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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.

PLANNING AHEAD

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 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:
  • 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.

BEGINNING 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. Don’t 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.

INTRODUCING A BOTTLE TO A BREASTFED BABY

Here is one approach to beginning pumping and introducing bottles that has worked well for many families as they prepared to return to work. As always, what works best for your family may vary from what is outlined below:

  1. Once breastfeeding is well established – usually after about four weeks – begin pumping after one feeding a day where your breasts still feel a little full. Remember you are pumping “leftovers” and should only expect a small amount.
  2. Chill that first pumping immediately. You can add more pumped milk to it after they have been cooled in the fridge.
  3. Your healthcare provider may have given you a total number of ounces your baby may feed in a day or a range from the smallest probable amount to the largest, based on your baby’s weight. There are also online calculators that can be helpful.
    • If dealing with a total volume over a 24-hour period, divide that by the typical number of times your baby feeds for a target volume for the first bottle.
    • If dealing with a range, store volumes of the lower amount.
    • Store some extra small volumes (.5-2oz) in case baby is hungrier than expected.
    • When you have enough stored to equal the expected volume and a bit more, you can begin to plan a time to introduce a bottle.

Here is an example of what this might look like:

    • Your healthcare provider suggests that your baby probably takes about 24 ounces a day.
    • You know that your baby feeds between 8 and 12 times a day.
    • That means they could take anywhere from 2 to 3 ounces at a time.
    • You pump until you have a 2-ounce bottle and then have several 1/2 ounce bottles to equal at least three ounces or more saved.
    • Choose a day that your primary support person will be available and a feeding time where baby tends to be more pleasant and patient for feeding.
    • Baby may accept a bottle more easily from someone other than you. They know milk comes from you and may not understand why they are not going there instead of a bottle.
    • Thaw out the 2-ounce bottle in the refrigerator overnight.
    • When baby begins to stir, place the bottle from the refrigerator in a bowl of warm water, under warm running water, or a bottle warmer while the person offering the bottle goes to get baby changed and ready for the feeding.
    • Often it helps to run the bottle nipple under warm water, if it was also in the refrigerator, to make it more acceptable to the baby.
    • Baby should be held in an upright, almost sitting, position.
    • The warmed bottle should be held at an angle tilted just enough to fill the nipple to allow baby to keep control of when and how fast the milk comes.
    • Tickle the baby’s mouth to encourage an open mouth. Then, aim the nipple toward the top of the mouth for them to latch.
    • Some families have found that it can help to have an article of clothing you have worn, like a nightgown or t-shirt, to place on their arm, shoulder, or chest where the baby can smell your scent.
    • It is usually best if you are close but not present in the room during this first “experiment” with bottle feeding. Your baby is very wise and will wait for you to come feed them if they know you are nearby.

Once the feeding is completed, you will pump to create a bottle equal to what the baby consumed. Remember that a healthy baby is always more efficient than a pump! If you do not pump as much as the baby took, it is more likely a pump issue than an issue of not enough milk. Pump after another feeding and add that amount to what you pumped to get the amount baby took.

You can continue to pump until you have enough milk stored in your freezer to get you through a normal work day plus a few extra ounces for any hectic day at work where you may not have been able to pump as often. You can also plan to breastfeed at the breast for all feedings when not separated from your baby.

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.

Emotional adjustments

  • 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.

Pump-friendly Clothing

  • 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.

CHOOSING A CHILD CARE PROVIDER

Going back to work and leaving your baby in someone else’s care can be one of the most difficult parts of returning to work. Choosing the right person and right setting takes care. You want to find a setting that will provide the kind of care and attention you would give. You want a setting that respects breastfeeding and your expressed breastmilk.  This may take some homework on your part. Visits to the locations you are considering will be important. Here are some things to consider:

IN HOME CARE WITH A FAMILY MEMBER, CLOSE FRIEND, OR NANNY

  • This allows your baby to stay in your home, where all is familiar.
  • It works best with someone the baby already knows or who is willing to come to your home several times before your return date.
  • Do they have experience with breastfed children and the proper storage and preparation of breastmilk for feedings?

IN A PRIVATE HOME

  • Look for a low adult-child ratio and ideally with yours as the only infant.
  • Preferably with family or a friend who the child already knows
  • If a stranger, look for a licensed homecare.
  • Ask about their background in child care, child development.
  • Do they have experience with breastfed children and the proper storage and preparation of breastmilk for feedings?
  • Look for an “open door” policy where you can stop in without prior notice.
  • Do a home inspection before making your decision.
  • Be aware of possible allergens, like pets, that could be present.
  • Non-smoking – by anyone entering the home.
  • You can choose a setting close to your work so that you can go to baby easily if needed.

IN A COMMERCIAL DAY CARE

  • Look for low child-adult ratio.
  • Look for low staff turnover so that your baby has consistency with who cares for them.
  • Look for a licensed facility.
  • Do they have experience with breastfed children and the proper storage and preparation of breastmilk for feedings?
  • What experience, education, and training does staff have?
  • Look for an “open door”
  • Do an onsite inspection.
  • Ask about space onsite for breastfeeding before leaving and when picking up your baby.
  • You can choose a setting close to your work so that you can go to baby easily if needed.

When you have decided who will care for your baby while you are separated, plan to ease into the situation. If the baby will be cared for in your home, have that person come to your home several days a week. You can gradually increase their interactions with the baby while you are still present and then take short trips out of the house. This helps allow your baby to get to know them better and the caregiver to know your baby, too. If the baby will be going to a location outside your home, arrange to spend time with your baby in that location so that the place and the people caring for your baby will be familiar.

No matter what setting you choose for child care while you are working, it will be helpful if you provide a journal of your baby’s typical day – feedings, naps, alert/play times, baby’s cues for feedings, etc.

Note: Many parents experience a perceived drop in supply due to the caregiver not reading baby’s cues properly and offering bottles at times that baby is not truly ready to feed. This can cause smaller feedings, milk not fully consumed, milk being tossed, and baby being hungry again sooner, which may lead to the day care going through your regular supply and into any extra bottles you may have stored there. It helps to provide your milk in smaller servings (2oz or less) and encourage the caregiver to use paced feeding. A caregiver should have more tools for soothing your baby than just offering your milk. Babywearing and cuddles are helpful tools for any caregiver.

MORE RESOURCES

LLL USA Statement in Support of Pumping Families (PDF), LLL USA

Pumping Milk, LLL USA

Bottles and Paced Bottle Feeding, LLLI

Working and Breastfeeding: Choosing a Childcare Provider, LLLI

5 Steps to an Easier Return to Work, LLLI

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

Breastfeeding Employees, Pregnant @ Work including the Center for WorkLife Law’s free legal hotline to speak to a lawyer about your rights. Email hotline@worklifelaw.org or call (415) 703-8276.

For The Caregiver of a Breastfed Baby, Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC

PERSONAL STORIES

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

Laura’s Story: Persevering Through The Difficult Early Months, LLL USA blog

Weaning from the Pump, LLL USA blog

I love my job, but I hate leaving my kids, LLLI blog

Grasping for the (liquid) gold: The impossible math of pumping while working, Washington Post

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.