Sunday 21 April 2019

Breastfeeding at work: What does the law say?

Going back to your job and continuing to breastfeed has many benefits for both baby and mother, writes Deirdre Rooney

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Stock image
Comfort: Amy Moore, feeding her son Tadhg at the zoo, continued breastfeeding after returning to work

When Amy Moore was asked by a colleague if she'd be breastfeeding on her return to work, the primary school teacher from Co Laois, replied, "No way!"

"I was horrified at the idea," says Amy. "But how things change; now the best part of my day is coming in the door and sitting down to feed my baby after a day away from him. It's a lovely way to reconnect after a hectic day apart."

For some mothers, returning to work after maternity leave is a daunting experience. For others, it may be a welcome return to their lives before baby. And for those breastfeeding, the idea of double-jobbing may just seem too much to bear.

But working and breastfeeding can be achieved, and it's a lot easier than you think, says Clare Boyle, midwife and lactation consultant with over 20 years' experience (breastfeedingconsultant.ie). All it takes is a little organisation and preparation.

"Many mothers go back to work at six months and continue to breastfeed baby, and it is lovely for both mum and baby to still have this special thing to do together after being away from each other all day," says Clare.

"At the time most women are going back to work (around six to nine months), breastfeeding is just so easy and such a positive experience for both mum and baby that the mum doesn't want to give it up," she says.

The benefits are not confined to mothers. Keeping your breastfeeding journey going can actually help baby cope better with the sudden departure of mammy, she says.

"Going back to work is a big change for baby - instead of being with mum all day, baby will be separated from her for a long period of time. Breastfeeding is a great comfort and reassurance for the baby at the end of the day," says Clare.

So, how can it be achieved? If baby is feeding three or four times a day, how can you prepare them for missing these breastfeeds?

"It is important that the baby has learned how to feed from a bottle before mum goes back to work," says Clare. "I usually suggest that mum starts to introduce a bottle of expressed milk to the baby about four to six weeks before she is due back to work. Give the baby the bottle once every couple of days, just to keep him familiar with feeding from a bottle. If at this time the baby refuses the bottle, then at least mum has time to work with the baby to familiarise them with it."

Introducing a pumping schedule at this time is also a good idea, as mum can build up a stash of milk for the freezer.

"Most women will start pumping once or twice a day, four to six weeks before they are due back to work, so they can build up a store of frozen milk. Then once she's back, she can pump at work to replenish her stash of milk for the next day. She may need to pump just once during her working day so she doesn't get too full, but most mothers find that their bodies adapt very quickly to the new schedule, and within a week or so, they don't need to pump."

This was Amy's big concern - not being able to pump enough for her son. Luckily, she didn't have to.

"My son Tadhg would never take a bottle, so I had never pumped any substantial amounts for him," she says. "I was so worried that my returning to work would be stressful on him. However, through La Leche League meetings and online support, I learned that babies quickly adapt, and as he was almost 11 months old, he would be fine on solids and water from a sippy cup."

As Amy had shorter working days, and her son was that little bit older at 10 and half months, she never had to pump to keep up with her son's feeds. But for those mothers returning to work earlier, and who work longer days, there are laws in place to support their wishes to continue breastfeeding.

Section 9 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004

Currently, under Section 9 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004, women in employment who are breastfeeding are entitled to take time off work each day in order to breastfeed or pump. This applies to all women in employment who have given birth within the previous six months (26 weeks). However, employers are not obliged to provide facilities in the workplace to facilitate breastfeeding if the provision of such facilities would give rise to considerable costs. Women have a few options, but they are largely governed by the extent to which employers are willing or able to provide appropriate breastfeeding facilities at work, according to the official citizens' information website, citizensinformation.ie.

A woman can breastfeed in the workplace or express milk, where facilities are provided. Alternatively, where there are no facilities made available, they can have their working hours reduced, without any loss of pay, to facilitate breastfeeding.

Women who are in employment and are breastfeeding are entitled to take one hour, with pay, off work each day as a breastfeeding break. This time may be taken as: one single 60 minute break; two half hour breaks, or three 20 minute breaks.

