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Pumped up practice: Make breastfeeding work with your veterinary career


With a predominantly female profession comes babies. And with babies comes breastmilk. How well do you know your rights and limitations?

Photo: Shutterstock/Pavel IlyukhinAs veterinary professionals we're often natural nurturers who feel drawn to having our own bundles of joy. But balancing the demands of new motherhood and a career is tricky. Add in working around the rights and needs of a new breastfeeding mother and it gets a whole lot trickier.

Breastfeeding is one of our most natural maternal performances-and it's something we often observe as veterinary professionals. After delivering a litter of new puppies or kittens, one of our first acts is to help facilitate the nursing experience by bringing the new babies to their mother's teat.

We know that colostrum and mother's milk is beneficial for our patients. So why is breastfeeding sometimes so difficult for us?

Breastfeeding and back to work

Part of the challenge of breastfeeding is returning to work. Most women have anywhere from six to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Factors such as staffing, pay and childcare can bring a new mother back to work sooner than she would like. And in that first few months, a new baby usually eats every three hours. So what's a breastfeeding mom to do?

If you've decided that you're going to feed your new baby breastmilk and plan to return to work, the next step in your future is pumping. Ideally you'll be pumping at the same intervals as your baby would be feeding. A pumping session can last a minimum of 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the mother. Pumping sessions need to occur multiple times in a workday.

Having a private and relaxing space for the mother to pump breastmilk helps the mother produce an optimum amount of milk needed for her baby in the time allotted.

Now you're probably laughing at all of this because you know as well as I do veterinary schedules are crazy.

Many days you have no time for lunch, let alone multiple 20-minute breaks for pumping.  But being able to pump breastmilk at work is crucial for the well-being of mom and baby. Stress and poor removal of milk can lead to engorgement, mastitis and low milk supply. All of this can lead you to (understandably!) ditch breastfeeding.

So how do I make it work for me?

Every state has different rights regarding breastfeeding and pumping breaks. If you're unsure, the best place to start is your local La Leche League or local breastfeeding coalition. Be prepared and informed of your rights as a breastfeeding mother before you return to work. Your employer should be able to provide you with a clean, private space for pumping that isn't a bathroom. Just remember, you may need to negotiate a pumping schedule. If you get a lunch break, you may end up sacrificing a portion to pump.

I also recommend working closely with your manager to create a plan for your pumping needs in your schedule. Make sure your manager and the person in charge of the appointment schedule know your needs. Setting up and executing a firm plan is imperative. You don't need to sacrifice your personal breastfeeding goals at the hands of your career. Work and motherhood can coexist smoothly with the right support from your employer.

Abigail Fishaw, LVT, resides in Norfolk, Virginia, with her husband, daughters and pets. She's worked in the veterinary field for 11 years and has been a licensed veterinary technician since 2009. Abby has a special affinity for black-and-white cats and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.

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