Going back to work after spending day and night with your new baby can cause many moms anxiety. Add in your decision to continue to provide breast milk, and it can seem downright overwhelming. In fact, many moms throw in the breastfeeding towel when they return to work. But this doesn’t have to happen! You can continue to provide your little one with breast milk after returning to work by following these tips.
Practice expressing your milk by hand or with a breast pump several days to weeks before you anticipate going back to work. The best time to pump is after the first nursing session of the day, since this is when your milk supply will be at its highest.
When your baby is being watched by someone else or takes a longer-than-usual nap, use the time to express your breast milk so that you can begin to build up your supply for when you to work. Package your milk in 2 to 4 oz quantities and store it in the freezer.1 It’s best to use frozen milk within six months.1
Just make sure that you place the milk toward the back of the freezer to prevent exposure to temperature change that can result from opening and closing the door.
Help your baby adjust to taking breast milk from a bottle. Initially, it may be helpful to have your partner or another family member feed your baby with a bottle so that the baby still feeds from your breast when you yourself are doing the feeding. This will take some time at first, since babies generally prefer to feed at mom’s breast!
U.S. employers with over 50 employees are required by federal law to provide a private place to pump (that’s not a bathroom). In addition, they must provide you with break times to pump for at least a year after your baby’s birth.2 If you are unsure of your workplace’s policy regarding pumping accommodations, check with your human resources department prior to returning to work so you know what to expect on your first day back.
Ask your employer if you can begin working one or two days a week to help ease into working full time. If this is not an option, start back on a Wednesday or a Thursday. The first few days are the toughest in terms of figuring out your new routine and adjusting emotionally. Having a shorter work week means the weekend is just around the corner, and it will give you the chance to see what’s working and then make any needed adjustments to your pumping plan over the weekend.
Set your pumping schedule at work according to the times you would normally nurse your baby. When pumping away from your baby, remember that while pumps are wonderful, they don’t empty the breast as easily and quickly as your baby does. Give yourself time to fully empty your breasts during each pumping session to help prevent clogged ducts or mastitis. Use an alarm on your phone or your computer calendar to set pumping reminders so that you don’t accidentally miss a session. Pumping on schedule will help you avoid engorgement and help prevent your supply from dropping over time.
When you’re ready to pump, bring a piece of clothing or a blanket with your baby’s scent on it into the room with you or watch a video of your baby cooing. Doing either of these things can help stimulate milk letdown.3
Prior to returning to work, test your pump to make sure that it fully empties your breasts and is comfortable to use. If your insurance only allowed for a pump that isn’t doing the job, consider purchasing one of your own after researching other brands on the market. It’s important to have a pump you’re confident in so that you know the time you’re taking out of your work day is being used as efficiently as possible.
One of the hardest aspects of pumping while at work is all the gear you need to carry around to get the job done. To help make things easier, make sure that you have a tote bag that fits your pump and all your supplies. Each night before work, check that you have what you’ll need the following day in your bag – pumping parts, a pumping bra, breast milk storage bags, a portable drying rack, a sharpie, and your cooler bag. Don’t forget to check that your ice pack is in the freezer and ready to go in the morning. And most importantly, pack a snack or two!