Working and Breastfeeding a Toddler

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! I’m glad you’re here. Be sure to check out the other contributors, whose links are at the end of this post.

I’ve spoken a lot about how lucky we are to have a full year of paid maternity and parental leave in Canada. I believe that these months at home with our babies are very valuable in many ways. One of the big advantages is that being off of work for this long facilitates breastfeeding. Because while it is possible to combine working with breastfeeding a very small baby, it does present challenges. Being at home for a full year allows Canadian mothers to avoid many of these challenges.

Because Canadian maternity leave lasts for so long, and because a minority of mothers breastfeed their babies up to the one-year mark or beyond, it is often par for the course to wean a baby from the breast in order to return to work. I would certainly never question another mother’s choice about when to wean her baby. However, I was able to successfully combine work with breastfeeding my toddler Hannah for years, and I found it surprisingly easy to do. I know many other mothers who shared the same experience. So, with the aim of providing a perspective and alternative I will share my story.

When I considered returning to work the first question on my mind was whether or not I would need to pump. I did some research and read some articles about weaning from the pump at work. I discovered that many moms stop pumping at work at around the one-year mark, even as they continue to breastfeed. I also learned that many toddlers will not drink expressed breast milk. I found that to be true for my own daughter – she loved to nurse, but she frankly wanted it only from the source or not at all.

Even having that information, I wasn’t sure how my own milk supply would adapt, since I would be working full days Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was away from my daughter for up to 10 hours at a stretch, and I thought it might be hard for my body to regulate a one day on / one day off schedule such as that. However, I decided that I would prefer to avoid pumping if possible, since I knew my daughter wasn’t interested in the milk, and since it would present an interruption to my day as well as require me to locate facilities. I was willing to jump through any hoops if it was necessary, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be.

When I returned to work I brought my hand pump, and decided to just see how it played out. On my first day back by about 3pm I was pretty full. I expressed enough milk to relieve my discomfort. Over the first two weeks I continued in the same manner, expressing to my own comfort when necessary. I found that within weeks my body adjusted, and I was able to comfortably go 10 hours without pumping.

My one-year-old did change some of her nursing and eating habits after my return to work. She began ‘reverse-cycling’, nursing more at night when she was otherwise asleep. I discovered that this is a pretty common occurrence when nurslings are separated from their moms during the day. By bedsharing I was able to get enough rest and accommodate the increased night nursings. My daughter also ate more solid foods at daycare than she did at home, and drank more water. Again, I think this is pretty common – when nurslings don’t have access to the breast they make up for it by eating and drinking other things.

As I said, I was able to continue nursing my daughter for almost 2 years after returning to work, until she weaned at 34 months. Before her birth I didn’t anticipate that I would continue breastfeeding after my return to work, but I’m so glad I did. It really reduced the stress on both of us, since we were already going through enough change as it was. It also provided a great source of comfort and means to re-connect at the end of the day.

The human body is an amazing machine, and it can do so much more than we give it credit for. In my case, I was happy to learn that it could produce the right amount of milk at the right time for my toddler, in spite of my work schedule. It’s almost like my body just knew what to do, even when I didn’t.

Now check out these other great posts. You will be very glad you did! 🙂

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  1. thanks for posting this amber! I have breasfted toddlers while working and it is an adjustment for sure ( especially for the nigthtime) but it is worth it!

  2. As I read this I thought, "What a lovely, wise mother."And, no, I didn't say perfect. Here's to all of the moms out there doing their best to make things work, whatever the choices.

  3. Sarah Joseph says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve just started my internship and am away from my little guy 3 or 4 times a week. I’ve been pumping every morning to provide the care provider with a bottle and then I also pump when I get home to relieve my discomfort. However, I also thought that this second pumping may be required to keep my supply up for those days when we are together all day. It can all be so confusing.

  4. Here here. Good for you. And me too.

    I’ve heard lots of women bemoan that they have to wean because they are going back to work and it just isn’t true.

    It’s especially easy to nurse a toddler (+1 year old) as there demands aren’t at all extreme and your supply just so magically adjusts.
    .-= Betsy´s last post ..On Finding Out =-.

  5. This is very timely for me – I’ll be starting to ease back into work myself, and have been wondering how my 17 month old was going to handle it. She, too, has refused expressed milk, so I’m hoping she does step it up with food & water intake. Like Sarah Joseph, I was thinking I’d still pump to keep my supply up for the days when we’re together, but it’s goo to read stories where other choices woked out well too.
    .-= Dou-la-la´s last post ..Choices in Childbirth challenges the Today Show =-.

  6. I breastfed after going back to work as well, but didn’t bother pumping (because I hated it). Instead, I dealt with about a week’s worth of RIDICULOUS engorgement, pain and with the second, mastitis. You should have seen me, hand expressing into the sink in the bathroom at work because I was pretty sure I was going to explode. Eventually, my boobs and my baby adjusted.

    I weaned my first at 25 months, only because I was 5 months pregnant with number 2, who is now 22 months with NO signs of stopping. I did the math the other day – I have been pregnant and/or nursing without a pause for the past 62 months.
    .-= kgirl´s last post ..SPAMORAMA =-.

