Diaries of a working mom Chapter 2: Breastfeeding

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(warning: this is a PG-13 blog)

Before I dive into this sometimes controversial topic, please let me start by saying I have no judgment about how other parents choose to feed their kids. Children and moms turn out wonderfully in many combinations of breast feeding and formula feeding. This is an emotional and perhaps uncomfortable topic for some people, so I hope you don’t take issue with me writing about this in what’s usually an IT strategy blog. I just feel it is an important issue to cover if I’m going to talk about challenges for working moms. Companies need to realize how important it is to some moms to be able to breastfeed their kids… and what they can do to make that possible.

My choice was to breastfeed Gus, assuming everything worked. My initial goal was to breastfeed him for 6 months. There are a whole slew of benefits of breastfeeding – it is healthy for the kid, is healthy for the mom, promotes bonding, is cheaper and (arguably) convenient. That said, it puts a lot on the mom, even when there are other caregivers around to help. I knew coming into this that it would be challenging, both physically and logistically. But I figured I had enough control over my schedule and enough experience juggling logistics that I should be able to figure it out.

To start, Gus was three and a half weeks early, which made breastfeeding a bit more challenging from the beginning. Early babies want to sleep much more than eat … and they don’t have “sucking power” to bring in milk. So the first few weeks were a challenge trying to get him to eat … and then pumping extra breast milk after every feed. It was a full time job. Anyone who thinks maternity leave is a vacation is crazy! Poor Eric quickly learned that asking me what I did all day was not a good way to start a conversation.

Then Gus hit about two weeks old and all he did was eat. He nursed every couple hours, sometimes for an hour at a time. It truly was a full time job feeding him. I tried to pump extra breast milk whenever I could, but he gobbled that up too. We left him with my aunt for an evening when he was just over a month old and he went through our entire stash of reserves – almost 20 oz of milk, what most kids are supposed to drink in a day at that age. I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to go back to work. I couldn’t even get a day ahead in the milk reserves!

But business was booming and I wanted to get back after about six weeks, so thank goodness I was able to get back to work from home. I intended to go back part time, but we were way too busy for that to work. What I was able to do was schedule breaks during the day to feed him or pump. I was running a pretty full meeting schedule, but most all of the meetings were phone or video conference rather than in person. Having the opportunity to feed him once or twice a day during the day was a life saver. What a lot of people don’t realize is how important it is to actually keep feeding kids to keep milk production up and build milk supply. Even the best pumps can’t replicate the hormonal aspects of real breastfeeding. And the body produces the amount of milk the kid needs – it is very hard to replicate this artificially, especially in the early months.

Gus still isn’t on a schedule: I’m following his lead on when he wants to eat. There are pros and cons of this, but from what I’ve learned, for the first few months I wanted to follow his cues and let him eat whenever he wanted, however much he wanted. So my calendar doesn’t say “feed Gus”. What I do every day is just print a copy of my calendar and put it next to the nanny log, and mark it for the times I’m “interruptible”. She works really well with me to ask if I’m going to want to feed him or if she should prepare a bottle. And I just check in with her to see if he wants to eat before I pump.

Gus finally slowed down on his eating at about nine weeks, at which point he’d already doubled his weight. I was just starting to get a little bit of milk in the freezer, when another complication came along. I said I wouldn’t travel for business until he was at least three months old (Just like I said I was going to go back to work part time, huh?), but before I was even done with maternity leave, a client called with an IT strategy opportunity that was time sensitive and required on site work. I had the relationship with this client, and besides, the rest of the TE team was booked. I was freaked out to leave the little guy this soon, and a lot of that was about the breastfeeding. I didn’t think I could get enough of a milk bank in the freezer in time to last him. I started obsessing about him starving. And what if I got delayed or couldn’t get back for some reason? So I just took him with me. I was fortunate that our nanny was willing to travel and that our nanny share family was okay with me taking her for a few days. So off we went! It was an extremely busy schedule, but my client was very understanding and worked it to have a long lunch and a before dinner break so I could go back to the hotel to feed or pump.

So here we are, right at 12 weeks. I still can’t imagine leaving him all day every day, and if I’d waited to go back to work until now, it would have been considered a pretty long maternity leave. I sure feel for all the moms who go back to full time jobs in an office, sometimes with a commute that means they are gone 10+ hours a day. As much as I’ve felt challenged by all this, I’m very grateful for my current set up.

What’s next? I really don’t know for sure! I’m just figuring this out a little at a time. Gus is coming on one more work trip with me and then I’ll be traveling on my own after that. I’m going to keep spending as much time at home as possible while still doing everything we want to do to build our business through the fall. Its fun to have good things to balance in the whole work life integration equation!

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