breastfeeding (in the real world)

How to be a nursing mom and have a life, too

If you could spend your entire breastfeeding experience in an ergonomically correct rocking chair, wearing a spotless, flowing gown and staring adoringly at your placid little cherub in a soft-focus haze, you wouldn’t need this article. But just in case you’ll have to alternate those golden moments with such pesky intrusions as shopping, eating out, exercising or even working during the months to come, here’s the lowdown on several of breastfeeding’s more nettlesome issues.

What’s that? Up in the sky! You don’t need the brazenness of a “Baywatch” babe to breastfeed in front of others. Janet Tamaro, a lactation educator who wrote a breastfeeding manual, So That’s What They’re For! Breastfeeding Basics (Adams Media Corp.), is currently nursing her second daughter. Still, she says, “I admit I’m uncomfortable nursing in public.” Tamaro’s advice to the tentative: Practice in front of a mirror} You’ll have a chance to refine your nursing technique and see exactly how unrevealing it actually is. Start with a friendly crowd} Nursing among fellow moms at a postnatal exercise class is less daunting than, say, marching into a corporate boardroom and dropping your bra flaps. Wear the right thing} Skip dresses, buttoned fronts and zippered backs. Opt for shirts you can lift from the waist, or special nursing garb with clever slits and flaps. Enlist help} Says Tamaro, “In a pinch, I’ve had my husband point to the ceiling and say, ‘Look!’ That provides just enough of a distraction for me to get the baby latched on.”

What’s the expiration date? When it comes to storing breast milk, safe is always better than sorry. Although La Leche League guidelines say keeping it for 10 hours at room temperature (66°–72° F) is safe, cold storage is the best. “Breast milk is a lot more durable than we thought, but I don’t recommend leaving it out all day if you can avoid it,” says Linda Healow, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., a Billings, Mont., lactation consultant and La Leche League group leader. Covered, in the refrigerator, breast milk will safely keep for five to eight days. You can store it for two to three months in the freezer; just keep it toward the rear and bottom, where it’s coldest, and not in the door. Pump it up Your baby doesn’t need a bottle to thrive, but you might now and then. If you’re returning to work or just want an occasional break from nursing, a breast pump will help you integrate bottles into your breastfeeding routine. They come in a variety of sizes and styles: Inexpensive hand pumps ($25–$35) are fine for occasional use. Battery-operated pumps can work fine for an occasional bottle or a quick in-the-car pump, but for long-term, daily use, go for a small electric pump ($50–$200). Best bet for working moms: a bilateral electric pump ($125–$350) that empties both breasts in 10–12 minutes, leaving time on your lunch hour for, well, lunch. Afraid to commit? Most of the more expensive models are available for rent. Check with your local hospital or La Leche League branch for more info.

Working it out at work If smokers can sneak out of the office for cigarette breaks, surely nursing moms deserve time to pump their milk. That said, Tamaro observes, “I don’t know a lot of women who want to discuss pumping schedules with their male supervisors.” Her solution: Don’t tell — or at least don’t make a point of telling. Use your lunch hour or established break periods to pump, find a discreet location, and keep breaks short with the help of a high-efficiency bilateral pump. If pumping breaks become an issue, don’t lie. Offer to make up lost time or work while you pump. And if you’re lucky enough to have a sympathetic employer as well as breastfeeding co-workers, consider taking breaks together. “Pumping goes a lot faster when you have someone to talk to,” says Tamaro.