Working and Breastfeeding
It is possible to continue nursing after returning to work. Many families are faced with figuring out how to balance working and breastfeeding. There are many reasons to continue to nurse including fewer sick days for baby because of protective antibodies, it’s a great way to reconnect with baby when you return from work, and it continues the special relationship of breastfeeding during your time at home. Here are some things to consider as you make your plan to return to work! As always, contact your local Leader for free, customized information.
Consider all options for returning to work, including taking the longest maternity leave possible if it is available to you.
- Can you work from home part of the time?
- It is possible to job share with another employee?
- Is it possible to go part-time? Some families find that when they factor in the costs of child care, they can reduce their work hours or delay returning to work for a year or more.
- Can you come back gradually? Some parents start back just two or three days a week and gradually work up to a full work week.
Consider flexibility at work.
- Can you leave if your baby needs you during the workday?
- Can your baby be brought to you?
Info on choosing a childcare provider below.
Making the workplace breastfeeding-friendly
Become familiar with your work’s facilities for expressing and storing milk before the baby comes.
- If you work in an office, can you pump in there?
- Is there a clean, private area with a door that can be locked?
- How do you access the room?
- Is there a sign-up sheet if sharing the space with other employees?
- Is there refrigeration available? If not, you will need to bring your own insulated cooler for milk storage. See our post on Storing Human Milk.
- Check with your manager and Human Relations Department for your company’s policies on pump breaks.
Specific to the United States
Check Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) for governmental policy related to pumping at work.
- Other resources for families in the USA:
- Business Case for Breastfeeding: a comprehensive program developed to educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace.
- Breastfeeding at the Office of Women’s Health: provides tips, suggestions, and important information and resources for breastfeeding families.
- If your company does not fall under ACA rulings:
- Approach providing breastmilk for your baby as a wellness program.
- Explain how your decision to breastfeed and continue to provide milk for your baby by pumping benefits the company:
- Your baby will be healthier, so you will miss less work to care for a sick child.
- If your baby has fewer illnesses, you will also be healthier.
- It will provide you higher job satisfaction and therefore you’ll be less likely to seek other employment.
- This benefit will make the company more attractive to new employees.
How to begin pumping and storing milk
When you begin to pump depends on when you will be returning to work. Ideally, take the first several weeks to enjoy the wonder of your baby and concentrate fully on breastfeeding at the breast. You generally do not need to worry about using a pump or hand expressing unless you become uncomfortably engorged and need to express some milk for comfort or if you have to return to work in the first 4 weeks. . See Engorgement and also Hand Expressing.
Many parents have found that getting their milk supply well-established and their baby very experienced with breastfeeding can make the transition easier when you begin introducing bottles. You may want to wait until you see a pattern in your baby’s feedings and waking/sleeping episodes. You may notice that you feel fuller after some feedings than others. Picking one or two of those feedings to pump after – for the “leftovers” – will help you gradually collect milk for that first bottle. You can talk with a Leader for guidelines on how much your baby might take per feeding based on their weight and frequency of feedings.
Your first days back at work
It is an adjustment going from being a full-time employee to being a full-time parent. It is also an adjustment when you return to work or school because now you have two full-time jobs that need to be blended somehow.
- You will miss your baby – of course you will! Your baby will miss you, too. Accepting these feelings doesn’t make it easier, but it may help you understand some of the emotions you may be feeling.
- Plan a relaxed exit in the morning. Allow time for a relaxed breastfeeding and cuddle before you leave.
- Bring your baby’s picture or a video on your phone to work to look at while you’re pumping.
- Check in with the caregiver as frequently during the day as you need.
- If possible, Stop in during your lunch break for you both to reconnect.
- Some families have found that starting back part-time or at least mid-week makes the adjustment easier than going back for a full week, full-time.
- Two-piece outfits with loose fitting tops are very helpful for convenient pumping.
- Consider a hands-free pumping bra to allow you to pump while eating lunch, working at the computer, or doing some other task that might keep you late at work.
- Wearing a printed top can be helpful in case your pumping session is delayed. Any leakage would be less obvious.
Pumping at work
- See if you can have a “practice run” at your work place before you start work.
- Try to pump as many times as your baby will feed while you are separated. It may be difficult to match the feeding times, but matching the frequency will help keep up your supply.
- Develop a plan for when and where you will pump, if you can.
- If your work is erratic, take a pump break whenever you see a 10 – 15 minute window, even you just pumped an hour or two ago.
- Try to de-stress while pumping – look at a picture/video of baby, listen to calming music, bring a piece of your baby’s clothing to hold/smell/look at.
- Figure out how you will clean your pump accessories – sink in office kitchen, bathroom sink, etc. Many parents will bring a plastic basin to use as their “sink” to wash their pieces in instead of a sink used by others for multiple purposes. Other parents will keep all the parts in a bag in a refrigerator and wash once at home. See Cleaning and Sanitizing Pump Accessories.
- Figure out where you will store your pump and accessories between pumping to allow them to dry well – perhaps you have shelf behind your desk or a large drawer in your desk where they can drip dry in the plastic basin.
Back at Home
- Have a relaxed reconnection when you arrive back to the baby. Talk to the caregiver to hear how the day went. Nurse before leaving a facility if your baby is willing.
- Expect that your baby may feed more often in the evening or at night to make up for the time away. Babies miss the full package – you – even when they have your milk for feedings. Don’t plan anything else for the evening except for reconnecting with your baby and the rest of your family.
- You may find wearing your baby and keeping her close to you in the evenings and on weekends is a great way to get the things done that need done without being apart from your baby.
- Minimize separations during off work hours. Errands may take a little longer but can be done more easily with baby than in a rush between feedings. “Date nights” at home can be just as special.
Pumping Milk, LLL USA
Storing Human Milk, LLL USA
How Do I Make Pumping At Work More Enjoyable?, LLL USA blog
Break Time for Nursing Mothers, US Department of Labor
Breastfeeding and the law– including break time for lactating parents and state laws to protect breastfeeding and pumping
For The Caregiver of a Breastfed Baby, Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC
Returning to Work, LLL USA blog
Working and Breastfeeding: My Experience Hand Expressing, LLL USA blog
Making It Work: Why I Avoid the Freezer Stash, LLL USA blog
Breastfeeding While Attending School, LLL USA blog
Ashley’s Story: Pumping Past One, LLL USA blog
Making It Work: Reconnecting with Your Partner, LLL USA blog
Making It Work: A Good Morning Routine, LLL USA blog
Rachel’s Story: Expressing My Milk, LLL USA blog
Weaning from the Pump, LLL USA blog
How Do I Make Pumping At Work More Enjoyable?, LLL USA blog
How can my caregiver calm my breastfed baby?, LLL USA Facebook
I don’t want to go back to work. Help!, LLL USA Facebook
How can I pump while working at a restaurant?, LLL USA Facebook
How do I pump as a nurse?, LLL USA Facebook
How do I make time to pump as a teacher?, LLL USA Facebook
I’m going back to work at 3 weeks. Is it worth it to try to breastfeed?, LLL USA Facebook
I love my job, but I hate leaving my kids, LLLI blog
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated February 2020
Resource partially adapted from LLLI materials.