Modern dilemma for modern mums Head go here head go here

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2007, 12:00am

Going back to work after the arrival of a baby can be a stressful time for mums. How do you cope when you want to carry on breastfeeding? It's a modern dilemma for the modern mother. The experts say that breast is best and that breastfeeding for the first six months will give your baby a better start in life, less allergies and illnesses and can even boost their intelligence.

In an ideal world, the new mother would spend those first six months exclusively with her baby, feeding, nurturing, bonding and preparing for the weaning stage ahead.

But the reality is mothers work, their incomes are crucial to the family budget and their skills and experience are in demand. It's a dilemma which faces more women today than ever before, partly because of the push to breastfeed, but also because women are becoming mothers later in life when they have careers, good jobs to go back to and employers who want them back.

Hong Kong midwife Hulda Thorey says it is not unusual for Hong Kong mothers to be back at work less than 10 weeks after the birth of their babies.

At 10 weeks, a baby is completely dependent on milk for nutrition, which means the mother returning to work has to face the decision of whether to switch to formula milk and the bottle or to try and continue with breast milk by expressing and bottling a supply when she is at work.

It's a decision which often worries new mothers, says Ms Thorey, but the good news is that Hong Kong employers are now more sympathetic to breastfeeding mothers.

'I feel there has been an improvement in the attitude of Hong Kong employers and they are now more understanding of mothers who want to carry on breastfeeding when they return to work,' she says. 'They may allow them to arrive a little later in the morning, take a break to express milk and to go home earlier.'

Ms Thorey, a director of the maternity and early childhood company Annerley, says that although many employers still do not provide specific rooms and facilities for working mothers to express and store milk, they will often be happy to make a spare office or restroom available.

Some go even better, she says, with one mother she knew praising facilities at the Renaissance College in Ma On Shan, which includes a family room with a sofa and television, and a fridge to store breast milk.

From the employers' point of view there are also benefits in encouraging mothers to breastfeed. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers in Britain says that because breastfed infants have fewer and shorter illnesses than their bottle-fed counterparts, mothers of breastfed babies are less likely to take time off to stay at home with a sick child.

Secondly, studies in the United States claim that mothers who are allowed breastfeeding breaks and who have positive encouragement from employers are more able to concentrate on their work.

There is also a cost benefit to the employer in that they don't have to recruit and train a replacement for a mother who chooses not to go back to work.

Hong Kong family doctor Lauren Bramley, co-author of The Baby's Table (Random House) - a feeding guide for new mothers - agrees that employers are more understanding than they were five years ago. However, the short maternity leave means that many women begin worrying about going back to work early after giving birth.

'A 10-week maternity leave is pretty much the norm in Hong Kong, and many women get worked up four weeks before they are due back and start an aggressive [plan to wean the baby]. If a woman desires to continue breastfeeding, I would encourage her to do so until the very day she is back at the office and build a frozen milk supply. There is no reason to start weaning early,' says Ms Bramley.