You might see pictures on social media of families with “freezer stashes” of milk. In reality, you don’t need a freezer full of milk to go back to work! You just need enough to make sure your baby has enough to eat during the day when you’re apart because you’ll continue pumping at work to maintain your milk supply. In general, starting to pump between breastfeeding sessions a couple of weeks prior to going back to work can be helpful to give you time to acclimate to pumping and to start building up a store of milk. A rule of thumb for a 1-6 month-old baby is to leave 2-4oz per feeding. Storing milk in smaller quantities can help prevent wasting milk.
To establish a breastfeeding relationship and ensure a sufficient milk supply for your baby, it is generally recommended to wait at least four weeks before introducing a bottle to your baby. Each time your baby gets a bottle, it’s important to protect your milk supply by adding a pump session so that your body knows to keep making milk. Your baby may be more likely to take a bottle the first time if another caregiver feeds your baby while you are out of the room.
Having an article of clothing that you’ve worn recently nearby can also help so your baby can smell you and feel more comfortable when feeding from a bottle. Using the paced bottle-feeding technique to mimic breastfeeding allows the caregiver to be responsive to the baby’s cues and can make it easier for the baby to go between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding.
You may have questions about whether or not your employer will provide the time or space for you to pump at work. Familiarize yourself with federal and state-level legal protections for workplace breastfeeding/pumping accommodations and begin having conversations with your employer about your rights.
It is important for caregivers to know how to properly store, prepare and feed breast milk, both at home and at another childcare location. Some states have breastfeeding-friendly childcare designations to recognize childcare facilities’ efforts to support breastfeeding; consider looking for a facility with this designation in your state or ensuring the facility follows steps that promote breastfeeding. There are many resources available for childcare providers to support breastfeeding moms and children receiving breast milk while in childcare.
When possible, consider having a gradual transition back to work to ease you and your baby into this new routine. Make your first day back to work in the middle or end of the week to make the first week a little easier.
Your body will need time to learn how to respond to the pump, so it’s normal not to get as much milk as you’d expect when you first start pumping. As your body adapts to pumping, you should see your milk yield increase. Breast massage before and during pumping and hand expression for a few minutes after pumping can all increase milk yield.
Consider wearing a hands-free pumping bra that holds the flanges in place so you can massage your breasts as you pump. Keep an extra pumping kit (i.e., flanges, bottles, valves, etc.) at work to ensure you have everything you need if you forget to bring some of your pump parts from home.
There are different factors to consider when determining how much you may need to pump at work, such as how old your baby is, how long you’re separated from your baby during the day, how often you pump outside of work, and if your baby is being supplemented with infant formula. Generally, if you’re working an 8-hour shift, you should pump at least three times for 15-20 minutes per pump session.
Because breastfed babies are less likely to get sick compared to formula-fed babies, parents of breastfed babies are typically absent from work less often, which results in increased employee productivity and lower healthcare costs for employers. There are resources for employers like the Business Case for Breastfeeding, Employer Solutions, and other toolkits to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to support breastfeeding moms returning to work.
If you’d like to breastfeed your baby during lunch or other breaks during your day, consider choosing a childcare facility close to where you work. Ask whether the facility has a space set aside for breastfeeding mothers. You may also like breastfeeding when you’re dropping off and picking up your baby. Ask your childcare provider not to feed your baby in the hour before pickup if you want to breastfeed at pickup.
It’s normal for breastfed babies away from their mothers to eat less during the day and eat more at night when the breastfeeding mother is present, looking for comfort and closeness. Wearing your baby can help you still get things done at home when your baby wants to be close to you. If you notice your milk supply decreasing when you go back to work, increasing pumping during the workday and increasing breastfeeding at times when you and your baby are together can help increase your supply.
Although everyone’s circumstances, family, and baby are different, these tips can provide a starting point for preparing to go back to work. A lactation consultant can help you with making an individualized plan for going back to work, how to talk to your employer or childcare provider about pumping and breastfeeding, learning how to pump, estimating how much milk to leave for your baby when you’re apart, and more!