We sat down with Mama of two and Emergency Nurse, Maddie, who talks us through how she managed returning to work and breastfeeding her two babies.
In May of this year, I headed back to work after two babies and a huge 2.5 years of Maternity Leave. I’m a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department, so I was lucky enough to return on a flexible work agreement. My partner and I decided that returning to work one day a week would be enough to contribute financially to running the house. It also meant that we didn’t need to put the kids into childcare, as my partner owns his own business and can be the “stay at home parent”.
All of this made the decision to continue breastfeeding (both toddler and baby) quite an easy one.
When I returned to work, Harvey was 2 years and 4 months, and Olive was 10 months old. Both kids were/are still breastfeeding, however, I only need to pump for Olive as Harvey feeds for comfort and doesn’t require breast milk when I am not home. In a lot of ways, Olive has been an easier baby, taking a bottle with ease was one of the differences. Whereas Harvey was never really into a bottle of expressed breast milk (EBM), he always fed to sleep on the breast. In contrast, Olive is happy to have a feed, then a cuddle with her dummy in and then she’s off to sleep.
Feeding a baby on demand and returning to work is somewhat daunting because it’s difficult to work out how much they are going to need and at what times they are going to have it.
Olive doesn’t feed as much during the day but has regular night feedings, so I decided I would pump twice at work and she would need two feeds (one before each nap) while I was gone. This has worked really well for both of us.
I have felt pretty well supported in returning to work, in terms of being able to pick my shifts and choose what works for my family, as well as my colleagues’ understanding that I need an extra ten minutes after my breaks to pump. Working in a very busy emergency department can mean that it’s tricky to leave the “floor” and sometimes breaks get missed. I definitely had some initial feelings of guilt associated with leaving my teammates while I had to pump, but everyone has been so supportive of this. The only thing that has been tricky is that there isn’t a designated space for me to pump, currently I pump in the tea room, which I am okay with, however there are plenty of nurses, doctors, administration staff, cleaners, personal care assistants coming in and out which can feel a little uncomfortable at times.
Going back to work, my supply didn’t change a whole lot. I think when you’re breastfeeding two children, your breasts are pretty well stimulated to continue to make lots of milk and Olive typically feeds all night long, which helps maintain my breast milk supply.
The fact that I only have to work one day per week probably also helps with this. Olive has now cut down to one nap, so she only has one bottle of breast milk while I am gone and therefore, I only pump once throughout the shift.
I usually get about 180ml from pumping which I can then split up into bags for the freezer and we’re set for the next week’s shift. As soon as I get home, she will have a feed, and I’m straight back into Mum mode!
Working one day a week feels like a really nice balance while looking after two babies. I get to be at home with my babies predominantly, which is my absolute preference, but I get one day a week where I connect with work friends, use my brain in a different way and maintain my clinical skills. I definitely miss them so much whilst I am gone, but I think it also rejuvenates me in a way as well. It is definitely tiring, as Olive still wakes frequently throughout the night, and recently, Harvey broke his leg, so it has felt like we are all awake A LOT during the night. I try to make sure the house is organised the night before my shift so that when I come home, there’s not an overwhelming amount of washing and cleaning to do. We also tend to lay low the day after a workday which helps with the tiredness and means we can all reconnect and just hang out together. I’m also really lucky to have a very supportive partner and family which definitely makes it feel like less of a juggle.
I feel I am in a somewhat privileged position being a nurse. As a shift worker, there are plenty of different shift times and days to choose from, so when I’m planning my schedule, I try to work out what would be best for me and the kids, and how we could make it work. My advice to Mums who are returning to work is to sit down with a manager and work through what is going to work for your family, as well as notifying them that you are breastfeeding and that you will need pumping breaks to facilitate this. My only other advice would be to try and have the house as organised as possible before work, this gives me a clear head and makes it feel less chaotic when I’m coming home for the dinner, bath and bedtime routine.
Photographer: Alannah Morton @alannahmortonphotography