ways to negotiate some work from home to minimize the length of separations; reminders that there is no substitute for mother's milk or presence and maintaining the breastfeeding relationship serves both needs so well!).

Reminding the mothers that babies will likely reverse cycle at night after mom returns to work (and that this is normal and good) and suggesting ways for getting more rest (giving permission for a messy house, getting help with all things not related to personal care, baby care, or work) might be helpful.

Encouraging breastfeeding on demand round the clock when mother and baby are together will help extend the nursing relationship. One mom I worked with thought she should "cut" the nursing she'd miss when she was away from her child when they were together, so he wouldn't "expect" it when they were separated. I stressed to her that her absence alone would serve to let him know that he shouldn't expect to nurse, and that her presence alone would encourage him to nurse -- both good things (this child was over 1 year old and still nursing when she went back to work, and she truly wanted to make the separations as easy as possible on him).

A reminder that some breastmilk is better than no breastmilk might be appropriate. I've been heartbroken to see mothers who just couldn't keep up with their babies' demands completely throw in the towel. Do what you can to eliminate the "all or nothing" feeling a lot of mothers have IF they seem unwilling or unable to commit to exclusive EBM feeding and breastfeeding (of course, the ideal is to encourage as much breastfeeding and breastmilk as possible in the first place). Even if it comes down to baby nurses when they're together and gets 1-2 bottles each day of EBM, the rest ABM...that's still better than total weaning on all counts, especially in that it keeps the baby at the breast when mom is near and keeps mom motivated to be near as often as possible. This is a very important point. A mother who is no longer breastfeeding at all is less likely to stay attached to her baby in other many, the end of the nursing relationship "lets her off the hook" so to speak (which is very sad but is also an attitude I encounter a lot). Encouraging any mothering at the breast (and any pumping to keep production going) helps that mother have a real reason to hurry home to her baby and stay close to him as much as possible when she's not at work.

Fathers/partners MUST be supportive and involved! There are lots of ways to work on this.

It never hurts to offer a few tips on how to minimize judgemental statements from group members at La Leche League meetings when a mother who will be separating raises a question. I've been discouraged to hear stories from moms who work outside the home about experiences at meetings that have been really negative. A gentle reminder to Leaders that anyone who needs information about breastfeeding is welcome at our meetings, and some positive steps to ensure all mothers can feel supported in their breastfeeding needs are really important. These moms are already in a compromised situation by having to separate -- affirming their choice to keep breastfeeding and providing the tools to help them do so will be a great service to those mothers and their babies.