Breastfeeding 101: Breastfeeding And Returning To Work

August is National Breastfeeding Month and here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support each and every parent’s decision on how to feed and nourish their families.That’s why we’re proud to join National Breastfeeding Month in helping build a landscape of breastfeeding support with our new Breastfeeding 101 series.

Learn top tips for breastfeeding and returning to work, including preparing your baby for when you go back, setting a pumping schedule, and finding a comfortable space to pump.

Yes, you can keep breastfeeding when you return to work outside the home. Working moms breastfeed all the time! You’ll just need to start a pumping routine so you maintain your milk supply.

Here are our top tips for breastfeeding and returning to work. We’ll cover what you’ll need to do to keep your milk supply up, how to make the process comfortable, and rights that nursing mothers have in most workplaces.

Get baby ready to take bottles of breastmilk while you’re away.

If you can, the ideal time to start introducing the bottle to baby is when they’re between 2 and 5 weeks of age. (There’s a chance that baby won’t want to take the bottle when they’re introduced to it after 6 weeks of age). But you can start introducing the bottle at any age.

Starting the bottle-feeding process early will give you plenty of time to get used to a pumping routine, and let you adjust to the feeling and operation of the pump before you go back to work.

For the smoothest introduction, the bottle you choose for baby should closely mimic your breast, with a breast-like nipple and a slow flow to mimic your own milk flow. This way, baby is less likely to overfeed on the bottle.

And since you’re introducing the bottle because of your return to work, the partner or caregiver who will be offering the bottle should offer it now. This will help baby get used to taking the bottle from them --- and give you some time for yourself.

Your partner or the caregiver will need to make sure that baby and the bottle are positioned in a way that mimics the position baby uses to nurse from your breast. Then, baby should be able to switch back and forth between bottle and breast with no issues.

Getting baby ready to take bottles also includes having an initial supply of breastmilk ready for your partner or baby’s caregiver, meant for the first several times you’re at work.

Try to store lots of milk in the freezer before you return to work --- about 200 ounces!

For more on introducing a bottle of breastmilk, don’t miss our Q&A with lactation consultant Corky Harvey (RN, IBCLC, MS) from The Pump Station And Nurtury.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When you’re returning to work and breastfeeding, it’s a must to ask for help. Plan out who will take care of --- and bottle-feed--- your little one while you’re working. Also, ask family members or friends for help with dinner or housework if you need to.

And asking for help from experts --- including other moms --- can be invaluable. Talk to a lactation consultant, the hospital where you gave birth, and online or in-person lactation support group. Also, ask for tips from other moms in your circle who have successfully breastfed while working outside the home.

Prepare your pumping supplies for work.

To pump at work, you’ll need to bring:

  • A double-electric breast pump and its kit (you can get an electric pump for free through most health insurance plans)
  • Containers to safely store the milk you pump
  • A cooler or insulated bag, plus ice packs
    • These will keep the milk cool in transport (and during work, if you don’t have fridge access)
  • Extra pump parts
    • This way, you’ll have spare parts on hand if there’s a problem.
    • Also, you won’t have to wash parts at work---just use a new set of parts for each pump session and wash them all at once when you get home.
  • A manual “backup” pump (optional)
    • In case the electric pump breaks

Even better, see if your office has a breast pump that you can keep at work, or consider renting a pump just to keep at work. That way, you won’t have to bring all your supplies every day (you’ll just need to take the insulated bag, ice, and containers back and forth)

If you can, it’s best to practice pumping a few days to a few weeks before you return to work, if you haven’t already started to use that particular breast pump.

Ease into the return to work, if possible.

If you’re able to, it’s best to go back to work in the middle of your typical week. For example, plan to go back on a Wednesday if your week would normally start on Monday.

After all, you’ll be juggling your newly-resumed work responsibilities along with a new pumping and breastmilk storage routine, setting care up for your little one while you’re away, and caring for your little one when home.

Having your days off after a shorter week will give you time to rest, evaluate how your first days back went, and make any needed adjustments.

Get into a pumping routine.

Breastmilk production is all about supply and demand. For you to produce more breastmilk, milk must be removed first (whether that’s via your baby’s nursing or a pump).

So, to maintain or increase your milk supply after you return to work, you’ll need to maintain a consistent pumping schedule.

