Juggling demands of job, breast-feeding


December 29, 1992|By Dr. Genevieve Matanoski | Dr. Genevieve Matanoski,Contributing Writer

Two generations ago, it was taken for granted that new mothers would breast-feed. They had the support of their family and friends and probably didn't have to worry about a job outside the home.

Today it's a different story, according to Judy Vogelhut, nurse coordinator of the Johns Hopkins Breastfeeding Center. She says women rely on the health care community and their employers as much as their relatives to manage breast-feeding. For example, Hopkins and other facilities offer breast-feeding rooms where moms who are employees or students can express their milk and get support for a routine geared to nursing and working. She says that at Hopkins, the room is busy around-the-clock.

Q: How many women in this country choose to breast-feed?

A: The national average is slightly above 50 percent of new mothers. Over the last 15 years at Hopkins, the numbers have gone from 3 percent to 40 percent of women who deliver there.

Q: What are the special issues faced by working mothers who want to breast-feed?

A: What many women don't take into consideration is flexibility. Theymay have more options than they realize. For example, maybe they can work part-time. Or go home for lunch. Could the care-giver take the baby to the mother at the same time during the day? Many moms put their babies on formula during the day and breast milk at night. Some pump their breasts at their workplace and store the milk for use by the baby when they're not home. There are as many creative options as women who use them.

Q: What is involved in being a working mother and nursing?

A: Milk supply is better maintained if it is pumped several times during the day, and it helps if it can be on the same feeding schedule as the baby. Even if the mom pumps for 10 minutes, doing that three times a day is more beneficial than pumping once for half an hour.

Q: How can the breast milk be stored until the mother gets home?

A: It doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Some mothers carry a cooler or use the office refrigerator. Some take a thermos. The important thing is that there is a place to wash the equipment.

Q: What if a woman's work schedule is erratic?

A: Some moms simply can't pump their breasts at work. They choose to partially wean their babies so they breast-feed only in the morning and at night. They both still get the benefit of the closeness that comes from that time together.

Q: Experts say any breast milk is better than none at all. Why?

A: Breast-feeding is good for the mother and the child. Aside from the opportunities for bonding, it provides the child with natural antibodies for immunity to common infections in infancy, such as influenza, diarrhea and even ear infections. And mothers get their shapes back quicker when they breast-feed because the fat they have stored in anticipation of it is now used.

Judy Vogelhut says the breast- feeding room at Hopkins and other workplaces have become a center for support, encouragement and education for women who want every opportunity to provide their milk for their infants. Mothers who cannot or choose not to nurse should not feel guilty, she adds. But those who want to should have every opportunity to balance their work demands with their instincts.

For more information, contact the Johns Hopkins Breastfeeding Center at (410) 550-5471. You can speak with a lactation specialist or leave a message around-the-clock.

Dr. Matanoski is a physician and professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

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