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Making It Work

Breastfeeding and Business Trips

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 6, November-December 2006, pp. 276-279

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My eight-month-old son will be cared for by my mother-in-law while I'm away on a two-day business trip and I'm trying to figure out a few things. First, what are some ways to maintain my milk supply during this separation? Second, how do I get my son back to the breast upon my return? Third, how can my mother-in-law, who does not spend a lot of time alone with my son, get him to eat and drink while I'm away?

Mother's Response

When I went on a business trip, I took a good pump along with me and made sure that I scheduled more pumping sessions than I would normally have during my work day, plus pumping at least as often as my baby would have normally been nursing. I then sent my milk home via overnight delivery. As for your mother-in-law taking care of your son, you must trust her otherwise you wouldn't be leaving him in her care in the first place. Remember that and try not to worry too much!

From a practical perspective, your trip is fairly short and if your son will take any nourishment from a bottle, cup, or spoon, he should be able to continue that with your mother-in-law. If he has never been fed other than at your breast, he will learn when you are away. She cannot force him to eat or drink. She will need to follow his cues and work with him. She should try to give him a cup (or bottle) before he gets very hungry. It can be much easier to feed a baby who isn't screaming from hunger.

If your mother-in-law isn't familiar with your son's cues, explain to her what he does when he is getting hungry so that she can be aware. Also, make sure she knows that expressed human milk does not go bad quickly so that she isn't throwing it out after 30 minutes. Also explain your routine so that she can keep things as normal for your child as possible. For example, let her know whether you feed your son in a high chair and if he is used to getting a cup of water at bed time.

Having something of yours (such as a nightgown) that smells like you might be comforting for your child. If you can, plan on having time when you return that you can devote to him to catch up on that missed nursing and snuggling time. I know it may seem as though you will be away forever, but in the scope of things, it is really not that long. Plus, he is getting to know his grandma and she him.

Debra Rosenberg
McAllen TX USA

Mother's Response

Your first question about maintaining your milk production while you are away is probably the easiest to deal with. If you hand express or pump your milk on a regular basis while you are on the trip, your milk supply should not diminish drastically. Even if it does decrease a little, you should be able to get it back up again fairly quickly once you return.

About getting your baby back to the breast when you return: does your son already have several bottles every day and still breastfeed happily, or is he primarily breastfed? I've seen babies who went right back to breastfeeding after a separation without a moment's hesitation, and babies who, in a similar situation, adamantly refused the breast. The mothers of the babies in the second group seemed to have the most success if they treated the situation like a nursing strike and provided lots of skin-to-skin contact (for example, bathing with the baby), offered the breast while carrying the baby around in a sling, and tried nursing as the baby was falling asleep or starting to wake up.

About getting your baby to accept food and drink from a grandmother who has not spent a lot of time alone with him: eight months is an age when separation anxiety is usually quite high, and many babies at this age will demonstrate what some experts call "protest-despair." Refusing to eat or drink can be part of that. I knew one baby whose mother returned to work at this age, leaving him with his father. The baby refused to eat anything his father offered for nearly two months (he waited until his mother came home each evening). That was a stressful time for all of them! You might find it helps to show your mother-in-law some of the things you do to comfort and reassure your baby. Perhaps she'd be willing to use a sling or baby carrier, or to give him one of your unwashed t-shirts to cuddle with so he can smell your familiar scent. If he eats finger food, he might be more willing to eat if his grandmother puts food on the high chair tray in front of him so he can feed himself. He may also be willing to hold a bottle himself if he is reluctant to take it from her. On the other hand, especially if he is fairly used to getting bottles and being fed by others, he may adjust quite easily.

Teresa Pitman
Guelph ON Canada

Mother's Response

We recently were invited to an adults-only weekend away to celebrate my parents' anniversary. We were planning to be gone two nights, but changed our plans at the last minute when I experienced a plugged duct. We decided to be away from our baby for just one night. I'd like to share my experience to give you an idea of what you might expect.

My son slept with me Friday night and nursed, which helped the plugged duct. We dropped him off at our friends' house at 10:30 Saturday morning. I nursed him and had my friend feed him oatmeal while we were still there. My son ate well. After we left, he ended up eating food, but our friends had a difficult time persuading our son to take bottles of expressed milk.