  • Pump breastmilk at work as many times as you would breastfeed baby if you were at home. Usually, this will be at least three times during work hours.
  • Also, pump as close as possible to the times your baby would nurse if you were at home with them. This way, your body will respond to the same "demand" and keep producing enough milk for your baby.
  • For example, if you normally nursed baby in the middle of the morning, during the early afternoon, and in the middle of the afternoon, pump at those times once you’re back at work.
  • If possible, ask for your breaks and lunch to be aligned with pumping times.

If you’re seeking to increase your milk supply, you can lengthen your normal pumping sessions by 5-10 minutes.

And remember: don't wait until your breasts are full to start pumping. If you usually let your breasts get full before pumping, you’re at risk for lowering your milk supply. Your breast makes more milk when milk is removed, but a full breast stops producing milk.

Add in pumping sessions if needed. And don’t miss a session!

Nurse Dani of Intermountain Moms shares more on starting a pumping routine at work, as well as other return-to-work tips:

Know your workplace rights as a breastfeeding mother

Under a federal law that covers most workplaces, it’s your right as a breastfeeding mom to pump as often as you need to during work hours.

The Break Time For Nursing Mothers section of the Fair Labor Standards Act states that nearly all workplaces in the U.S. must provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth, each time such employee has need to express the milk.

Under the same law, nearly all employers must also provide nursing mothers a private place to pump that is not a bathroom. This location must be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” It must always be available when the mother needs it to pump.

Find your comfortable space to pump while at work.

Work with your employer to figure out a clean, private space that will be available for you to pump anytime you need it. (Again, this could be anywhere clean that is not a bathroom).

Help your employer figure out the best pumping space for your needs. Sometimes, you’ll need to be part of the solution!

  • You could install a privacy curtain at your workspace with a wooden dowel, shower curtain rod, or clamps from a hardware store, and close it whenever you need to pump.
  • If moveable room dividers or partitions are available, ask if you can use them to create a pumping space.
  • If you’re using a storage closet, file room, or other room that doesn’t already have a lock, ask if you could install a lock.
  • If you’re using a space that you can’t lock, hang a sign for privacy while you pump.
  • If the designated room has a door with a window on it, cover that window with black paper or a black trash bag.
  • A shower tent might also work if there’s no other way to create privacy.
  • Or, you might find that your parked car is the most relaxing place for you to pump in, and ask to pump there.

Advocate for your pump time.

While at work, making the time and space to pump as much as you need to is crucial to maintaining your supply. Emphasize how important this is for you --- and your little one --- to your employer.

  • Talk with your employer and set up a consistent pumping schedule that suits both of you.
  • When you talk with them, keep in mind that a pumping session (with a double-electric pump) usually takes 15-20 minutes, plus the time you need to get to and from your pump space and wash your pumping supplies.
  • And if you find that the schedule you set up isn’t working, check in and rework the schedule so it works better for your pumping needs.

When you are with baby, nurse baby as often as you can.

As lactation consultant Corky Harvey told us before, after you've returned to work, nursing your baby as much as possible while at home will help ensure that baby doesn’t prefer the bottle over the breast, or refuse the breast when it’s offered.

This will also keep baby familiar with the routine of breastfeeding, so switching back and forth between the bottle and breast stays seamless.

Thus, it will help you maintain or increase your milk supply. And as an added bonus, it will help comfort baby after they’ve been away from you for longer periods.

Some of her top tips for maintaining this routine include:

  • Feed baby when you first get up. Then, take a warm shower (showering will improve your let-down).
  • If you can, breastfeed baby again right before leaving for work (or right before they’re dropped off at the childcare center).
  • Nurse your baby as soon as you arrive at home or at the child care center.
  • Have baby nurse directly for most of their weekend feedings and all their night feedings.
  • When you’re with baby, breastfeed as often as they want to feed. Pay attention to their early signs of hunger!

Sample Workday Breastfeeding Schedule For Working Moms

Take care of yourself!

Breastfeeding and working can be extremely tiring. Don’t neglect yourself as you take care of others. Get as much sleep as you can, and try to stick to a consistent bedtime. On your days off, sleep whenever baby sleeps.

After baby’s in bed for the night, set aside time for a relaxing bath, a good read, or any other alone time that helps you unwind.

Take things one day at a time, and remember that things will get easier as you settle into the new routine.

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