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“It has really been a challenge:” Finding a balance between breastfeeding and work

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich-- There's a lot to learn when it comes to the basics of breastfeeding, but according to some moms, there's nothing basic about it.

It seems to be a common theme among new mothers, breastfeeding is tough and only gets tougher when heading back to work.

The transition can be stressful, forcing many mothers to choose between caring for their children and their careers.

Monday through Friday, Erica Jansma packs her pump, extra bottles, and a cooler before heading out the door. She says it's not easy, but it's what she believes, is best for her daughter Alice.

"I really wanted to bond with her a bit better I thought I'd give it a try see how it goes, then I got committed to it," Jansma said. "We looked into formula, that wasn't our journey or story but it is for a lot of women."

It's a story that reads similar to other new moms. That breastfeeding while transitioning back to work is a huge challenge.

Jansma needs to pump three times daily to supply Alice with all of her feedings but is working roughly 10 hours a day

"That's proven to be nearly impossible," Jansma said. "Even though I have a flexible schedule, it's also more of an unpredicted schedule so different things can pop up here and there and just trying to find the time has been a challenge."

That's why she's working closely with Shira Johnson, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Gold Coast Doulas. Johnson teaches women who are, or plan to be a breastfeeding parent returning to work.

She notes 75% of moms at some point during their time will return to work, so "it's something most people have the need to understand."

Johnson covers everything from pumping schedules and strategies to equipment, safe milk storage and how much milk baby will need when mom is gone. Johnson says any sort of skipped pumping or skipped breastfeeding session can result in a lowering of supply.

Johnson says every baby and mother is different, but notes, "a good starting point is to pump around the same schedule and frequency as your baby would otherwise be nursing if you were with them so if you're baby nurses every two hours then it's ideal to be able to pump every two hours."

Johnson also teaches mothers their legal rights in Michigan when it comes to pumping in the workplace.

The U.S and the state of Michigan have laws protecting women breastfeeding in the workplace. Employers are required to provide reasonable break time for an employee and a private space, other than a bathroom, that is free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

Johnson recommends having a conversation with your employer before going on maternity leave.

"My employer and I really have a good positive experience," Jansma said. "I know a lot of women from other industries or areas that have faced struggles and I know women who have had to stop breastfeeding because of their schedules and abilities to pump at work."

A supportive employer or not, Jansma says pumping is a struggle either way. Johnson says it's worth it, studies show women who pump regularly miss less work than women who formula feed and pump irregularly.

She says pumping at work is important for two reasons: one is mothers provide milk to the baby when we're not with them, the other one is to protect mom's breast health.

"Employers have discovered when moms take care of their own bodies they are able to be more present and productive at work too," Johnson said.

As for the supply of milk and storage, Johnson suggests bringing an insulated cooler for those without access to an individual refrigerator and recommends moms start pumping a week or two before going back to work and to have about a weeks-worth of pumped milk in the freezer.

If a woman goes eight hours a day without moving her milk, the breast can become uncomfortably full. Plus, when the milk stays in place there is a higher risk for bacterial growth and can lead to infection.

If you are interested in learning more, Johnson is providing several 'Back to Work Pumping and Bottle Feeding' classes through Gold Coast Doulas. The class will answer any questions you may have about breastfeeding and heading back to work.

For more information click here.

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