Breastfeeding: The working mother’s quandary

Leaving your baby and going back to work after three months is a wrench. Especially so, as breastfeeding becomes difficult, and all doctors and experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months. This year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week (August 1 to 7) — ‘Breastfeeding and Work’ —highlights this very issue.

Many women have to either begin weaning their babies or go on reduced or no pay to stay at home for six months. Tharini Dushendra for instance, worked from home after her three-month maternity leave was completed, choosing to get paid less so that she could breastfeed her baby, now a year old. “That was a difficult period for me,” she said.

Pumping and storing breast milk, an option that is gaining ground in the city, could be explored further by women, say doctors.

Sangeetha Anpazhagan, mother of an almost three-year-old, had to go back to work exactly three months after delivering and found a breast pump useful. “I fed my baby in the morning and then pumped milk and stored it in the fridge. When I was gone, my parents would feed it to my baby. I did this for three months,” she said.

While breast pumps have become popular in recent years, most mothers are not guided properly in buying the right ones or on their use, said S. Subramanian, neonatologist and one of the founders of the Mothers’ and Infants’ Lactation/Breastfeeding Care Centre in Mylapore.

“Mothers need to be shown how to use them, the extraction technique needs to be comfortable and tailored for them and the cup size should be correct,” he said.

Once extracted, breast milk can be stored for about four hours outside at room temperature and for a couple of days in the ordinary compartment of the fridge. It can even be stored for months together in a deep freezer and then thawed at room temperature, said doctors.

“Expressed breast milk is much better than other kinds of milk or formula. Breast pumps are now freely available and there are breast milk banks too. But parents should ensure the expressed breast milk is fed with a spoon and not through a bottle, said S. Shanthi, head of the paediatrics department, Government Stanley Hospital. At the RSRM Lying-in Hospital, breast pumps were available, she said.

Dr. Subramanian said some mothers did not opt for them as it meant spending about Rs. 5,000 for something they would only use for a few months, and so, encouraging the sale of used pumps could be viable for others to be able to afford them. “The cup, tube and bottle can all be changed,” he said. Manual breast pumps are cheaper but a little more difficult to use, he said.

But storage apart, it is policy that needs to change. Employers must provide private, comfortable spaces for mothers to be able to express and store breast milk at workplaces and maternity leave should be longer, experts say. “The irony is that even in the healthcare sector, maternity leave is only three months, which means even healthcare professionals who advocate it find breastfeeding for six months difficult,” said Dr. Subramanian.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 7:59:39 PM |

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