If your family is formula-feeding, the transition back to work can be pretty straightforward and Baby’s feedings can continue on much like before. But if you’ve been breastfeeding, there’s a little more that you’ll need to consider.
If you’re breastfeeding and happen to work close to where Baby will be cared for — whether at home or at daycare — or enjoy the benefit of in-house daycare where you work, you might find it relatively straightforward to keep up with regular nursing sessions. You might just need to zoom back home or to the daycare a few times a day for additional feeding. But for most breastfeeding moms, this isn’t an option — and so returning to work will mean pumping and expressing breast milk at work. This does mean that there’s one more thing on your “back to work” plate, but there’s a lot you can do to ensure a successful transition.
Create a “pump at work” plan
A few things that will set you up for success include working out the details of pumping — including exactly where you will pump — with your employer prior to your return. Will you use a dedicated lactation room? A temporary pumping space? And will you have access to an electrical outlet or a fridge?
It’s also a good idea to set a schedule for when you’ll pump so that all of your coworkers understand that you’ll be unavailable when taking breaks to do so. This will help to set up clear expectations in advance of your return, which is helpful for everyone involved. Having this sort of info will allow you to know just what sort of pumping equipment and accessories you’ll need to bring and even what you may want to wear to make pumping at work as easy and comfortable as possible. And do make sure that you get familiar with all of your pumping equipment beforehand — you’ll want to practice with it so that you’re comfortable using it all.
Something else to keep in mind when returning is that you’ll want to make sure that you’re able to pump often enough at work to keep up your milk supply and meet Baby’s feeding needs. When you first return, you’ll essentially want to be pumping just about as regularly as they would be nursing if you were home — so every few hours. Obviously, your little one’s needs will change over time, as will your milk supply, so eventually you may pump a bit less at work. But initially, if you’re pumping less than Baby would feed at home, your milk supply could decrease. And if you go too long between expressing milk — say, by skipping a pumping session at work — you may suffer from breast engorgement.
Many moms find it helpful to nurse their little ones right before leaving for work and right after returning home to help keep up their milk supply, especially if you’d rather pump a bit less while at work — or if you have to pump a little less than would be ideal based on your job responsibilities or what your lactation space is like.
But just how much expressed milk will Baby need?
If Baby has been feeding on demand, you may have a good sense of just how often they’ll likely feed during the day when you’re apart, but they may also adjust their feeding a bit once you don’t spend all day with them. Moms who haven’t been pumping and feeding from a bottle already may also be not quite sure of just how much their little ones will eat in terms of ounces and bottles. It can help your peace of mind to have some extra breast milk stored at home before you return to work. And remember that detail about getting comfortable with pumping before returning to work? It can be helpful to pump a bit between feedings before you return to work not only to get familiar with the pumping process, but also to build up extra stored milk.
You can store breast milk in the fridge for 3-8 days — and in a standard freezer for up to 6 months — so even with just a small dedicated space in your fridge and freezer, you can still stock up! If you have a small supply at home for Baby before you go back, you’ll feel good knowing that they’ll have the milk they need. But don’t feel pressure to have a freezer full of milk to get started. Most working moms might start with 2-3 days worth of milk when they first return to work and will then replenish that supply with pumped milk from their workday.
Call in backup if necessary
Some moms also decide that while they would like to continue to breastfeed and pump, they would also like to supplement that breast milk with formula. Just remember that if you do want to keep up your milk supply, you should continue to breastfeed and pump consistently.
Returning to work is a major transition, but there are ways to continue breastfeeding and make the transition a successful one.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding and pumping: 7 tips for success.” April 8 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/breastfeeding/art-20048312?pg=1
- 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.
- “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.
- “Breastfeeding and going back to work.” Womenshealth.gov. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved June 28 2017. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-home-work-and-public/breastfeeding-and-going-back-work.
- “Expressing Breastmilk on the Job.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved June 28 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Expressing-Breastmilk-on-the-Job.aspx.
- “How often will I have to pump when I go back to work?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, November 12 2008. Retrieved June 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/faq/pumpfreq.html.
- “Returning to Work.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Retrieved June 28 2017. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Returning-to-Work.aspx.