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Thursday, 13 June 2024
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Maternity and career testimonial - Three different return to work experiences

The fear exists: “If I get pregnant, how will I reconcile this with my career? How can I make a place for my baby when there has always been work? And above all, what does the law say to protect me?

These doubts often arise in career development - especially when returning to work after maternity leave.

3 children, 3 utterly different return to work experiences!

I had my first child when I worked in prison; I was a psychologist in a predominantly male environment with many taboos and hygienic conditions, which are those of a prison. When I returned from maternity leave, I chose to continue breastfeeding; it was my desire and so important for me and my baby. Overnight, I found myself separated from my baby, whom I saw every day; she was barely 5 months old.

There was no room to express my milk at the prison: my office was glass, and there were only toilets. And then, from stress, my body stopped producing milk. This caused very disabling and painful congestion. Since I couldn't express my milk correctly, my body figured there was no longer any need to produce it.

My baby directly suffered from this lack of privacy in the workplace; she had never taken a bottle before. She refused powdered milk, bottles, and pacifiers and then refused to feed. She was in tears for hours and was suffering both physically (a dip in her growth curve) and mentally.

At that time, legal breastfeeding breaks did not exist. I would have needed to extend my maternity leave (by 2 months...) into a breastfeeding leave for 60% of my salary, and if I did that, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my mortgage.

Second pregnancy: despite better organisation, internal obstacles to the workplace persist...

3 years later, I became pregnant again and decided not to make any concessions. I went to see a lactation consultant to find out how to prolong breastfeeding and, above all, relieve stress. I even stocked up on colostrum, just in case. I prepared myself both psychologically and financially.

I learnt to express my milk better but faced the same problems: in prison, there is no way to express it cleanly or even keep it cool. So, to avoid being engorged, I had to express milk and throw it in the toilet... I tried to relieve stress by looking at a picture of my baby. When I collected my baby from the nursery, I breastfed him directly every day. At the nursery, I brought the milk that I expressed at home. This recovery required a lot of preparation! After some time (7 months), the body begins production led by the baby, as with all mammals. I no longer got engorged; the pain stopped. I breastfed my son for 18 months. He was a smiling baby with no health problems, a smooth adaptation to daycare and a reassured working mother.

Luxembourg: informed about my rights, I have a more peaceful professional experience

The breastfeeding break helps regulate the body; you take it according to your needs. In Luxembourg, it is either 90 minutes midday or 45 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening. The employer must accept it with the doctor’s certificate. This fits perfectly with working life in Luxembourg.

When I worked in Belgium, I had no information, so I did not adequately benefit from my rights as a mother.

When I had my 3rd baby in Luxembourg, our in-house lawyer explained everything I needed to know.

It is essential to recognise that laws and policies are in place to protect the rights of pregnant women, mothers and parents. Asking questions and seeking to understand your rights is an essential and legitimate act.

I don't regret my determination to breastfeed, as breastfeeding played a crucial role in my daughter's recovery during an outbreak of severe bronchiolitis. She refused any other form of food and only accepted the breast. Breastfeeding has been a source of healing. The antibodies in my breast milk strengthened her immune system, helping her fight the infection more effectively and avoiding a hospital stay. The soothing and pain-relieving effects of breastfeeding helped her hold on while other daycare friends were in the ER. She spent 5 days skin to skin against me to regain her strength.

The fear of stigma can be very real in many contexts, and it can be particularly difficult for women in these situations. However, the law allows you to organise yourself well for your baby without compromising your role as an employee.

These 90 minutes that the law offers us are fundamental: this is how the body understands that it can continue to produce milk without the physical presence of its baby during our working day.

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