April 15, 2010

The Realities of Working and Breastfeeding

"When providing breastfeeding support we must listen to the mother and meet her where she is."
Last month I attended the Breastfeeding and Feminism 2010 Symposium: Informing Public Health Approaches. It was an inspiring and educational conference. This is the quote that came from my workgroup at the conference that really spoke to me. It is where I believe all individuals need to come from when working with a breastfeeding mother.

As I look at breastfeeding and work there are certain realities that we cannot escape. One of the most recent breastfeeding accomplishments in public health was the health care reform law that allows women employed in businesses with over 50 employees to be permitted to pump and have a place to do so. This is an amazing accomplishment that we need to applaud, but at the same time we must also recognize the limitations of this legislation and work with breastfeeding mothers to help them overcome whatever obstacles prevent them from continuing a breastfeeding relationship.

I returned to work when my oldest son was 3 months. I had an office job that allowed me the flexibility to pump when I needed. Even when I was on the traveling, I built in time to pump. I also worked from home a few days a week, so I had the added benefit of being able to breastfeed my son and not pump at least one day a week. Like many, I struggled with supply issues here and there, but I was able to recover and continued pumping until he turned 1. Our breastfeeding relationship continued until he was 22 months. I was lucky. I had an ideal pumping and breastfeeding scenario. Sure I pumped in the car before a meeting, while typing an email to a coworker and while on a conference call (muted of course-have you heard how loud the pumps can be?). However, I fully recognize how lucky I was.

If my scenario was perfect, what happens in real life? What happens if the breastfeeding mother is:
  • The teacher who needs to be in her classroom for the majority of the day?
  • The doctor or nurse who works a 12 hour shift?
  • A waitress who has customers to attend to during her entire shift?
  • A woman who works in the chicken processing plant who never freely walks off the production line?
These scenarios assume that mother is fully able to breastfeed? What happens if:
  • Baby never learned to latch so mom needs to exclusively pump?
  • Mom's supply starts to wain?
  • Mom wants support in combining breastfeeding and formula?
How can we help these women? This goes back to my initial quote. We must listen to the mother. What does she need? As a doula I know the logistics. I know the positions. I know the how and why of breastfeeding, but I don't have all the answers. I know we must listen to her and help support her whatever she needs.

I do know that there are somethings we can do in our day to day lives to help. We can help normalize nursing and continue to make it easier for mothers who want to continue to support policies that encourage breastfeeding when mom returns to work.

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