  7. I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t been around to offer you comment love to support you going back to work… but I want to say THANK YOU for posting this! So many women think breastfeeding has to be all or nothing, but it doesn’t.

    I returned to work (American) after 3 months for both my kiddos and pumped at work until they were 12/13 months. But continued to breastfeed long after that. My body adjusted as well.

    My 21 mo. old is showing no sign of stopping either. I was out of town the last few days. I had to bring the pump with me to keep my supply up and pump when she would have nursed. Within about 60 seconds of walking in the door she was signing and saying “milk, milk, milk” and rushing for the rocking chair. So sweet.
    .-= Missy @ The Marketing Mama´s last post ..One last goodbye =-.

  8. I’m glad that your body adjusted so well! Even thought I went back to work much earlier (and also weaned earlier), it was still really important to me to be able to nurse both of my babies when I got home. It made for a guaranteed, set-aside, cuddling and re-bonding time for us.
    .-= Lady M´s last post ..My First Business Letter, Age 8 =-.

  9. My fist son “rejected the breast” at 7 months…it broke my heart that he was too busy to cuddle even for milk! So it was expressed milk for him up to a year old, I had no shortage of it! I have mentioned before I was a milk machine, engorgement was a real pain and let-downs were a torrent! Maybe the bottle was just less dramatic for him as he had some control over the flow. He definitely thrived at any rate… even though I had to return to work when he was just 3 months old! (EI ran out) Luckily I found a very considerate daycare very close to work and was able to break my lunch break into quick trips to feed my baby.

    My second son happily nursed all the way to his first birthday, then he only really wanted to as the before-bed-wind-down time, and occassionally in the morning too. I was a stay-home mom at that point so work wasn’t interfering with our natural rythms. He also continued wanting the breast when he wasn’t feeling good for quite a while, but after my milk was done, he was happy with a cuddle and a soother.
    .-= *pol´s last post ..Hard Drives and Hard Cases =-.

  10. Good for you, Amber! I know a lot of women feel they have to give up breastfeeding as they return back to work. I have been really fortunate to have been off work for the past five years (I’m a teacher and am on extended leave) and I don’t need to return back until next September – at which point my youngest will be close to three years old.

    I totally agree about the human body being so amazing . . . after three kids (all with successful nursing stories) I am truly in awe of what my body can do.
    .-= Shannon´s last post ..Back in the Saddle =-.

  11. what a beautiful post!
    how lovely to have paid time to be at home, and good for you for continuing breastfeeding! I nursed each of my little ones for an extended time and they self weaned themselves when it was their time. It was so nice to hear of your breastfeeding journey, thanks for sharing this!

  12. Wonderful, wonderful post. It really is a myth that you have to stop breastfeeding after a return to work. Being Canadian as well, I’m so grateful to have had the past eleven months to freely nurse my son (I took my mat leave 1 month early), and I’ll continue to nurse him as long as the arrangement works for both of us. Though I return to full time work at the end of this week, I’m so happy that we’ll still get to share our special morning and evening ‘milk’ times together.

    Thank you so much for sharing! I’m really enjoying this particular Carnival of Breastfeeding this time around.

  13. I’m going to be researching the links you provided. I plan to officially stop breastfeeding when I return to work in November. Tyler will be a year old. I too am super appreciative that I had the year off. I had a few breastfeeding challenges but it was easier to overcome because I didn’t have to go to work.

    If I had to return to work during these challenges, I’m not sure I would have kept it up.

  14. Thank you for this post. So many people reach the gold standard of 1 year of nursing and think they have to wean. If you want to wean, that’s great, but you can continue to nurse your baby as long as it’s enjoyable for both of you. Sometimes nursing a 2-year-old is a pain in the butt, but it comes in handy so often (colds, boo boos, snuggle time in the morning) that I’m glad we’re still doing it. I found my milk supply adjusted quickly when I weaned from the pump at work, too. If I was ever uncomfortable I would just hand express a tiny bit until the pain went away.

  15. Thanks for this post. I’m still nursing my 25 month-old and working full-time since he was 9 months. I was also surprised and pleased at my body’s ability to quickly get used to to the 8-9 hours apart from my boy. It only took a week or two to feel no discomfort at all while I was at work. We also co-slept until he was about 22 months so he could have extra nursing at night, but now he’s a big fan of his big boy bed and I just nurse him to sleep and once in the middle of the night (which I hope to wean him from soon).

    I have to go away for work periodically and I’ve also been surprised that I can be away for even a full week without much discomfort (I have to express a bit in the shower just the first or second night) and we just start right back when I return home.

  16. jennifer says:

    I am nursing my 18 month little girl twice daily and I’m about to return to work next week 🙁 I’m a shift worker, so I will be gone for up to 14 hours at a time. Has anyone had experience with this? I can’t decide whether to wake her up for a morning dream feed at 530 am before I leave, or just feed her when I get home. I’m also worrying about my supply drying up…


    jen and M

  17. Kate Bassett says:

    Thanks for sharing! About to go back to work with my 14 month old and there’s no way her or I want to give up boobie time!

  18. Thanks for this article. There is so little information about “extended nursing.” My son is one year and shows no signs of weaning. I am returning to work in 6 months and I worry that weaning and being away from me all day will be hard on him.

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