How many of us have returned from maternity leave with aspirations of pumping every 3 to 4 hours to keep up our milk supply to meet that goal of nursing our babies for the first 12 months of life? How quickly did we come to the realization that it is difficult to leave the floor 3 times in a 12 hour shift to pump? How soon did the guilt begin about asking our peers to watch our patients so we could pump (yes, again)? How many times did we eat our lunch while pumping so we didn’t have to leave the unit AGAIN? How much stress and anxiety did we feel while we tried to do the right thing by our patients, colleagues, and babies? How many of us felt that 12 weeks was not enough time off before returning to work when our babies were still nursing every 3 hours around the clock? How many nursing nurses were too busy on their shift to pump as much as they needed to which decreased their supply? How many of us stopped breastfeeding sooner than we wanted because of the guilt, stress, and time constraints of our role?
I consider myself fortunate. My facility had designated nursing mother’s rooms that were locked, quiet, and clean for pumping. I still felt the guilt of leaving the unit to pump while leaving my patients with my peers several times a shift. I quickly decreased to pumping only 2 times per shift and eventually went down to only once. I worked part time after taking the full 12 weeks off with my first two babies. I successfully breasted 6 months for the first and 9 months for the second although my goal for both of them was one year. For my third baby, I struggled with balancing the two older kids’ activities, work, my professional organization, and nursing after returning to work. I changed my scheduled from full to part time and from day to night shift. That still wasn’t working well, so I made the decision to resign until the baby turned one year old. As a result, he is still nursing at 10 months.
I call it my European maternity leave as some countries allow for up to one year or more for mothers to bond and care for their babies. I want nurses to have the opportunity to nurse their babies as long as they can and desire to. The nature of our profession poses greater challenges than those who work in office settings where there are not life or death decisions to be made in our absence. My advice is put your family first, be mindful of your colleagues who are trying their best to balance it all, and know that kind acts are never forgotten. When you have mercy on your peers they will be there for you when you need them.