New mother’s returning to work are in a highly sensitized state. Since child birth and new motherhood are such charged and radically new experiences, the return to work can be seen as anything from devastating to a perfect escape, and all the points in between. What most women have in common is a fear about leaving their baby with a new caretaker who may be largely unknown. Tremendous guilt around leaving their baby or because they are ashamed they are not feeling bad about leaving the baby is also common. There is worry about not being able to accomplish their old job at the same level of competency and there are usually ambivalent feelings about the job itself since all values and priorities are shaken and changing. Of course there are also feelings of missing the baby and the idea that they “should” be at home. It is a very complicated and tender time but often women get back into a rhythm in a few months.
The new law will go a long way to begin to help women more seamlessly move from their nursing identity to their professional identity. At this time these two identities are very hard to reconcile for most women. One way to do this is to educate mothers that the nursing experience is more flexible than they are lead to believe. Many women can nurse in the morning, when they arrive at home and before their baby goes to sleep or in the middle of the night. They may not need to encumber themselves with the pumping process at work at all and may enjoy their nursing experience more that way. If a mother decides to pump at work, acknowledgement that she is nursing and plans to take time at work to pump breast milk is the most important factor. Most women are embarrassed or even frightened to bring it up to bosses both male and female. Having a policy in place that is discussed BEFORE the maternity leave would be tremendously helpful in setting the stage for a better transition. Any workplace that provides a comfortable, private space for pumping will help to lessen the feelings of shame or uncertainty regarding their nursing status.
The Breastfeeding Information Council recently released a 5 step guide for nursing moms returning to work. Below is an expert from this write up that speaks specifically to the importance of preparing for this transition in advance.
step 5: Prepare — Plan your employee’s Return to Work Prior to her maternity leave
This is the most critical step of all. For many women, the decision to breastfeed is both personal and private. BBIC research indicates that 53% of working mothers claim that they do not feel the need to discuss their intention to pump with their employer. Of those that do, only 35% initiate the conversation with their employer prior to their maternity leave.16 Yet, planning ahead ensures greater peace of mind for the employee when she knows that she is supported in her decision to continue to breastfeed after returning to work. It also helps the company prepare for a new mother’s return to work.
here are some helpful tips to ensure the conversation happens:
• Discuss the employee’s plans for breastfeeding, including whether she intends to pump when she returns to work and for how long; understand that while plans may be discussed prior to leaving, those plans may change
• If you are not comfortable having this discussion with your employee, find someone who is – perhaps another mother or a colleague with whom she is close
• Provide her with the company’s written policy, as well as any other supporting material that you may have to help her prepare for her return to work and a sample policy is included Appendix B
• Listen and have a two-way dialogue – understand that a working mother’s needs may vary and some flexibility may be required
• Explain that the company and its staff are fully supportive of the new mother in her choice to continue breastfeeding, and outline the process for filing a complaint about any harassment to which she may be subjected.
Appendix C contains a handout with helpful tips for a new mother returning to work.
“If a mother decides to pump at work, acknowledgement of her decision is the most important factor in helping her feel supported when she returns to work. Many women are embarrassed or even frightened to bring up the topic of breastfeeding with both male and female supervisors. Having a policy in place that is discussed BEFORE the maternity leave would be tremendously helpful in setting the stage for a better transition.”17
Lisa Spiegel, M.A., LMHC, Soho Parenting Center, BBIC Advisory Board
“It’s important that employees communicate with their employers, preferably while still pregnant, and let them know that they intend to pump when they return to work. You want to give your company as much opportunity as possible to come up with a suitable arrangement for you – you don’t want to spring it on them that you need a place to pump on your first day back.”18
Carole Lucia, Contributing Editor, Breastfeeding and Health, Fit Pregnancy
step 3: Write a simple, straightforward
A good breastfeeding policy doesn’t need to be complex. It simply needs to include the essentials of how the company supports its nursing mothers. Appendix B has a sample breastfeeding policy template that can be used to develop your own.
The policy should be written in the same tone and voice as your other corporate policies and should:
• Clearly state that the company supports nursing mothers returning to the workplace and that all staff are expected to do the same
• Summarize the legal requirements for complying with the Healthcare Reform Act
• Define or suggest reasonable break times and state whether these are paid or unpaid
• List private places where a nursing mother can pump
• State that the policy will be discussed with nursing mothers prior to their departure on maternity leave
• Provide a means for a nursing mother to lodge a complaint if she feels that she is being harassed or discriminated against because of her decision to pump at work
“A mother will try and replicate the frequency of her breast emptying while at work with a breast pump. Frequent pumping will allow her to continue to produce breast
milk, so that she can provide her baby with expressed breast milk for the following day.”14 Shery Leeder, IBCLC, BBIC Advisory Board
“Novice pumpers are undertaking something that is new and unfamiliar to them. They have to adjust to the fact they’re expressing their breast milk while their work world
swirls around them. This can translate into difficulties relaxing, which can lead to the need for a longer break for pumping, especially in the beginning.”15 Carole Lucia, Contributing Editor, Breastfeeding and Health, Fit Pregnancy