Breastfeeding When You Go Back to Work: 4 Ways to Make It Easier
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to stop when you go back to work. Ayelet Kaznelson, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at the Seleni Institute in New York City, helps you plan ahead for a smooth transition.
Some moms look forward to the day they will return to work and re-enter a familiar environment from their “old life.” Others dread it after having concentrated time with their baby at home. However you feel, my advice is to not think about it at all until your baby is at least 1 month old (unless, of course, you have to return to work right away). Once breastfeeding is established and going well, it’s a good time to start thinking about a plan to continue breastfeeding when you go back to work.
Start small by collecting a little milk in the days leading up to your first day back. You want to have at least enough milk for the first full day you’ll be away. Most women find that they have the highest surplus of milk in their breasts after morning feedings. Be careful not to pump too much. You want to get a little extra, but you don’t want to cause overproduction, which can bring its own problems (such as plugged ducts and mastitis). If you want to build up a reserve in the freezer, do so in small increments. Assuming your milk production is adequate, an ounce here and there is the way to go.
To estimate how much you need for a day, know that by the time most babies reach nine pounds (or by about one month of age), most will take an average of 25 ounces daily, divided by the number of feedings. So a baby who eats 7 or 8 times each day will need 3 to 4 ounces of milk per feeding.
Return to work midweek if possible. That way, you can ease in slowly and have a weekend right away to regroup and prepare for a full week back. If you have any flexibility in your work schedule, consider working from home one day a week or more. You may still need someone to come and care for your baby while you work from home, but it will help keep up your production if your caregiver can bring the baby to you for a feeding or two.
Get a good pump. The Affordable Care Act mandates coverage of breast pumps, so check with your health insurance to see which brands are covered and how much they will pay. Also make sure the models they cover will suit your needs. Most women find that a buying a double electric pump or renting a hospital-grade pump is most effective. Start using it a few weeks before you return to make sure it works well and you’re comfortable with it. You can also ask your HR department whether your employer provides pumps or pumping rooms.
Pump every three hours at work or as close to your baby’s usual feeding times as possible. If you live near your workplace, ask your caregiver to bring the baby to you on your lunch break for a feeding. Many women find that looking at a photo of your baby or smelling a blanket or onesie helps get the milk flowing. Some moms say that listening to a recording of their baby cooing and babbling helps as well.
Make it work for you. If you can’t (or don’t want to) pump at work, you can still continue breastfeeding before and after work and on the weekends. If you are able to pump at home, you can use some of that milk for feedings during the week. However, you may find that your production declines, so talk with a lactation consultant about the best way for you to maintain an adequate level of milk production.
The most important thing to remember is that going back to work doesn’t have to mean the end of breastfeeding. There are many ways to combine work and breastfeeding. Contact a lactation consultant or go to a breastfeeding support group if you need help preparing for the transition or troubleshooting issues that come up. But the bottom line is, you can do it. To find a lactation consultant in your area, visit the International Lactation Consultant Association.
Ayelet Kaznelson is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and a Certified Lactation Counselor in private practice in Manhattan. She believes that there are many ways for women to breastfeed successfully. Her goal is to offer evidence-based information, advice, and support that fit each mother’s particular needs and goals. She provides home lactation consultation, teaches prenatal breastfeeding and newborn care classes, and runs postpartum breastfeeding clinics at the Seleni Institute. She lives in Manhattan with her two children, Zoë and Liam, and her husband Todd.
This article was originally created for the Seleni Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit center focused on the reproductive and maternal mental health of women.