By Amber Lewis, staff writer for The Attached Family
The first painful hurdle I was to face as a mother was the need to return to work. After a three-month crash course in Attachment Parenting (AP), my daughter and I were well bonded, so going back to work broke my heart. I have to admit it still does — every day that I spend more time working for a paycheck than I do building a relationship with my daughter, I cry a little privately.
I have tried to make the best of this hurdle called work, and in spite of day after day away from my daughter, we are still very much an attached family. When I am home, we use attachment skills that help us best keep and build a good relationship with our daughter, including:
- Breastfeeding — Even though my daughter is more than two years old, I still pump twice a day at work. We will practice self-weaning, because I know she needs to nurse. It’s no longer as much of a nutritional need as a psychological need that allows us to reconnect after work and to say good bye without words in the morning.
- Cosleeping — We have a family bed. Even though we have experimented with moving our daughter into her own room, we know she’s not ready for that yet and so we allow her to lead the way, at least for the mean time.
- Prioritizing — Our daughter is our number-one priority. While we like to have a clean and organized house, this is not always the case. Things frequently get left out or put away in a rush to maximize our time together. I am a stay-at-home mom when I’m home. We take however long we need for library story time, trips to the park in the summer, family walks, crafts, learning, religious study, and anything else I would do if I were a stay-at-home mom.
Tips for Successful Pumping at Work:
- Start early and pump often — My breasts are fullest in the morning, so I usually pump twice in the morning. I began pumping even before I returned to work, at night for the last six weeks I was on maternity leave, my daughter would nurse on one side while I pumped on the other, it was the best thing I did to build up my supply. By the time I returned to work, I was a pumping pro and had a freezer full of milk.
- Put pumping on your to-do list — I was the only pumping mother in my department, so if I didn’t decide to pump, no one noticed or cared. I added it to my to-do list and set an alarm with the exact time I would pump every day. My breasts got used to the schedule, and if I missed a pumping session, I could feel it. Once I set it as a priority, people knew it was important to me and they respected that.
- Be honest and open — If your boss wants to know why you are leaving and what you are doing, be honest. Using the word “breast” in a sentence at work makes people uncomfortable and I used that to my advantage. If my boss needed to know where I had been, I told him I was pumping breastmilk. If I was using a bathroom instead of a nursing room and a busybody needed to know what that funny noise was coming from the stall, I told them it was a breast pump. Anyone who wants to make a big deal about it will usually be too embarrassed at hearing the “b” word, they will immediately back down and none of those people ever mentioned it again to me.
What Fathers Can Do:
- Provide support — Remind your wife that she can do continue nursing and working at the same time, because you believe in her.
- Help out — Your wife is helping to take care of financial obligations, so you should help take care of home obligations. A little cleaning goes a long way in the heart of a working mom.
- Be patient — Your wife feels the stress of working and still wants to be a wonderful mother. Those two things tend to compete for her time, so she can and probably will lose it every once and a while. Be quick to forgive and forget those frazzled moments.
- Encourage weekend relaxation — When your wife has a free moment, encourage her to rest or help her so she can catch up on her favorite hobby. A little rest and relaxation can go a long way to preventing those frazzled moments in the point above.
Breastfeeding and Extended Separations
The most challenging time of me was around the time my daughter turned 18 months. I am a Navy reservist and was required to serve my two-week training across the country. We didn’t have the money to fly my husband and daughter back with me, so we set about finding other ways to stay attached.
I began researching everything I could find about nursing while apart. The best information was from a few moms whose travel for work kept them apart from their babies two or three days. I was left with one question as my departure date loomed ever closer: Would my daughter want to continue our nursing relationship when I returned?
Everything I knew about breastfeeding led me to believe it was beneficial for as long as possible, so I made two decisions:
- We would nurse up until the moment before I left for the airport. During our last nursing session, I would try to explain to her about my leaving and where I was going and that we would nurse again when I got home.
- I would pump throughout the two weeks. So, if she did want to nurse again once I returned, she could.
These decisions I made concerning breastfeeding were just a couple of ways we stayed attached. Here is what I found key to keeping attached with my daughter over the distance:
- Video conferencing and lots of phone calls.
- Help from Grandma and aunts. This was especially important, not only for giving my husband breaks, but in a pinch, their extra love and attention filled in a bit for my absence. Every time my mother-in-law came over, my daughter was ecstatic. It was as if she needs a woman’s love, and Grandma filled that need for the two weeks.
The decision to pump, with the hope we could continue our breastfeeding relationship, was not one without consequence. Pumps are great and they can do a good job in a pinch, but without a baby to fully empty my breasts, I developed a short bout of mastitis halfway through the two weeks.
My supply did drop, mostly because I was sleeping through the night, so I had to adjust that schedule. Instead of ignoring when my full breasts woke me up during the night, I took the cue and got the pump out. Showers became another tool to help me keep up my supply and fight further infection; using warm water and massaging the milk ducts became a twice-daily routine.
While it was a very stressful and exhausting two weeks, it was well worth all the effort. My daughter immediately nursed after we were reunited at the airport.
It doesn’t matter if you are across town for the day or across the globe for the week, you can successfully continue breastfeeding and AP with a little extra work and dedication. The best part of my time apart was seeing my husband and daughter at the airport when I returned — my daughter squealed with such delight and held on to me so tight, and then that first nursing session after my return was like heaven.
Tips for Successful Pumping during Work-Related Travel:
- Bring your best pump — I asked for a second breast pump for my birthday and now I have a pump used only for travel. It stays cleaner and pumps a little more efficiently than the one I use every workday.
- Bring lots of photos — This will help you pump more milk and stay connected to your baby. If you have a video phone, take pictures with it to play back while you pump.
- Bring lots of batteries — Don’t expect to find a nursing room everywhere you go, especially on a plane. I bring enough batteries to last to whole trip just in case.
- Bring a nursing wrap — If you can’t find a bathroom suitable to pump, you can sit in your car or find a secluded chair, cover up, and get to pumping.
- Keep your lactation consulant’s number handy — I actually made an appointment just to discuss my plans with my OB/GYN before I left. When I got mastitis, I called her office and got some tips to get over it without medicine and a sympathetic ear, which helps when you are on the verge of tears with two very full and painful breasts.
- Keep at it — The first two or three days will be the most difficult. Your body is adjusting to a new type of nursing and it can be hard to get a rhythm going, but once you get a schedule of pumping that works for you, things get easier. Mental attitude will go along way here. If you believe you can keep at this, you can and you’ll overcome any obstacle that gets in your way.
- Stay hydrated — Drink lots of water to keep your supply up. I usually don’t drink anything but soy milk as far as dairy goes, but I found that whole milk actually helped increase my supply dramatically. So, the days I was gone, I drank two glasses each morning.
- Bring lanolin cream — Invest in a couple tubes of lanolin cream, and don’t be shy when administering it. Pumps can be hard on nipples.