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One Mother's Journey Back to Work

Gretchen Anderson-Minshew
Boise ID US
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 14 No. 2, March-April 1997, pp. 41-2

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

It's 7:00 AM and I am feeling full. The news hour on "Idaho at Sunrise" is finished, and now instead of focusing on heads of state, civil wars, and natural disaster, my thoughts turn to my baby. It is time to pump. I disappear from the television newsroom and zip across the station to a ladies' lounge where I have set up a small but comfortable pumping station. In the next ten minutes, I express about nine ounces of milk. I place it in an insulated bag with an ice block, wash the parts to my pump, and head back to the newsroom. I am set for the next three hours.

The Decision to Breastfeed

When I became pregnant, women would approach me and ask if I planned to breastfeed my baby. I was fairly certain I would. But what swayed me was several women telling me that it was a great way to drop the pregnancy weight and get my body back in shape. Since I have a job in the public eye and I had gained almost 50 pounds, this appealed to me. For purely selfish reasons, I decided I would nurse.

It wasn't until I attended my first La Leche League meeting that my thinking changed dramatically. The mother of my best friend is a former LLL Leader and she hooked me up with a special LLL Group for working mothers. The topic of that first meeting was "returning to work and the use of breast pumps." My eyes widened when the LLL Leader used a balloon to demonstrate the suction power of some of the pumps. "You mean to tell me that's what's going to happen to my breast?!" I was in the last months of pregnancy. My body had changed in many interesting ways, and the sight of a pump pulling the balloon halfway into a clear cylinder was almost more than I could take. The mental picture of a pump doing that to my breast made me light-headed! Fortunately, there were several other professional women at the meeting who had successfully used breast pumps while at work. They calmed my fears by explaining I would get used to the suction, and that it wasn't as bad as it looked. Plus, they explained the incredible benefits of breastfeeding. For example, they told me how no man-made formula can match the biological makeup of human milk, and no supplement can nurture the growth of my baby like my own milk. I was convinced that breastfeeding was what I wanted for my baby.

Getting Started

Hannah Helen Mabel Minshew was born in June of 1994. When the hospital staff brought her to me, I didn't have the first clue on proper diapering, let alone breastfeeding! I was a woman, a wife, and now a mother who wanted a baby, but I had rarely been around babies. As I attempted to nurse my daughter, I was nervous and unsure. As I held that darling little girl to my breast, she and nature took over. I was surprised at how intensely she suckled. My toes would curl with every postpartum contraction that came with nursing. I had to use my birthing class breathing exercises to get through it at first. However, as the hours passed, we mastered nursing--and diapers.

Due to my daughter's vigorous latch-on, I had extremely sore nipples. They were red and blistered. When it became almost too painful to nurse I called one of the LLL Leaders in my area. I thought I was doing something wrong. Were the blisters a sign that my daughter wasn't getting enough milk? With the telephone cradled between my head and shoulder and Hannah in my arms, the LLL Leader literally "walked me through" it. Hannah latched on like she had so many times before and I was relieved that we had been doing it right all along. I had never spoken so openly to another woman about my breasts. Through our candid yet comfortable conversation, the small problems were discovered and resolved.

Back to Work

When I returned to work, I did so with breast pump in hand. Since time was of the essence, I wanted to be as efficient as possible. I rented the best pump I could find. At first, I used the Medela double pumping model. Later, I switched to the Ameda-Egnell "Elite" breast pump. Both are good pumps and easy to use. I preferred the Ameda-Egnell pump because of its design and clear-plastic pumping kit. Even with renting a pump, I realized a cost savings through few visits to the pediatrician's office and no need for infant formula.

As soon as we say our goodbyes on "Idaho at Sunrise" I slip back into the ladies' lounge and pump for ten minutes. I can pump a total of 12 to 16 ounces during my shift. During the time I spend pumping, I read the local newspaper. Since I awake at 4 AM and am at work shortly after 5 AM, there is little time to read the paper before going on the air. Those ten minutes also buy me some quiet time—something that is not common in the news business.

When I return to the newsroom after pumping, my "Sunrise" colleagues want to know where I have been. I use the opportunity to promote breastfeeding. My male co-anchor, Roland Beres, has been especially interested and supportive. We have had frequent conversations about the benefits of nursing. Roland realized one clear benefit: if I continue to breastfeed, my child is healthy and I am not home with a sick baby. While most of my co-workers are supportive, there are a few who can be cynical and even cringe at the mention of breastfeeding and pumping. Though we're nearing the 21st century, some people still view breastfeeding as taboo.

A Kinder Gentler Reception

Other co-workers are very supportive. The women who frequent the lounge while I am pumping always have words of support. They'll often sit down on a nearby couch and keep me company. It's a rare and interesting way to promote co-worker relationships!

Many women are eager to talk with me while I am pumping, so I now realize I missed out on opportunities for similar conversations in the past.

A fellow anchorwoman, Laurel Porter, is raising four children. Over the years, she has breastfed each one of them at least through the first 12 months. I remember using the ladies' room and seeing Laurel pump. At that time, I was a single woman with my sights set on my career. I didn't ask any questions or even talk with her when she was pumping. I assumed it was a personal thing and she probably preferred to be left alone. Now I feel I missed out on something—whether it was information, education, or just good conversation.

But that memory came to mind when I considered pumping at work, and I thought if Laurel could do it, so could I. Laurel and I have talked at length about motherhood, breastfeeding, and the news business. She says she misses the days of nursing her children. "It's a special part of motherhood. I'm glad I had the opportunity to nurse and wouldn't have done it any other way." Laurel is now a lead anchor in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

While it's important to have support from your employer, you need the support of your husband. My husband, Buster, has supported me on a practical and emotional level. He knows the benefits of human milk and his support has helped me to balance breastfeeding and working outside the home. Returning to work and being able to continue breastfeeding has been very important to me. It is a real accomplishment. I am especially proud that I can serve as an ambassador for breastfeeding. I breastfeed in public, and I have had no negative response to it. Ideally, I would like to mother from home, and I have set goals for that. But for now, I have found success in mothering and breastfeeding while working away from home.

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