The vast majority of mothers return to work after six months, so the above provisions don't apply.

However, it is a little different for those in the Civil Service, whose entitlement to lactation breaks continue up until their child's first birthday.

At six months, solids are introduced to babies. This extra sustenance coupled with the flexibility of breastfeeding often eliminates any need for pumping during the day.

"Very often the baby will just do more feeding in the evening and during the night to make up for missing out on the feeding during the day," says Clare. "It is important to know that breastfeeding is very flexible and adaptable in and around the six-month mark. This means that the feeding pattern can change and the body and the baby will work around it quite easily."

So with perhaps a defrosted drink of breastmilk, a new bottle, and long periods away from their mother's breast to contend with - how do babies generally adapt to all this change?

"They generally adapt very well," says Clare. "Sometimes the baby will point blank refuse a bottle, and that can be challenging for the mum who is going back to work. In that situation, I will work with the mother to give her techniques to help the baby take the bottle, but it can take a few weeks."

For Amy, it turned out that her baby coped with the transition a lot better than she did.

"Tadhg adapted fantastically well. Better than me the first week. He ate more solids and drank from his cup, and made up for the lack of feeds by feeding in the evening and at night. He feeds on demand when I am not at work and at the weekends, and copes really well when I am working, which is a huge relief. The thoughts of returning to work were worse than it actually was."

You might think that being back at work and still having to breastfeed in the middle of the night makes for an extra tired mum. But mums, and dads, are well into their routine of broken sleep at this stage. This was never a worry for Amy, whose only concern about returning to work was that it might actually put an end to her breastfeeding.

"Thankfully it's working out well," says Amy. "My supply adjusted fairly quickly and baby is very content during the day with solids and water. He's delighted to see me in the evenings for his feeds. He feeds well in the mornings before work, straight after work, then on demand after that. It works for us."

As well as a happy mum and a happy baby who get to further enjoy their breastfeeding journey, Clare is keen to point out the other benefits of maintaining breastfeeding at this stage.

"From a practical point of view, the baby will continue to receive all the immunoglobulins and immune protective factors that help prevent baby from getting sick. This can be especially useful if baby is going into a crèche situation where he or she may be exposed to other children," says Clare.

Also, mothers can rest assured that the benefits of breastmilk from a bottle are the same as from a breast.

"If the milk is fresh, then there is no difference," says Clare. "If the milk has been frozen and then thawed, there is a very, very small decrease in some of the immunoglobulins, but it is still by far the best food option for a baby."

Cuidiú, the parent-to-parent voluntary support group, provides simple guidelines on how to store freshly expressed milk. It can be kept at room temperature for four to six hours. If you have access to a cooling bag, it can be stored there for up to 24 hours. And it can be kept at the back of the refrigerator for up to eight days, but ideally it should be used within three days, according to Cuidiú.

If you're freezing your milk, then it will stay good in the fridge freezer for three to four months and in a deep freeze for six to 12 months.

The longer human milk is stored, the greater the decrease in its nutritional value, Cuidiú points out.

The instructions on how to thaw the milk out are also very straightforward. One option is to thaw it under cool running water. If the water is too hot it could potentially kill antibodies in the milk. You can also thaw it at room temperature for one hour or in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Importantly, it must not be refrozen.

For Amy, she found support in Facebook groups like 'Extended Breastfeeding Ireland', 'Back To Work And Breastfeeding' and La Leche League.

"The Facebook groups and La Leche League are mothers supporting mothers, mothers who provide advice and constant support and understanding for people in a similar situation. Society puts such pressure on new mothers from the minute the child is born, and people are obsessed with asking, 'How long will you feed him for?'. I think it is so important for mothers to know that it is possible to return to work and stay breastfeeding. Working and breastfeeding are compatible - the information just needs to be made available to mothers," says Amy.

National Breastfeeding Week runs until October 7. For more information, see breastfeeding.ie

Irish Independent

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