You’ve brought a beautiful new baby into the world. You’ve made the decision to breastfeed and have been breastfeeding exclusively for the first weeks of your child’s life. But you’ll be returning to work soon. Now what?
Many new moms face the challenge of going back to work while breastfeeding. Continuing to breastfeed while working presents barriers and brings up many questions: Can I pump milk at work? How will I pump? How often should I pump? Where can I store breast milk at work? What if I have to travel while I work?
Planning during pregnancy
The best way to tackle your decision to continue to breastfeed after returning to work is to start planning during pregnancy and while you are still on maternity leave.
- Talk with your employer about your schedule and pumping milk at work to learn as much as you can about your options ahead of time.
- Investigate child care options before your baby is born to see if a location is available close to work. You might be able to visit and breastfeed your baby during your lunch break. Ask the facility if your pumped breast milk can be used to feed your baby during the workday.
- Get a quality electric breast pump and practice expressing your milk. Contact a lactation consultant or your local hospital, WIC program or public health department to learn where to buy or rent a good pump. An electric pump that allows you to express milk from both breasts at once will reduce pumping time.
- Freeze 2 to 4 ounces of milk at a time to save for your baby after you return to work. Help your baby adjust to taking breast milk from a bottle.
Returning to work
When you return to work, continue to talk to your supervisor about your schedule and what is or isn’t working for you. If possible, return to your work schedule gradually to give you more time to adjust.
- Work with your supervisor to find a private place to pump, such as an office, conference room or even a large, clean closet with a chair, countertop and electric outlet. The room should be private and secure from intruders when in use. The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires employers to provide moms of babies younger than 12 months a reasonable break time for pumping and a private place to pump, other than a bathroom. Some exemptions apply. For more details, read this U.S. government fact sheet.
- Pump milk during the times you would normally feed your baby. Doing so will help you make enough milk for your child care provider to feed your baby while you are at work and allow you to keep up your milk supply so you can continue to nurse your baby in the mornings, evenings and on weekends. Pumping every two to three hours is ideal during a typical 8-hour work period.
- Store breast milk in glass or plastic bottles or in milk collection bags. Breast milk is food, so it is safe to keep it in an employee refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs. Be sure to label the milk container with your name and the date you expressed the milk. If you work in a medical department, do not store milk in the same refrigerators where medical specimens are kept.
- During the first few weeks back at work, your breasts will probably feel very full at feeding times and may leak milk. Pumping regularly will often prevent leaking. However, some moms leak no matter what. If necessary, use breast pads to protect your clothes from stains and avoid embarrassing wet spots.
- When you arrive to pick up your baby from child care, take time to breastfeed first. This will give you both time to reconnect before traveling home and returning to other family responsibilities.
If you travel for work you can still continue to breastfeed your baby.
- While traveling, store your milk in sealed containers inside a small, insulated cooler with ice packs. Your milk will stay fresh in the cooler for 24 hours. You’ll be able to give it to your baby the next day or you can put it in a refrigerator or freezer once you reach your destination.
- Milk stays fresh for three to eight days when refrigerated and for six to 12 months when frozen, according to La Leche League. Label your milk with the date so you can check it for freshness when you get home.
- If you are traveling through an airport, be aware of TSA guidelines related to breast milk. Breastfeeding mothers are allowed to carry on breast milk in quantities above the 3-ounce rule for other liquids. Be sure to keep your milk separate from other liquids. When going through the security checkpoint, tell security officials you are carrying it on.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides additional information and recommendations for traveling nursing mothers.
If you have additional questions about going back to work and continuing to breastfeed, talk to your physician or lactation consultant or review the helpful tips provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the Employees’ Guide to Breastfeeding and Working.
If your employer or supervisor has questions about supporting breastfeeding mothers at work, encourage them to review The Business Case for Breastfeeding provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Looking for more information or advice about breastfeeding & returning to work? Join us for Brestfeeding: Beyond the Basics. This free class is taught by a certified lactation consultant, and provides more in-depth information for breastfeeding moms to help when they are away from their baby or returning to work. Topics include choosing a breast pump, proper pumping practices, workplace considerations and more. Ideal for moms-to-be and new moms.
Norton Suburban Hospital
Register online or by calling (502) 629-1234