Jenni took some time to answer some questions for us regarding her experience of returning to uni after having her first baby. We hope that her experience will give insight into what it might be like should you be considering a similar pursuit.
Did you continue breastfeeding despite returning to work?
Yes. My first was breastfed until 26 months old.
I returned to uni studying graphic design when my eldest was 12 weeks old. Classes were 12 hours per week and I was also expected to study around 30 hours per week outside of class time (I usually managed somewhere between 5-20 hours study per week, mostly in the evening while he slept, if he slept).
The reduced study time available to me meant I really had to streamline my study approach and sometimes had to accept that a project would be good enough to pass, if not good enough for me.
How many hours were you apart?
We were apart for 4 hours a day for 3 days per week from 12 weeks old, 4 hours per day 6 days a week from 8 months old.
Although the time apart was relatively short, in the beginning my son fed every two hours from both sides, so when I’d get home I would be very engorged and would need to express before feeding him. This expressed milk would then be used for his feed the next time I was in class.
Expressing the missed feed would have prevented engorgement, but I never asked if time could be made for me to express between classes. If I were doing it again, I would certainly approach the college about it.
Did you have to express?
I also tried to express in the evenings if I’d not been able to express when I got home, but found that I wouldn’t necessarily get very much.
I now understand that the time of day, and the fact that I would be worrying about expressing enough for the following day would have impacted how much I produced.
I was also using a manual pump and would get hand cramp, which didn’t help.
How did you deal with it emotionally?
I don’t think I really thought about it. At that point my student loan was the sole source of income for my family and my focus was on ensuring I passed the course so I could get a job to support my family. I didn’t want to leave my son for those few hours each week but it was necessary.
What surprised you?
How much milk my body produced in 4 hours. In hindsight I’m surprised I didn’t get blocked ducts or mastitis!
What was easier than expected?
Feeding in public. I was ready to face off with anyone who challenged me. No one ever did!
If anyone stared, tutted, whispered or made comments, I never witnessed them and no-one ever brought them to my attention. There was no judgement from anyone I knew, regardless of how they’d fed their own children, and I saw no trace of the so-called ‘mummy wars’. Just mums feeding, cuddling and loving their babies.
What was harder?
Sleep, I knew it was going to be hard, but it was really hard.
At the time the advice given to me was very much that baby should sleep on a separate surface and that bed-sharing was an absolute, categorical no-no. Bed-sharing would kill my child and I mustn’t fall asleep whilst feeding him at night - so I didn’t. We shared a sleep surface once when he was teething at 6mo and I did not sleep that night.
I had hoped to set up a sidecar arrangement but it just wasn’t possible in our bedroom. Feeding every two hours through the night and settling him in his cot sometimes taking up to an hour meant I was massively sleep deprived, and had a chest infection for the 8 weeks prior to going back to uni.
Information on safe bed-sharing would have been hugely beneficial.
Were you supported by your college?
My college provided facilities for me to express and store milk on campus - unfortunately, I never used them because I had two, 2 hour lectures back-to-back.
My lecturers were all very supportive and accommodating, regardless of whether they had children or not. I probably could have asked for more support, but I’m very glad to have been lucky enough to have had compassionate tutors.
What was the response of your peers?
There were a few parents on my course, but for the most part I didn’t really spend any time socialising as I would want to get home ASAP to my baby, and would also need to express.
I did miss out on making friends and developing additional skills, and would have liked to have been able to engage more fully in the course.
We hope that Jenni's experience has provided some support should you be going through the same thing. Jenni is also a Milk Mentor and would be happy to support you or answer any questions you might have, if you would like to get in contact with her. Her details can be found on the find a supporter page.