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Breastfeeding Awareness--One Working Mom's Story

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August 01, 2006

Breastfeeding Awareness--One Working Mom's Story

Amy Dunkin

Today marks the start of World Breastfeeding Awareness Week. As an adoptive parent, I have absolutely no personal experience with the subject. So I asked BusinessWeek's "resident expert," Diane Brady, to write a guest blog on the logistics of nursing a child and working full time.

FYI: Diane (pictured below with her youngest child) is a senior writer who covers management trends and New York-based companies, such as GE. She's also a mother of three, ages 1, 4, and 5.

By Diane Brady

When my son was born five years ago, I knew breastfeeding would be the best way to feed him. It?? hard to live in the world these days and not know that??iven the number of high-profile studies on the benefits of mother?? milk over formula. With the exception of the initial learning period??hen I hauled the little guy off to a La Leche League meeting three days after he was born??nd an occasional glare when I was forced to discreetly nurse him in public, the whole thing seemed easy. But then I returned to work.

It?? tough to continue breastfeeding while working full-time, even under perfect circumstances. We didn?? have a lactation room in our office when I came back to work. It wasn?? malice. There just weren?? that many nursing mothers, I guess, and space is at a premium in midtown Manhattan.

Because I had a glass-enclosed office with a door that closed, I figured I could make do. Initially, I taped up colorful shawls on the windows for privacy but that made me feel like the madam in a brothel. Then I bought a Japanese shoji screen that could be pulled across the glass wall when needed. That worked fine, though the sound of my electric pump would have tipped off anyone walking by. Then I would subtly put the milk in the staff fridge in a paper bag, to minimize the possible discomfort of colleagues.

It was an awkward process and, within a few months, I was down to nursing my son before and after work. Reading annual reports while pumping probably didn?? help the cause, either. But I had the luxury of getting six months off for both my son and my daughter, who was born about a year and a half later. By that point, they had a good start and were on to solid food.

With my youngest child, who recently turned one, I returned to work after three months. We now had a lactation room a few floors away, with a fridge. My shoji screen was in the bathroom for anyone who wanted more convenience. This time, I felt more comfortable and managed to get him to the eight-month mark on nursing.

Why I didn?? nurse him for a year is more of a personal issue. I simply found it hard to take time out during the day to go to a separate room and pump milk. As anyone with little kids knows, it?? hard to create a quiet oasis for nursing at home, too. Yet I do have colleagues who have managed to nurse as long as they wanted, thanks to better facilities at work. I have other friends who barely lasted a week once they were back on the job.

For companies, it makes financial sense to encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding when they get back to work. Babies get sick less often, and employee retention goes up. For mothers heading back into the workplace, the decision to continue can be a difficult one. Everyone wants what is best for their baby and, at times, that might mean having a mother who decides to switch to formula instead.

11:07 AM


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I breast fed my first for 9 months (he weaned me) after many early struggles. I worked in a very small company and daytime pumping just wasn't an option, so it was morning and evening and weekends. My second I was able to nurse for 18 months while working full time. (She started solids at 6 months and later I was a supplement rather than the main meal.) I was lucky and had an office so I pumped at lunch and blocked out my window from view. I was a quick pumper fortunately and this kept up my milk supply. I was thrilled when finally at my current company where most employees have cubicles, they set up lactation rooms. Because before that, I knew some women who were pumping in supply closets. The fact was that nursing was a critical way for me as a working mother to reconnect to my babies when I returned home. And with all the information on the health benefits to babies and to women, making it easier for women to pump in the workplace is essential. Pumping at least once during the work day can help women nursing longer. Nice to get this activity out of the closet.

Posted by: stacy at August 4, 2006 04:07 PM

When my first and second son were born in the sixties mothers were discourage from nursing. We did not even think of it as a possibilty. However after experiencing milk allergies from formula feeding I decided to nurse my third son after learning that it would prevent allergies.. I attended the Leche League meetings and read every book I could find. Nursing my third child was so rewarding and so much easier than bottle feeding. Of course in those days mothers stayed home. I get very angry when I think of all the problems I had with bottle feeding and the fact that we were not educated to the advantages of breast feeding. So glad I had this experience and my son reaped the benifts.

Posted by: rosanne rosenberg at August 21, 2006 11:48 AM

My son is 10 1/2 months old and I am still nursing him while working full time. I just assumed before having him that I would nurse him for a year and it would be "no problem". This is because everyone I know who nursed for a year either stayed at home with their child or worked part time. It takes a GREAT deal of determination and effort to continue to breastfeed and work full time. I do think, though, that it is a way to reconnect with your baby. The hardest part for me is feeling stingy when I send my baby to Daycare with a 6-oz bottle of breastmilk, while other kids have 2 8-oz bottles of formula. When I think about how healthy he is,though, it's all worth it! I think it's important for women to keep that focus in mind beforehand, because if you aren't determined, it is too easy to give up and lose all the awesome rewards so many of us have experienced.

Posted by: Kate at October 25, 2006 08:12 PM

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