by Ylova Hamdan
There are many benefits to breastfeeding, both for mother and child, which includes boosting the baby’s immune system, balancing the baby’s belly by adding good bacteria into the digestive system and protecting against short-term and long-term illnesses and diseases. The WHO recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life, however, in the UAE, where paid maternity leave is only 45 days, this doesn’t seem very possible.
We can all agree that fed is best, and if a mum is ready to wean or chooses to start her little one on formula from day 1, then so be it. However, for working mamas who want to continue breastfeeding, what does this look like?
In some countries, it’s the law to provide lactating mothers a comfortable, sanitized space in the workplace to express milk. Workplaces in the UAE are not legally bound to make such an accommodation. While women are allowed two 30-minute “feeding” breaks for up to 18 months upon return to work, this would not be very helpful if you do not have the necessary convenience to express milk at work. Oftentimes, women find themselves expressing in bathroom stalls or in their cars, while others are forced to cut short their breastfeeding journey due to a decrease in milk supply stemming from irregular expressing sessions while out and about or just work stress.
As an exclusively pumping mama, I can tell you that choosing to continue expressing while returning to work full-time was not an easy one. Even with a very supportive management and all-women colleagues, I still find managing the logistics of expressing-on-the-go quite challenging, to say the least. And yes, I have pumped sitting in a restroom stall (not easy!) in the initial weeks only because I didn’t want to inconvenience my colleagues in the pantry or occupy meeting rooms that are often used for internal brainstorming sessions and meetings. With time, I’ve learned to get comfortable expressing at my workstation while busily working away.
Sticking to a schedule of pumping at work while navigating a decreasing supply and making sure you have everything you need to pump at work, is tedious, but it does not always have to mean it’s the end of breastfeeding. Here are some tips to make pumping-on-the-go less challenging for the working mamas out there.
1.) Speak to your employer ahead of time: It is important to make your employer aware of your need to express at work long before you return to work. This gives them sufficient time to provide a dedicated space for you to express, if at all possible.
2.) Invest in a quality pump: Get yourself a reliable double-electric pump. While it could be a more expensive option, the benefits are worth it. A good pump will make your every day pumping sessions easier and quicker. Thankfully, there are many portable breast pumps available in the market to choose from.
3.) Go Hands-free: As an exclusively pumping mom, I have literally been tied to my pump, pumping every three hours round the clock for close to six months. This amounts to a total of 240 minutes a day. I would not have made it this far if I hadn’t invested in a double-electric pump and pumping bras. Now there was a period of time when I was manually pumping round the clock, and I can tell you that my wrists and forearms do not miss it one bit. A pumping bra will allow you the convenience of pumping and working at the same time if you have a dedicated space. If not, it’s still so much easier than having to hold the pump in place. If you have the convenience of pumping at your desk, a nursing poncho will come in handy for much-needed privacy.
4.) Pre-assemble your parts: Do this the night before and have your pumping bag ready to go. The last thing you want it is leaving behind an important part of your pumping apparatus when rushing out to work.
5.) Quick clean: If it’s not convenient to wash and sterilize your pump parts at work, pump cleaning wipes and a sanitizing spray can be useful until you are back home. If you have access to a microwave, you can use breast-pump steam bags to sterilize parts between pumping sessions. Convenience is key when you are pumping away from home, and these really come in handy.
6.) Keep it cool: Proper storage of expressed breast milk is vital. A sturdy double-zippered storage bag or screw-top bottles will do well. If using a shared fridge, you can choose to store breastmilk in cooler bag with an icepack. This saves you the trouble of having to label your milk to notify others at work.
7.) The fridge hack: In the exclusively pumping world, pumping mamas pop their pump parts into resealable plastic bags or sanitary wet/dry bags after each session and store it in the fridge. As long as pump parts stay refrigerated between each use, milk residue will not spoil, and you can reuse the parts a few times without worry. This method is not recommended for newborn and premature babies. It goes without saying that you should maintain proper hygiene, i.e., making sure your hands and the fridge are clean.
8.) Backup: It’s never hurts for a busy mama to have an extra set of parts (connectors, flanges, valves and membranes) at work, and perhaps even a manual pump just in case your electric requires troubleshooting.
9.) Selfcare: Look after yourself. It’s challenging having to juggle work and parent a newborn – the juggle is very real and breastfeeding is tiring, especially when your little one keeps you up at night. Make sure you are hydrated and nourished well enough to maintain your milk supply. This way you will continue to provide for your baby while happily returning to work.
While it’s true that many companies in the UAE are not ready or equipped to accommodate and encourage a mother’s choice to breastfeed while back on the job, we can hope that they all will soon. And, in the meantime, I hope that the above tips are helpful and encourage you to continue on this journey for as long as you want and are able.