Breastfeeding and Work: New Research

It is commonly understood that breastfeeding mothers returning to work face multiple challenges. Balancing work and motherhood, carving out time to pump at work and maintaining adequate milk production are all topics that any employed, lactating mother can discuss at length. Studies have shown over and over again that employment outside the home reduces breastfeeding duration.

A new study just published in the Journal of Human Lactation (August, 2011) has shed some new light on this topic. It sought to understand the relationship between breastfeeding and occupational type (professional, administrative, service, sales, etc.) and postpartum employment status. The researchers asked about initiation of breastfeeding as well as duration of breastfeeding. The subjects in the study included thousands of women in the U.S. from all walks of life.

Instead of boring you with all the statistics and methodology, I’ll just summarize the results. This study found that neither postpartum employment status or occupational type was a significant predictor of duration of predominant (mostly) breastfeeding. However, and this is big, full time workers were less likely to initiate breastfeeding in the first place! There was no significant difference in breastfeeding initiation between part time workers and mothers with no postpartum employment.

Mothers who were employed full time and chose to continue breastfeeding were also less likely to continue breastfeeding beyond 6 months compared to part time workers and “stay at home” mothers. Again, there was no difference in breastfeeding duration between part time workers and non-employed mothers.

Even when mothers have part time jobs that enable pumping breaks, access to lactation consultants, and other amenities, milk production can still be a problem when relying on a breast pump for a large part of the day. Other research has demonstrated that the strategy associated with the longest duration of breastfeeding after returning to work was breastfeeding the baby during the work day. Access to the baby is the number one strategy for maintaining breastfeeding for the longest amount of time.

How does all this relate to you? If you’re breastfeeding and plan to return to work, the following strategies will help you continue your breastfeeding relationship until you and your baby are ready to wean.

  • Don’t go back to work for as long as possible.
  • When you start back to work, just work part time if possible. Even if it’s only for the first year. Consider job sharing.
  • If you must go back full time, find a way to work from home part of the day or a day or two per week.
  • Does your employer offer onsite day care? If so, go for it!
  • Get childcare close to your job so you can have access to your baby.
  • Find a care provider who will bring your baby to you at lunch so you can breastfeed.
Obviously not every mom can enjoy all of the above options.  You can only do what you can do!  But if you apply some creativity to your work situation, you may be able to improve your situation somewhat–which may be just enough to make long-term breastfeeding easier!

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Work: New Research

  1. I had my first baby in June 2011. I went back to work after 8 weeks of maternity leave, with my LO at home with my husband. I am a nurse anesthetist (I give anesthesia) and I routinely work 45-50 hours per week with call and long days. I have pumped at work 2-3 times per day since returning to work. My baby is almost 9 months old and still has not received formula. I think the key to making it work is dedication and strong support from family/friends. I get a morning break and a lunch break that differ from day to day (not the same time every day), but still use the time to pump even if it has only been 1.5 hours. This is all to say that if you put your mind to it, try with all your determination and have people telling you that you can do it YOU CAN! I encourage all my patients to do it and find a lactation consultant to help them along!

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