One of the most traumatic days I had as a mother was the one I left my oldest daughter at a daycare for the first time to return to work. Leaving her sister there six years later wasn’t any easier.
The joys of the first few months with a newborn can quickly become overshadowed with guilt when you’re preparing to return back to work. You spend the first couple of months bonding and establishing breastfeeding, you probably cannot imagine leaving your sweet baby even for a minute – even if you are excited to return to your career – and then you blink and you’re handing her off to someone else for the whole day.
But, as I learned, returning to work doesn’t mean you will lose the bond you have created or that you have to stop breastfeeding either. There are many ways you can make the transition to work while breastfeeding easier so you can continue to give your baby the very best.
Below I have my top seven tips and tools you have to make breastfeeding while working possible and easy. None of these are shocking or surprising, but I offer them up as a comfort and to give you confidence that you too can do this!
It’s a cliche, but when returning to work, the breast pump will become your “breast” friend. A breast pump will enable you to store and bottle your milk so your baby can continue to reap the benefits of it while you are away.
When it comes to buying a pump, your best bet will be a dual-electric pump. It’s the quickest and most efficient way to get the most breast milk pumped in one sitting.
A manual pump is only a good choice if you want to get a small amount of milk in one sitting – say 3 – 6 ounces. I do like a manual pump at the start of breastfeeding your newborn to get things flowing with your supply. It’s purely my opinion and not based on any science, but anecdotally just find the manual suction to be more natural and better at getting supply up.
There are a few great dual electric pumps out right now and you can usually get them in a neat carrying case with bottles that go with it.
2. Have Someone Else Introduce the Bottle to Baby
It’s often hardest to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle from their mother. It may be a good idea to have someone other than yourself give your baby the bottle at first to get them used to it.
If you can have your partner or the caregiver who is going to be with your baby give them the bottle, it will help them get used to the change. That way your baby knows they can have the best of both worlds: breast and bottle.
3. Get Into A Pumping Routine
Before you go back to work, you want to get familiar with your pump and how to use it. It is a good idea to start practicing with it and trying to get your baby to become accustomed to drinking it from a bottle as well as your breast.
It can take a bit of time to get used to using your pump and for your baby to feel comfortable taking a bottle. You want to make the whole process normal and a part of your daily routine so you can ease right into it when you go back to work. Try to pump on the same schedule that your baby would normally feed. This will help maintain your milk supply and make it easier to continue breastfeeding when you are with your baby.
If schedules are not your thing, consider using a breastfeeding app. There are many apps available that can help you track your pumping schedule, monitor your milk supply, and find lactation resources in your area.
4. Stock A Good Supply of Breastmilk Early
Once you begin using your pump, you can start storing milk in the freezer so you will have a nice supply started once you return to work. You can start anywhere from a month to a couple of weeks before you are scheduled to return. There are many ways you can store your milk in the freezer. You can use bottles, covered ice cube trays, or special little bags made just for breast milk. The bags are pretty inexpensive and easy to use. They also will help save space and have markings on the side so you know how much milk is stored in it. Make sure you write the date on any container and always store the milk in an area that will stay the coldest.
Breastmilk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to eight days and can be stored in a freezer for up to six months. If you store your milk in a refrigerator/freezer where it is exposed to variable temperatures, it will store for two weeks. If you store it in a refrigerator/ freezer with a separate compartment, it can be stored for up to four months. If you store it in a deep freezer, it can be stored for six months.
5. Plan Your At Work Pumping Ahead of Time
Before you go back to work, it’s a good idea to talk with your boss and let them know you are going to be pumping at work. Be honest with your boss and let them know that you will need to pump a few times a day and that you will need a private place to do so. Ask if there is an office with a locking door, or some other room (not the bathroom) where you can go. It may sound like a talk you don’t want to have, but you will be surprised how many other mothers are pump at work.
On average, you will need to pump three times a day, for about 10 – 15 minutes to get enough for the next day. Once your baby gets older and begins to eat solid foods, you will find yourself needing to pump less frequently.
Another important decision to factor in is, wearing appropriate clothing. Even though you may be pumping in a locked office, you don’t want to have to feel like you need to wrestle with your clothing if someone came knocking. Clothing that makes it easy to access your breasts or even nursing shirts, will be your best choice. You may also want to use breast pads in case you have any leaks in between pumping.
Finally, don’t forget to arrange for the storage and transport of your breastmilk. Is there a fridge available? If not, you may need to bring a good cooler and several good ice packs into work each day.
6. Use a Hands-Free Pumping Bra
While it’s good practice to stay relaxed and think about your baby when trying to pump, sometimes having to stop and not work on that important thing can be the source of your stress. A hands-free pumping bra can fix this by allowing you to multitask while you pump.
7. Connect with Other Breastfeeding Moms
Joining a breastfeeding support group, Facebook group, or connecting with other moms who are breastfeeding can provide a valuable source of support and advice.
Sometimes just having someone else who is doing the same thing to talk to makes everything easier.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Let It Get The Better of You If It’s Not Working
If you find yourself doing everything you can to make pumping work for you, but just don’t feel it’s going to, then it’s ok. If pumping at work is interfering with your life or causing too much stress, it just may not be the right choice for you. There are other options if necessary and there is support out there for you. La Leche League is a wonderful resource for all your breastfeeding and pumping questions. You may want to try negotiating your hours or work schedule, or possibly try to work from home.
Whatever decision you make, as long as you know it’s the best for you and your baby, then that’s all that matters. Hopefully, with these tips, you will have a successful return to work while still giving your baby breastmilk. Good luck!