(Spanish version: Determinadas a amamantar: tres madres guatemaltecas comparten sus secretos para combinar el trabajo con la lactancia.)
Mothers in Guatemala have the legal right to devote one hour a day to breastfeed or express breastmilk for their babies during work hours. “To breastfeed” in Spanish can be translated “dar el pecho”. In English, “dar el pecho” can be translated literally as “give the breast”. Here, we hear from three mothers who overcame obstacles to successfully feed their babies breastmilk while also continuing their careers.
By Emmy Barrios Aguilera
Breastfeeding my three daughters was one of the best experiences of my life. To feel their warmth and listen to their rhythmic suction in the middle of the night was the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Even though some nights were more demanding than usual, and I could not prevent the alarm from ringing in the morning, I would never trade those precious moments with my babies.
After maternity leave which followed the birth of each of my children, I decided to continue my career as an educator and sociologist. I made every effort to maintain exclusive breastfeeding as long as possible. On weekends I fed them at my breast only, even though I might have expressed milk stored up. I have to say with every baby it was more complicated because of course the other children still needed my attention, too. I took advantage of every moment with them to enjoy the closeness of them in my arms. Breastfeeding is not only the act of nursing or the act of feeding; it is a form of intimate and dedicated attachment, of deep connection.
Every day I carried my cooler to work and expressed my milk. I collected it and brought it to my children’s grandmothers, who lovingly warmed it in a water bath. I learned to store, freeze and heat milk safely. Before I went to bed, when I woke up and on weekends, I also tried to express a little to make sure there was enough for my babies. I didn’t always succeed at that, but I always tried. Breastfeeding my daughters was a gift of attention, health and closeness that has generated a special bond with each of them. In some ways it was also an experience of intimate motherhood and occupational fulfillment that I wish for more working moms to enjoy.
By Atala Arriola Mansilla
I am a mother of two children. A 6-year-old girl and a 2.5-year-old boy.
I breastfed my oldest, my girl, for over three years. I’m still breastfeeding my little boy. During all this time I have split my time between my job, housework and above all—my family. I am a teacher, which is an advantage compared to other jobs because my workday ends earlier than for most other careers. I must emphasize that I am especially lucky since I have had the privilege of taking my children with me, which allowed me to breastfeed whenever my children wanted. At the beginning, it was not as easy, due to the short times between feeds. Yet, the benefits of breastfeeding are such that I would happily do it all over again—aside from the sacrifice, the rush to juggle breastfeeding and work, and everything that implies.
My children have not suffered from many illnesses, so it has not been necessary to miss much work. We have saved what we would have spent on formula. We have traveled without having to lug around many things. I breastfed them whenever they wanted. Most importantly, the bond that breastfeeding created between us is beyond belief. The opportunity to look into each other’s eyes while breastfeeding creates trust and strengthens our loving bond. Knowing that this moment is ours and only ours is a great treasure.
I am thankful for the opportunity to breastfeed my children until the moment we decided to stop. I could breastfeed without leaving my job. On many occasions, I breastfed while leaning on cushions and facing my computer. I learned to use my opposite hand to grade exams or to plan lessons. By being creative, I learned to balance all my tasks while still working.
By Thelma López Aguilar
I am a mother of two boys who are now 18 and 14-year-old teenagers. When a dear La Leche League Leader by the name of Elizabeth Dary asked me to share my experience of breastfeeding and work, I was filled with a mixture of emotion and nostalgia as I recalled so much joy and satisfaction.
I have always worked away from home. When my children were born it was always a conflict for me to return to work. That is why I worked until the last day possible before delivering each of them. I could gather as many prenatal and postnatal maternity leave days as I could—which added up to 85 days (I still remember it clearly!) in order to be with them longer after their births.
Before my first son, Erwin, was born, I read about breastfeeding. My sister-in-law Elizabeth helped me find accurate information to read, such as La Leche League (LLL) books, so that when Erwin was born, I had already decided that exclusive breastfeeding would be best for my baby. I didn’t know how I was going to manage it when I returned to work, but I was convinced that I had to do it. Since I planned to return to work at almost three months, at two and a half months I started to express milk on a schedule of every three hours. I started to build myself a personal milk bank!
Fortunately, although I work all day long, my work schedule is flexible. So, my family gave my oldest baby son, Erwin, my expressed milk in the morning, and I found a private place at work to express my milk mid-morning. I came prepared with my cooler ready, and I learned to express breastmilk using just my hands. I think I became an expert at it! At lunchtime, I ran to my mother-in-law’s and breastfed my baby boy at noon, then took my expressing milk break in the afternoon. This way, I had plenty of breastmilk to feed him the following day.
On weekends I breastfed each of my children on demand, without giving them any bottles of expressed milk. When they were older, complementary foods enabled me to express breastmilk less frequently.
I remember I even had to travel a couple of times, and I had enough milk in my “bank” for my boys to be able to only drink my breastmilk while I was away. During my travels I expressed milk as often as I could, but unfortunately some spoiled due to lack of continuous refrigeration. When I returned from each of my travels, the boys breastfed again without any problems, despite my fears that they might lose interest upon my return.
Feeding expressed milk to my second child, Daniel, was very difficult because he did not like any bottle teats; I tried them all! I managed to organize myself and raced to breastfeed him, always on time, the way I did it with my first child. At six months old I gave Daniel some water in a sippy cup, and in another sippy cup he started drinking my breastmilk.
When I reflect about all this, I feel blessed and so happy to have managed combining work and breastfeeding. Most people told me I should give my babies formula and not complicate matters, but I am glad I didn’t listen to them.