Returning to work after parental leave can be a challenging transition. And for many breastfeeding moms, returning to work also means starting to pump at work, which can add a bit more complexity to the mix. Fortunately, there are ways to make this transition much smoother.
Lay the groundwork
It sounds obvious, but it’s a good idea to speak with your employer about your pumping needs before you head back to work. This will help ensure that there is a designated lactation room or a temporary lactation space that you can use to pump. Under U.S. labor law, as long as you work for a company with fifty employees or more, you are entitled to a place to breastfeed or pump (that’s not a bathroom) until Baby is at least a year old, so you’ll want to make sure your employer understands and can accommodate your needs.
If you work for a smaller company where there is not a formally designated lactation space, you should talk to your employer about options for finding or creating a private space (that’s not a bathroom) that can work for you. This is a requirement by law, so they will have to do so or get a formal exemption. You’ll also want to know if the space is located near where you normally work or if it’s some distance away, if it has an electrical outlet or not, if there is a fridge where you can store your milk, and if there is a sink where you can clean your equipment.
Some of these pumping niceties (though many moms might call them pumping necessities) are not necessarily legally required of lactation rooms. You’ll want to know all of the specifics of what is available to you before you return so that you can be prepared for what to expect and what you’ll need to bring with you.
Set a schedule — and expectations
You’ll want to set your pumping schedule before you return to work. Moms returning very soon after having a baby will probably need to pump more often — as often as a baby would eat at home, so every few hours — while moms returning later on when their babies are eating less frequently might only need to pump during a regular break or lunch time. A lot of this will depend on your supply, how much Baby is eating, and if you are feeding them breast milk exclusively or supplementing with formula.
Many breastfeeding moms also make a point to nurse directly before and directly after work so that they will never go too long between nursing or pumping sessions and can both keep up their milk supply and avoid breast engorgement. The pumping schedule you set will, of course, depend on your day-to-day schedule and responsibilities. Your employer is required by law to provide reasonable break times for you to pump, taking into account any time it might take for you to travel to and from the lactation space.
Once you know when you’ll plan to pump at work, make sure anyone who might normally come looking for you during that time knows you won’t be available — the last thing you need while pumping is an unexpected interruption. For some people this means building pumping time into their formal work schedule or adding it to a calendar, and for others it might just mean a verbal confirmation with a boss and coworkers so that they know you won’t be available. Essentially, you’ll just want to ensure that expectations for pumping are clear between you and your employer. Then if your pumping schedule needs to change over time — if your work schedule changes or if it makes sense to pump less frequently — you can always revisit the conversation.
Get comfortable with the equipment
This might go without saying, but you should make certain that you’re comfortable with your breast pump and any additional pumping accessories before heading back to work. It’s often a challenge to find time to pump in the very early days of breastfeeding when your little one nurses so often, but before you return to work, find a quiet time between feedings or when Baby is asleep to familiarize yourself with your pump, to practice pumping and storing breast milk, and to clean the pumping equipment. You should do this at least a few times before returning just so you know how your pump works.
Stock up when you can — even before your return
Some other helpful prep that you can do — as you practice pumping before your big return — is to store up that expressed breast milk as you go. You can store breast milk in a standard freezer, which is a great way to get a head-start, and if you have a deep-freezer, milk can be stored even longer.
It can help to make your early days of pumping at work a little less stressful if you know that Baby already has some goodies chilled for them back at home, and that they will have plenty of milk to get through the first few days of you going back to work.
Some moms don’t mind pumping, while others really dislike it, but if you can occasionally (depending on your baby’s needs as well as how much milk you’re producing and expressing regularly at work) pump at home between feedings, you can continue to add to your milk stockpile to supplement what you are pumping at work. This will lessen any concerns about providing enough milk for your little one while you’re apart.
Dress for success
Many new moms quickly get comfortable with wearing leaked milk and baby spit up as a cool new look, but work is one of the places where you’d probably like to avoid such messy accessories if possible. Dressing for work when you’re pumping isn’t as simple as dressing appropriately for your work environment — it’s also about easy access to that milk.
If you have a lot of choice in what you can wear, you might choose garments that allow you ease of access. Button-down shirts, cardigans, wrap dresses, wrap-around blouses, or dedicated nursing tops and dresses can be great for this if these are options in your line of work.
If your clothing at work is less flexible, as long as you are pumping somewhere private, you can make it work. And when it comes to the sort of accessories that you do want to be wearing to work, breast pads are a must. You’ll likely be wearing breast pads already, since most moms are still leaking some (or a lot) of milk when returning to work, but it’s also a good idea to pack extra pads to replace damp ones as needed. Even packing an extra shirt can be a great choice, just in case of any accidents or rogue leaking. Keeping a damp towel or wipes on hand can also help with clothing cleanup.
Really, when it comes to clothing choices, the best choice is whatever helps you feel comfortable and confident when managing pumping alongside all of your other day-to-day responsibilities.
- “Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA.” United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. U.S. Department of Labor, August 2013. Retrieved August 11 2017. https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/faqbtnm.htmhttps://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm
- “Frequently Asked Questions – Break Time for Nursing Mothers.” United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved August 11 2017. https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/faqbtnm.htm
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast milk storage: Do’s and don’ts.” April 7 2015. Retrieved August 11 2017. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breast-milk-storage/art-20046350?pg=1
- “Proper handling and storage of human milk.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, July 24 2017. Retrieved August 11 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/handling_breastmilk.htm
- “Storing breast milk.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, March 25 2015. Retrieved August 11 2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/storing-breast-milk
- “What are the LLLI guidelines for storing my pumped milk?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, July 8 2014. Retrieved August 11 2017. http://www.lalecheleague.org/faq/milkstorage.html