Breastfeeding comes with many health benefits for both you and your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes human milk as the preferred nutrition source for infants. For women who choose to breastfeed, doing so may prove more difficult when it is time to go back to work. Returning to work outside the home during the first year after birth can create barriers to breastfeeding and may cause women to stop nursing when they return to work.
Studies have found evidence that breastfeeding decreases your child's risk of ear infections, lung infections, diarrhea, obesity, sudden infant death syndrome, and many other conditions. For these reasons, the AAP now recommends breastfeeding for the first year of a child's life.
Breastfeeding also benefits mom by reducing the risk of postpartum depression, speeding the return to pre-pregnancy weight, and possibly reducing the risk of several serious diseases including ovarian and breast cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to infant. Since breastfed infants tend to be sick less often, working mothers who breastfeed avoid lost days at work.
By breastfeeding, you will also strengthen the mother-infant bond, which will help boost your confidence. A woman's confidence in herself as a mother may be vulnerable when she becomes separated for her infant for long periods of time. Continuing to breastfeed serves as a constant reminder of the mother-infant bond despite the pressures a new mother may encounter during the workday.
Finally, mothers may find breastfeeding convenient, since they avoid the preparation and expense that formula feeding requires.
There are several challenges you may encounter when you return to work as a breastfeeding mom. Working mothers who breastfeed usually have concerns about producing enough milk for their babies. Long work hours and stress can decrease their milk supply. In addition, working moms who breastfeed may be more fatigued and may need to plan their time more carefully than bottle-feeding moms.
Other challenges faced by breastfeeding moms at work include finding time and/or space to breastfeed their baby (or pump breast milk) during the workday, or an overall lack of support at the workplace. How can you overcome these potential barriers and make a smooth transition to becoming a breastfeeding mom who works outside the home?
Planning is one of the most important steps for overcoming the challenges of continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. Here are some practical tips to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace:
Don't let anyone tell you that breastfeeding and working outside the home are mutually exclusive. With careful planning and forethought, you can do a good job at work and be a nursing mom.
Le Leche League International
Office on Women's Health
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 6, 2015. Accessed October 15, 2015.
Breastfeeding—going back to work. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/going-back-to-work. Updated August 1, 2010. Accessed October 15, 2015.
Breastfeeding support: Time and space solutions. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/employer-solutions/common-solutions/solutions.html. Updated June 19, 2014. Accessed October 15, 2015.
Fact sheet #73: break time for nursing mothers under the FLSA. United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division website. Available at: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.pdf. Accessed October 15, 2015.
Support for breastfeeding in the workplace. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/BF_guide_2.pdf. Accessed October 15, 2015.
7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Schwarz EB, Ray RM, Stuebe AM, et al. Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113(5):974-982.
10/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Barclay AR, Russell RK, Wilson ML, Gilmour WH, Satsangi J, Wilson DC. Systematic review: the role of breastfeeding in the development of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease. J Pediatr. 2009;155(3):421-426.
Last reviewed October 15, 2015 by Michael Woods, MD