‘Why do we have to choose?
This is something very close to my heart as I have for so many years felt that I am a struggling working mum. I have always tried to do the dance of being a mother and having a career. I have always felt on some level, I am failing at both.
When my babies were actually babies, I was working as a Nurse in the Emergency department. I LOVED my job. But I hated that I always felt I had to choose between my job and my children.
I made the choice to stop breastfeeding when my maternity leave had finished. I just couldn’t figure out how I could express when I was at work, there isn’t a huge amount of time in the emergency department, you can’t exactly just leave a patient who is critically ill to go and express. Breaks were few and far between even in those days, even less these days I’m sure. However, I had just assumed continuing to breastfeed wouldn’t be possible. I just decided it wouldn’t work so didn’t even explore my options. Something with hindsight I wish I had understood better. Looking back what I had wished I had done, was not just assumed I couldn’t do it. I didn’t even try to find a way. I just decided I would have to stop. Some of that decision definitely related to my lack of understanding about breastfeeding. I knew it was good for my babies and I wanted to do it. The message that it was ‘best’ until they were six months of age, made me think that was all I needed to do. At that point I felt I had done what was best for them. I had no idea that the health benefits of breastfeeding would continue beyond that point, for both of us! This is something now, with increased awareness and knowledge that I feel strongly about. Choices should be informed, and the ‘until six months’ message sends the wrong information about the all the benefits of breastfeeding to parents. You should be able to breastfeed for as long as you want to.
After baby number 2, I felt incredibly guilty that there was so little routine or consistency in my children’s lives. My husband worked very long hours, 7 days a week, and when one day my 2 year old asked, ‘who is putting me to bed today mummy?’ I felt I was getting this all wrong! It just felt at that point I had to make a choice to put my children first. They needed that consistency in their lives and I left that job I loved.
I have had to work, for financial reasons and for my sanity. I love my kids, but I find it very difficult to be with them all the time. That triggers massive mum guilt in me, but I think it’s important to be honest! I need to be me, I want my own identity and certainly when they were younger, I really resented always coming at the bottom of the pile. That’s not something as a mother we are ‘supposed’ to verbalise. We feel guilty, like we are saying we don’t love our children or are not grateful for the blessing of having them. But like all things parenting, feeling one emotion is not synonymous at not feeling another at the same time. I do love my kids, but I love my career too. Support to enable you to make an informed decision, understanding that it doesn’t have to be one or the other empowers us as mothers’, as woman, and as ourselves to make decisions about when is the right time to stop breastfeeding. It definitely shouldn’t be assumed that having a career means you can’t continue to breastfeed if you want to.
Having a career and breastfeeding
A little while ago a friend I had met through my breastfeeding support role was on a television show! She was taking part in showcasing her job, her career, her amazing talent as an artist! I watched with pride as she worked, away from her children but demonstrated how she managed to combine being a mother and having a career at the same time. I was in awe of her as she expressed her breastmilk for her child, so their journey wasn’t over just because she had to go away for work. I felt ‘wow’, there are mums who do make it work. I also felt a little ashamed of myself, that with my first two children I had just jumped to the conclusion that returning to work signalled the end of our breastfeeding journey.
I asked her if she could put her feelings about being a working mother down for me. We bumped into Nicola in town during the summer holidays and my kids were ‘oh my goodness that’s the lady off the telly! ‘She’s famous!!!’ So showing your children that you can work is so important too!
Here in Nicola’s words are what it means to her to be a working and breastfeeding mother.
Motherhood, breastfeeding and working.
Motherhood is hard. All mums are full time mums; but some split their time and others dedicate it wholly to their children. Both avenues have their advantages and massive challenges and I want to celebrate that whichever path you navigate you’re doing incredible work.
The path I needed to choose was to be a working mum; this was partially due to financial constraints but also I am a better mother for working. I need that split focus and adult sense of fulfilment, alongside the beautiful chaos that is raising babies. However, to figure out a balance threw up challenges.
My son was 11 months old when I went back to work, and we were still feeding on demand alongside a good although allergy restricted diet and crucially being fed to sleep for all naps. We had found a nursery for him to go to and had done several settling in sessions so I felt comfortable about his well-being even if I wasn’t confident about leaving him!
The reality of his CMPA allergy limited J to what he could drink in terms of non breastmilk milk, and the job I worked in (very busy SEN school environment) wasn’t conducive to being able to pump – despite it being a right of mine. Things I had to consider were, consistency in my body, as I was very prone to mastitis; privacy (working in a school the only solid door is the toilet); and practicality- if I was pulled suddenly for an incident I could be out all day. There’s no way to just pause a struggling student and go and pump!
Pumping, Expressing, making it work!
In the end I figured out a routine of feeding last thing before work, and pumping if he wasn’t interested (this quickly became a routine as he worked out he was on his was to nursery so pumping became less); hand expressing for comfort in the toilets during the work day; and feeding first thing after pick up. When I needed to stay late for training I would pump at 3pm in a side office (as private as you can get in a school!) and then store in a cool bag in the fridge. My milk regulated well and I never had a lack of supply (never an issue for me) but crucially never got blocked or in pain. My son soon turned one and whilst in nursery for the two days he was happy to drink coconut milk. Somehow the magicians that the nursery workers are managed to get him to sleep without feeding!
Nic's top tips!
Be honest with your leadership team and figure out what your needs are for your child, your body and your workload. It’s a right to be able to pump but also I think it’s worth considering if it’s a stress. Finding a balance between all three demands takes time and tweaking but there will be an answer out there for you!
Learn to hand express! You may not always use the technique to collect milk but you will be able to provide some comfort through the day, maintain supply and also protect yourself from build ups in your breasts.
Be kind to yourself. Going back to work is a huge emotional commitment and complete overhaul. Make sure you have a channel of support to talk about the rollercoaster that going back to work is and have your days off or weekends to soak up your beautiful children!
Thank you Nic, for your inspiration of being a working mum who also continued her breastfeeding journey!
Working from Home?
The key thing about motherhood, a career and breastfeeding, is being able to make informed choices. There are still so many barriers to this, but that’s a whole different blog post. Working from home has the potential to revolutionise the relationship woman can have, with breastfeeding, working and their children, but again that’s a whole topic of debate in itself, one that we need to have a voice in! Being able to decide, ‘I want to do both, work and breastfeed’, or ‘I am ready to move on from breastfeeding’ should be your decision, not based on an external factors such as returning to work or not having the facilities or time to be able to express. Not having the support of your employer or the system around you should not be a barrier to continuing to breastfeed, although we all know this is very often the case. It certainly shouldn’t be due to the be belief that you cannot do both. Choice and knowing your options are the first step to making this decision based on what you want to do!