Going back to work when you’re breastfeeding can be daunting, but Jess McCabe knows her stuff…
So you’re going back to work, but you’re still breastfeeding. Unless you work around the corner from your childcare and can nip out to quickly nurse your baby, you’re probably planning to express milk at work. Here are the eight things you need to know before rocking up at your job with your breast pump…
1. Almost every workplace pumping story starts with having to speak to your boss and explain, yes, you are still breastfeeding your baby, and you’re going to need some space and time to pump breastmilk while you’re at work.
Chances are you’ve not referred to your boobs in a work email – so it’s understandable if this seems awkward. “I told work I’d be doing it when I returned and they didn’t bat an eyelid,” one mum says. Others may be less understanding.
It’s best to just clearly explain what you need in writing, so your workplace has time to sort out the basics for you. If you’re not sure what to say, the campaign group Maternity Action has some tips and an explanation of your rights.
2. Obviously you need a breast pump, manual or electric probably depends on how young your baby is and therefore how much you’re going to have to pump. An insulated cool bag for storing your precious milk on the commute back is another goer. If you’re getting really serious, it’s possible to get a hands free pumping bra. Whether you want to stay at your desk and type while you pump is another matter…
3. Yep, the fridge. You’re going to need one at work to keep your milk stored until home time. You might have to put your breast milk in the communal fridge. Many pumping mums have a fear of the fridge and coworkers using your milk in their tea – possibly justified. “I had milk taken from out of the fridge because someone wanted to play a joke on someone,” one mum says. Best to stake out your plan with work before you go back.
4. You’ll need a private space. What’s available depends on what sort of work you do, and how many pumping mums have paved the way in your job. Your rights are pretty vague on this point – employers just have to provide a place for pregnant women and breastfeeding mums to “rest”. But the Health and Safety Executive says work is meant to provide a lockable, private room – that isn’t the loo.
“I am a teacher and all rooms in my school have little windows in the doors for safeguarding. I had to throw the deputy head out of her office as it was the only private room in the building,” says one mum.
Even if you work in an office it might be hard to find a private space, especially with the popularity of open plan offices and glass bubble meeting rooms. “I used to express in the filing room. People would actually come in and do their filing while I was expressing,” another mum recalls.
5. Taking paid breaks for pumping isn’t a luxury – but amazingly, it we still don’t have a specific right to these breaks. Under UK law there are some other rights that should apply indirectly though, and this guide will help if you need to argue the case with the boss.
6. Getting in the mood is key. You’ve found a private place, you’ve got your pump, you’re ready to go – but no letdown. You’re stressed and thinking about work? The best thing to do is look at photos of your gorgeous baby. Your milk will probably start to flow.
7. Get ready for some potentially awkward conversations. Hopefully all your colleagues are super mature – but even so, you might get some silly comments. “Can I put that in my coffee?” one man jokes awkwardly every time he sees me carrying my pump.
8. You might be expressing milk that doesn’t get drunk. If your baby is young still, this probably won’t apply. But older babies might become bottle refuseniks. You still might need to pump for your own health, to prevent mastitis caused by not nursing for long periods of time. You could consider a milk bank donation to babies who need that liquid gold.
9. You might inspire your colleagues to breastfeed. Striding through your work with a bag of breastmilk and a pump might have its strange moments – but just by doing this you’re helping to show everyone this is just a normal part of life. “Colleagues went on to breastfeed because I did,” says one mum. Who knows how many you might inspire?