Working without Weaning: An Interview with author Kirsten Berggren

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

working without Weaning by Kirsten BerggrenAttachment Parenting International’s seventh of the Eight Principles of Parenting, Providing Consistent and Loving Care, explains how babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver who is interested and involved in building strong bonds through daily care and playful, loving interactions. Ideally, yes, this caregiver would be a parent. But, especially in the tough economic climate our world has experienced the past couple years, many families are finding themselves in a situation where both parents must work outside the home.

While a dual-income family may require more creativity in making the time and finding the energy to fulfill API’s Principles, it is certainly very possible to foster a secure attachment.

How does this relate to the second of API’s Eight Principles, Feeding with Love and Respect? According to Kirsten Berggren, PhD, CLC, author of Working without Weaning: A Working Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding, going back to work is the hardest obstacle an exclusively breastfeeding mother will encounter. A neurobiologist, Berggren shares her own experiences and those of others to create this handbook for mothers who want to continue breastfeeding once they return to work after maternity leave. It’s a tough balancing act — maintaining the breastfeeding relationship despite day-after-day separations — but, as Berggren reiterates in her book, one that is completely worth the effort.

Working without Weaning covers all the basics of breastfeeding — the health benefits, the need for a gentle childbirth, and the crucial importance of spending maternity leave not focused on returning to work as soon as possible but by focusing on establishing a strong attachment relationship centered on breastfeeding — and then delves in the complexity of continuing to strengthen the beginnings of this attachment relationship while sharing your attention and focus and energies on a job.

Now, let’s turn to Berggren to learn more about her efforts in helping new mothers continue to breastfeed, and therefore to practice AP, when they go back to work.

RITA: Hi Kirsten. It is apparent how knowledgeable you are regarding the combination of working and breastfeeding. How did you first become interested in this subject?

KIRSTEN: I was working in science. After I had my first child, I had to go back to work quickly because I had no health insurance. It always seemed natural to breastfeed, but after going back to work, I found it hard to continue nursing exclusively. There was very little information available. But I loved breastfeeding — sometimes, the only thing that made the workday tolerable was being able to breastfeed my baby when we were together. I finally found a Message Board on called “Working and Pumping,” where mothers could help each other troubleshoot challenges.

RITA: And it was through this Message Board that you became interested in a new career path.

KIRSTEN: I was noticing that with each new group of moms that came on, the same questions were being asked over and over — all these questions that the moms that I had been with worked so hard to find the answers to. So, I started writing down the answers.

I eventually became a lactation consultant. One thing led to another.

RITA: Like your book…

KIRSTEN: I started to collect the information being posted on the Message Board and would throw these into a file. Then, about seven years ago in 2002 or 2003, I started really saving and researching things while I was pumping for my daughter. In 2004, I spent a weekend at my mom’s house on the lake when I put up my website,, which includes a variety of articles offered free of charge. And in the summer of 2005, my book proposal was accepted by a publisher and the offer was for a full manuscript, so I ended up putting the book together in only about three months. And, in 2006, the book was out.

So, the book had a long gestation and a short, intense labor.

RITA: Your book fills such a void in breastfeeding education. What kind of reaction have you received from readers?

KIRSTEN: Everyone who has read it tells me how much they loved it and what great information it has! They say, “Oh, it feels like you’re talking to me.” The problem is figuring out how to get it into the hands of moms. I don’t think a lot of moms know how difficult it is to breastfeed when they go back to work, or are able to meet the challenges that arise with that situation.

One of the nice things that are happening is that the word is spreading. I’ve written about the subject in La Leche League International’s leader newsletter and spoken about it at a couple conferences, including one for the International Lactation Consultant Association.

What’s interesting is that a lot of the people who are doing the work of educating working mothers about breastfeeding didn’t have to work when they themselves were breastfeeding.

RITA: A lot of people are like that – they want to talk to someone who’s “been there.”

KIRSTEN: My book is a girlfriend’s guide, a “Hey, I was there and this happened, and it can be hard, but let’s figure it out together” book. If you’re trying to breastfeed while at home, you will have a lot of people who can help, but if you are breastfeeding and are going back to work, that’s not considered the norm, so those who are trying it often don’t know anyone else who’s doing it or has done it. And that makes it really hard.

RITA: What are your top three tips for working mothers who are trying to breastfeed?

KIRSTEN: There is a lot of misinformation, so it’s hard for me to pick just a couple tips:

  1. If you want more milk, you need to take more milk. Breasts only produce as much milk as you use. The biggest myth is, women think that if they wait longer to pump, they will get more milk. Yes and no – yes because your breasts will become engorged and the next time you pump, you will see more milk because you didn’t pump earlier, but no because waiting also sends the body a strong message to cut down on milk production. Waiting really hurts supply.
  2. Make sure Baby isn’t getting overfed when you’re gone. One of the most important reasons to breastfeed is to reduce the risk of childhood obesity, because you can’t overfeed from the breast but you can from the bottle – even if you’re feeding breastmilk instead of formula. My book includes tips for when you’re talking with your daycare provider.
  3. Moms should spend as much time as possible cuddled up with Baby, and breastfeeding, when not working. The first year of Baby’s life is not the time to be superwoman. It’s not the year to go for a big job promotion, or to get the house ready for the Best Home of the Year contest. It’s a time to enjoy your baby. That first year, there should be two things you do: take care of your baby, and work.

RITA: Your book is certainly expanding breastfeeding education. How does your book further Attachment Parenting?

KIRSTEN: There are heated debates about whether moms should work outside the home. I try to stay above that and help mothers to see that they are able to practice AP even though they are working. I did it — I breastfed my son until he was two and a half years old and my daughter until she was four years old. I also coslept, responded with sensitivity, and practiced the other Eight Principles — all while working a tech job.

My kids had amazing caregivers. They were at a commercial daycare center, but the care providers became like extensions of our family and my kids were so bonded to them. It was hard to leave them at the daycare at first, but it helped knowing they were in such a caring environment.

RITA: So, you can choose to pratice AP, even if you must work outside the home. Just like you don’t have to choose to stop breastfeeding if you must go back to work…

KIRSTEN: Even in areas where the breastfeeding initiation rate is very high, it plummets after eight weeks because that’s when women go back to work.

There are exciting new initiatives going on around the country helping businesses help new mothers. In the [USA] state of Vermont, employers are required to provide breaks to pump milk. I am currently involved in a project with the University of Vermont to help this very large employer come into compliance with the law. This law helps promote breastfeeding among women in the workforce by making it seem like the normal thing to do.

What also helps is letting businesses know that they actually save money by promoting breastfeeding among their employees, because the health of the breastfed baby is improved over those who are formula-fed so parents don’t have to take so much time off work and because moms are more likely to come back to work.

I think getting people involved in advocacy and policymaking is important. For example, earlier this year, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York introduced the [USA] federal legislation, Breastfeeding Promotion Act [HR 2819], that would protect breastfeeding moms from discrimination, require large employers to provide time and private space for moms to pump, and provide for tax incentives for employers that establish these private lactation areas.

RITA: Thank you, Kirsten, for your time and insights. Do you have any closing thoughts?

KIRSTEN: What I’m really trying to do is help moms do what they wanted to do in the first place. I’m not going to say they have to breastfeed, but I want to help breastfeeding moms continue to breastfeed if they want to.

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