Reproductive Health

Breastfeeding at Work? Not Always Fun, But It Works

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Allison Stevens starts her Mom blog next month. In a taste of what's to come, she notes she is writing and breastfeeding at the same time and her back is killing her. Yet, she feels lucky: a new book finds few U.S. working women have lactation benefits.

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

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Allison StevensWASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--Since this column is about combining breastfeeding with work, I'd like to get something off my chest: I'm nursing my 3-month-old son right now.

My confession may conjure up images of a working mom in a state of modern maternal bliss, but really, working while nursing isn't ideal.

I practically live in "My Brest Friend," a nursing support pillow with a cringe-inducing name and countless spit-up stains.

I've been hunched over my son for more than half an hour now and, as is often the case, he's fallen asleep while nursing. My back is killing me. I'd like nothing more than to scoot back in my chair, sit up straight and stretch my legs, which are well on their way to a state of near-paralysis. But I dare not move for fear of waking Owen up and losing my precious writing time.

Forget getting up to go to the bathroom or grabbing something to eat or drink. And oh yeah, there's the pain factor. Fortunately I haven't experienced the kind of excruciating pain I did when I started nursing my first son, Jack, who's now 2, but I'm anticipating a different kind of pain with Owen: He appears to be an early teether, which means breastfeeding will soon become a little bit more like breast-eating.

I'm only doing this because nursing and working at the same time is the most efficient way for me to meet my deadlines. And, I must admit, I take comfort in the cuddle time and the knowledge that my baby is getting his mother's milk.

The Perfect Food

While pregnant, I was bombarded with information about the benefits of breast milk. It protects infants from infections, chronic diseases and sudden death and it even makes them smarter: Breastfed infants have been shown to have higher IQ levels than formula-fed ones. It's the perfect food, the magical elixir, the nectar of the gods.

But it's not all about the baby. Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer and also may be less likely to develop ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and coronary heart disease. On top of that--and this is key--breastfeeding burns hundreds of calories a day, making it pound-for-pound the easiest diet and exercise regimen I've ever been on.

Believe me, I'm more than happy to toss out the jogging stroller and nurse instead. I may never stop if it means I don't have to hit the gym ever again.

Despite its challenges, I'm grateful that I have the opportunity to combine work with nursing. But sadly, too many working mothers can't make nursing work. Most employers don't allow new mothers to bring their babies to the office or work from home, and many do not offer paid maternity leave or provide breastfeeding breaks at work.

Even though the majority of U.S. mothers work outside the home, and our health authorities are trying to persuade women to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months, our government has passed no federal laws guaranteeing these basic workplace supports.

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I have never been a fan of breast feeding in public or work, most jobs will not let you bring children to work.I have talked to women who breast feed in public, when I walked away after talking with these women I have always walked away with a feeling that these women have serious anger issue.

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