I went back to work when my eldest son was just fourteen weeks old. ‘Oh that’s so sad’. ‘God you must be heartbroken.’ These were just some of the comments I heard from friends and family both here and back home in the UK. But in reality, I didn’t think it was sad. And I wasn’t heartbroken. Because actually, whilst I am 100% in love with my first born and think he’s The Best Thing In The World Ever, I also found the majority of my maternity leave pretty boring. There. I said it. Newborn babies are very cute and all, but when you’re trapped under a cluster feeding baby for hours at a time and you’ve watched all six seasons of Gossip Girl on Netflix, you start to get itchy feet.
So when I had used up my 45 days maternity leave, plus all the annual leave that I had carefully accrued, I headed back to the office. I actually have a photo of me from that first morning. I’m standing by the front door of our old apartment, gummy baby in a stripy sleepsuit in my arms, and I look positively delighted.
But once I had remembered what my job actually involved, what the name of the IT guy was and what I had changed my password to just before I went on leave, the biggest challenge I faced was continuing in my new role as an Exclusively Breastfeeding Mum. When my son was first born – all 4.6kg of him – I experienced almost every single breastfeeding obstacle under the sun. Tongue tie, damaged nipples, poor latch, blocked ducts, the lot. But once I had cracked it, I was off and I was determined that nothing would stop me.
Suffice to say, it wasn’t as easy as I had perhaps anticipated. That’s not to say it’s not possible to exclusively breastfeed and work full time (in fact I made it a full twelve months before I decided I’d had enough) but here’s what I wish I’d known beforehand and what I’m reminding myself of as I head back to work again after the birth of my second baby:
Know your rights.
Legislation is ever evolving to better meet the needs of working mums, but it’s definitely worth being sure what your HR policy says. In my company, breastfeeding mums are entitled to a two hour reduction in working hours. It’s a huge help.
Make sure you have a clean, comfortable and private place where you can go to pump.
I spent way too much time sat in a toilet cubicle, trying in vain to muffle the sounds of my pump beneath my shirt. When I spoke to my HR manager, she ensured that I had an empty room with a lock and a comfortable chair.
Breast pads, breast pads, breast pads.
By the time I went back to work, my milk supply was pretty stable and I thought leakages were a thing of the past. But I will never forget the horror of being stuck in a meeting that had over run, and feeling that familiar tingle as a wet patch spread across my silk blouse.
Have a plan for storing your milk.
I had visions of the guy from Finance mistakenly cracking open a bottle of my lovingly expressed breastmilk and pouring it into his coffee, so I bought a great little cool bag by Medela that included an ice pack. This meant that once I had pumped, I could keep my milk discretely under my desk next to my handbag. (We won’t talk about the time I left the bag in the car of a colleague who gave me a lift home. It was a long weekend and the weather was hot. It was not pleasant)
Get it in the diary.
We all know how easy it is to get caught up at work. Make sure you block time in your schedule to pump and be strict with yourself (and others) about honouring it. There’s nothing worse than knowing you will have to get up at 3am to make up for a session you missed in the day.
Have everything within reach.
Pumping is thirsty work. It can also be time consuming and frustrating, especially when you know your emails are mounting up, you have a meeting that starts in ten minutes, and you still haven’t had any lunch. Before you start, make sure you have everything you need to hand, including something to eat and drink, tissues to mop up any spills, and your phone for entertainment. I also really recommend a hands free pumping bra – you can hook yourself up and send emails at the same time. Magic!
Get some support.
Despite all the best intentions, pumping can be hard. There are days when your supply seems low and you have visions of your starving baby screaming his head off at home. There are days when you’re sick of sitting alone in a windowless room whilst your colleagues are enjoying lunch together in the cafeteria. And there are days when you’re fed up of sterilizing a million pump parts and packing it all up every night. I found the team at Healthbay Polyclinic to be a great support. Not only did they give fabulous practical advice, but they also offered encouragement and a listening hear when all I wanted to do was whinge.
Know that it’s ok to stop.
After all that, if (or when) you decide that it’s too much pressure, that it’s causing you too much stress, or taking up too much of your time, know that actually, you don’t have to do it. There are plenty of alternatives out there and no one should judge you for choosing them. After all, we’re all just doing our best.
Written by British mum Katy Granville.
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