Finally that evening, my friend held my son in the familiar breastfeeding position and then she slipped the bottle into his mouth. He drank almost the whole thing and then looked up at her and cried. He cried for most of the night (overnight) and our friends took turns holding him and trying to feed him. My friend had some luck with putting Luke on his bare chest to comfort him.

I did okay as I made sure to pump every three hours. On the way home I could not wait to hold my son again. He was very clingy Sunday and Monday. He marathon nursed Sunday night before bed and then slept for about six hours.

It was kind of nice to get away, but I would never do it again. My friend could not have come along as she has her own family. In retrospect, I probably should have just brought our baby with us.

My suggestion would be to ask if is possible to bring your mother-in-law along with you? This might make the situation, especially overnights, much easier for all of you.

Margaret Merkel
Grand Rapids MI USA

Mother's Response

At eight months, your son will not understand your absence, so he may be overwhelmed by emotions. In this situation, some babies will eat voraciously, trying to fill their hunger for mum with food, while other babies will sleep their stress away.

Many people lose their appetites completely when they're under stress, so it is understandable that your son might, too. Encourage your mother-in-law to carry him a great deal, to expect to not be able to do much of anything, and to understand what your son is going through. He may be inconsolable, but even if he is, it's more pleasant to be inconsolable in the arms of love than alone in a crib. If your mother-in-law knows this is a possible and rational response from him, she can handle his emotions with equanimity and not take his grief over your loss personally. If he handles it better than expected, she'll have a very pleasant weekend.

When you return, you will have reason to deal with all the emotions he experienced through your absence in the first few hours of reconnecting. He may be angry and unwilling to make eye-contact, he may simply fall asleep in great relief, he may want to nurse non-stop for what feels like forever, or he may want to latch on then get agitated, let go, and start over again.

Whatever happens, know that the first day you're back you need to reassure your son of your presence and love so he can re-connect safely with you and (eventually) develop his understanding that you can be away and not cease to exist completely. Your milk supply will catch up with his needs very quickly if he has unrestricted access, even to popping on and off all day long.

Don't expect to do anything the first day except be with him through whatever he's going through, and make sure you're well-fed, hydrated, and rest as much as possible so you can maintain your balance and be a safe, stable place for him to return to in his struggle.

Linda Clement
Victoria BC Canada

Mother's Response

Congratulations on not letting a two-day trip cause you to decide to stop nursing. When I traveled for business and was away from my young baby I took sage (tea, tinctures, capsules) at the beginning of my time away and halfway through to decrease my milk supply so I wasn't so engorged. I also pumped milk so I wasn't so uncomfortable. Warm showers and baths also helped.

When you get home, go to bed with your baby and nurse as much as you can. I also took fenugreek for the first few days when I was home to increase my milk supply.

If your son has started solids, your mother-in-law could give him those while you're away. Tell her all the options you can think of and let her figure out what works while you are away. My babies were never fond of the bottle, but figured out when I wasn't there they had to take it or get very hungry.

I was glad to get home to my babies and I was glad not to give up nursing because of a short trip.

Caroline Robertson
Victoria BC Canada

Editor's Note: La Leche League does not recommend medication or herbal remedies. Advantages and possible risks of any medication or herbal remedy should be discussed with your physician.

Basic information to share with care providers

It's important that a care provider understands how to prepare your expressed milk for your child. Share the following information about human milk with her:

  • Human milk may separate into a milk layer and a cream layer when it is stored. This is normal. Shake it gently before giving it to the baby to redistribute the cream.
  • Human milk should be thawed and heated with care. High temperatures can affect many of the beneficial properties of the milk.
  • Frozen milk: containers should be thawed under cool running water. Gradually increase the temperature of the water to heat the milk to feeding temperature. Or immerse the container in a pan of water that has been heated on the stove. Take the milk out and rewarm the water if necessary. The milk itself should not be heated directly on the stove.
  • Refrigerated milk: Warm the milk under warm running water for several minutes. Or immerse the container in a pan of water that has been heated on the stove. Do not heat the milk directly on the stove.
  • Do not use a microwave oven to heat human milk. If the milk gets too hot, many of its beneficial properties will be lost. In general, milk for babies should not be heated in the microwave. Because microwaves do not heat liquids evenly, there may be hot spots in the container of milk, and this can be dangerous for infants.
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