Pumping at work proves difficult for breastfeeding moms, but experts say not pumping could cause negative health effects

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Women shouldn't have to choose between kids and a career, right?

But many new moms share a struggle when they return from maternity leave -- breastfeeding or pumping milk at work.

In a perfect world, bosses and coworkers all understand and make things easy, but that's not always the case.

Erica Jansma and her husband want what's best for their daughter, and for them, that means breastfeeding.

"I really wanted to bond with her a bit better," Jansma said. "I thought I'd give it a try, see how it goes. Then I got committed to it."

But in Jansma's story there's a chapter that reads similar with other new moms. She says it hasn't been easy breastfeeding and transitioning back to work.

Jansma needs to pump three times a day to supply her daughter with all of her feedings, but she's working 10 hours a day -- so that's proven to be nearly impossible.

That's why she's working closely with Shira Johnson,  a board certified lactation consultant who teaches women who are or plan to be a breastfeeding parent returning to work.

Johnson said roughly 75 percent of moms at some point during their time will return to work. She covers everything from pumping schedules and strategies to equipment, safe milk storage and how much milk baby will need when mom is gone.

"Any sort of skipped pumping or skipped breastfeeding sessions can result in a lowering of supply," Johnson said.

She recommends moms at work pump around the same schedule and frequency that their babies would be nursing if they were home.

And when it comes to how to address pumping at work with your boss?

"One thing I recommend is having a conversation with your employer before going on maternity leave," she said. "Start talking about lactation and pumping and open up that conversation before the time comes."

Jansma said she's had a positive experience with her employer, but she knows that's not the case for a lot of women.

"I know a lot of women from other industries or areas that have faced struggles, and I know women who have had to stop breastfeeding because of their schedules and abilities to pump at work," she said.

Supportive employer or not, Jansma said pumping is a struggle either way.

"At work it's a whole different ballgame trying to figure out how do you keep the parts clean when you have limited access to a sink and rinsing and washing," she said.

But Johnson said it's worth it. Studies show women who pump regularly miss less work than women who formula feed and pump irregularly.

"Pumping at work is important for two reasons," she said. "One is obviously we provide milk to the baby when we're not with them. The other one is to protect mom's breast health."

Johnson said if a woman goes through an eight-hour work day without moving that milk at all, not only can the breast become uncomfortably full but when the milk stays in place there is a higher risk for bacterial growth, which can lead to infection.

But pumping at work also leads to a lot of stress. Johnson suggests strategizing.

Federal law sets clear rules for breastfeeding at work. Employers must allow unpaid break time whenever new moms need to feed or pump.

They also must provide new moms a place to breastfeed that's not a bathroom, shielded from view and somewhat private.

But one catch? Those rules only apply to companies with more than 50 employees.

For new moms working for smaller companies, it's up to them to work out an agreement with their bosses on when and where they can breastfeed.

Both Kansas and Missouri have coalitions that offer support and resources for breastfeeding moms.



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