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Employed Mothers: Supporting Breastfeeding and Mother-Baby Attachment

Kathleen King
Ayden NC USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 5, October-November 2001, p. 101.

"Every mother is a working mother" is much more than a t-shirt slogan. It is a statement that shows how much all mothers have in common, no matter what their lives are like. Every mother is intruded upon by the demands of the world outside herself and her baby. In fact, since the beginning of time, mothers have worked and tended to their babies. In recent times these mothers are often called "working mothers" but they may be volunteers, students, employers, or tennis players. Gale Pryor's session had many ideas that Leaders can share with mothers who are juggling the world's demands and the baby's needs. (For lack of a better term, Pryor used the phrase, "working mother" to describe these mothers.)

Breastfeeding helps mothers remain attached to their babies while adjusting to the interruptions of working outside the home. A major technique is "reverse cycle feeding." Pryor said that many babies will reverse their sleeping and feeding schedule to accommodate the fact that mother is gone. They do most of their nursing between 5:30 PM and 7:00 AM. Rather than considering that the baby is in an emotional shutdown when mother is not there, Pryor suggests that reverse feeding indicates the baby is attached to mother and waiting for her. Leaders can encourage working mothers to record their baby's schedule before their return to work. In this way mothers will be able to see how their baby adjusts while still getting as many times at the breast, just at different times than before.

Sharing sleep with the baby is a vital technique for the working mother. Especially if the baby is reverse cycle feeding, the mother may be very concerned about getting enough rest so she can perform well at work the next day. For many cultures, sharing sleep is not acceptable. However, for breastfeeding families it is often lifesaving. Mothers will be interested in research that shows that sleeping with baby enhances the breastfeeding relationship and the mother's and baby's health. Once the working mother realizes that she and the baby will return to sleep more quickly when they are sharing sleep, she may feel more comfortable. Of course, to make this technique most effective, the mother needs to be able to breastfeed lying down. Leaders can demonstrate this at meetings and discuss it during phone calls. Lying down and sleeping with the baby are important ways for the working mother to rest.

Many working mothers find that a supportive care provider is essential to continuing breastfeeding and the mother-baby bond. Once mothers realize that babies can make multiple attachments, they will feel more comfortable with encouraging a close relationship between the baby and the caregiver. One way to do this is to ask the caregiver to use a sling, if the mother uses one. If the caregiver is unfamiliar with slings, the mother may need to share the benefits of "wearing" the baby. One technique is for the mother to visit the caregiver while wearing her baby in the sling. The two of them could then participate in the caregiver's chores, which would demonstrate the convenience of the sling. Giving the caregiver a sling would also encourage its use. One working mother told her caregiver that her baby had been prescribed three hours of sling time a day and asked the caregiver to help fulfill the allotted time.

Slings are also a useful tool for introducing the baby to the workplace. Some working mothers have been able to gradually return to the workplace by first offering to do some work at home with the baby. Then, they may offer to come to work for an important meeting. With baby in a sling, his needs are easily met. Coworkers realize that it is possible to combine working and parenting. Acting with confidence makes a big difference in what is accepted and what is not.

Pryor and session participants gave further encouragement for making the workplace child-friendly. Talking about children at work helps the parents to feel more attached to their baby while enhancing adult personal growth. Ask fellow workers about their children. Wear children's homemade gifts to work. Give them a chance to show off pictures. At one company, children are encouraged to visit their parents for lunch and to visit after school. Suggestions such as these can add a more personal feel in a busy office.

Mothers can be and are very creative in finding solutions for meeting both the child's needs and their own needs. Solutions can come from the most unexpected places. An attendee shared that she attended an LLL meeting desperate for ideas to get more sleep. Her husband was opposed to having their baby in bed with them. Her stepdaughter attended with her. At the meeting, many solutions were mentioned including using the crib as a sidecar. The mother was too exhausted to even discuss this idea with her husband. Much to her surprise, when she finally stumbled into the bedroom, there was the crib, attached to the bed. A sidecar! It seems her stepdaughter had been listening and told her father that this was what was needed. Leaders can help a mother find creative solutions to even the thorniest of problems by brainstorming with her. There is a solution to every problem!

Kathleen King of Ayden, North Carolina, USA has been a Leader for 15 years and is presently LLLOnline FAQ/Help Form FAQ Administrator. She has three children: Joseph, 18; Leslie, 15; and Michael, 12. She is married to George and helps him with their family business.

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