Breastfeeding and returning to work

Tips for breastfeeding as you return to work.

Having a baby can be a really joyous occasion, but going back to work can bring on many stressors. One of the major stressors is continuing to provide breast milk for your baby while at work. Working full or part-time takes discipline and a considerable amount of effort in the beginning. This calls for preparing for breastfeeding well before returning to work.

While pregnant and at work:
  • If practical, have a conversation with your supervisor about planning on breastfeeding when you return
  • Explain that you may need regular breaks, in a private place that is not a bathroom to pump, or
  • You plan to feed your baby in person on your breaks, having someone bring the baby or at daycare
  • Organize and plan to minimize interference with your workload when you return
  • Secure a good quality electric pump: You may be able to rent, purchase or get one free, check all sources
  • Use a pump designed to support breastfeeding, not one designed by a formula company
  • Read the Center for Disease Control (CDC) information on Proper Handling and Storage of Human Milk
  • Read my article on Breastfeeding and Protection at Work – Part 2, you have rights
About three weeks before returning to work:
  • Don’t start pumping your milk unless your have established a good milk supply
  • Each time, feed your baby first, then pump to increase your milk supply for storage
  • If your maternity leave is not very long, establishing a milk supply and pumping can be a challenge
  • About one week before starting work, introduce your baby to breast milk in a bottle or cup
  • Have someone else introduce the bottle, normally your baby will not take the bottled milk from you
  • The baby may reject a bottle nipple at first, but tease by let him taste the breast milk
  • Have your baby feed this way several times before going back to work
  • If possible stagger you return to work, start one day a week, then two and so on
Pumping at work:
  • In the beginning pump as regularly as your baby would normally nurse at home
  • Save your milk in smaller portions because leftover breast milk cannot be refrozen, remember…
  • It is easier to thaw breast milk, as you need it, than to thaw too much and have to throw excess away
  • Once you become familiar with your body’s production pattern, you can pump on a regular schedule
  • Expect engorgement the first few days you are back at work, this is a natural body adjustment
  • Avoid becoming too engorged, this can be painful and create other challenges
  • Temporary relief of engorgement is to express and dump a little milk, then pump as soon as possible
  • Resume a regular breastfeeding schedule, i.e., when you get off work and on your days off, this will…
  • Ensure your breastfeeding supply and your body to produce milk as you trained it to
Some things to expect:
  • Your body to overproduce milk in the beginning, so wear dark clothes and take an extra shirt or two
  • Regulate your intake of liquids during the day, this can produce more or less milk than usual
  • Your body to react to a crying child or sudden change in temperature, by producing milk unexpectedly
  • If the breastfeeding pattern becomes too irregular you will begin producing less breast milk
  • Only a baby at the breast will maintain breast milk production, exclusive pumping may diminish supply
  • Your body will eventually adapt to your new breastfeeding and pumping pattern
  • If you decide to exclusively breastfeed at home and not at work, your body will adapt to that pattern, and
  • By pumping less and less milk production will decrease, again avoid engorgement

Remember that other mothers were successful at breastfeeding while working and you can too. Visit other health and nutrition sites at Michigan State University Extension

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