Updated: Feb 2, 2021
Congratulations! Whether breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things you have ever accomplished, or a mere breeze, you deserve major kudos for the many hours of nursing (both day and night!) you have put in thus far, the commitment it took to nurse through sore nipples as both you and your baby overcame the breastfeeding learning curve, and the responsibility you undertook to provide your baby with the greatest source of nutrition she could ever have.
When I say major kudos, I am talking a live band playing music, confetti raining down on you, fireworks exploding in the background.
Our bodies were made for breastfeeding, but that doesn't mean that it is easy.
As you plan to return to work, you may feel a little nervous about maintaining the milk supply you and your baby have worked so hard for.
And rightfully so. Maintaining your supply after returning to work is no small feat.
However, as with any new challenge or unknown territory, we must not let our anxiety overtake our will.
Remember how you felt when you first became a mom? Did you question whether or not you'd be able to breastfeed at all? Whether or not it would be right for you? And here you are, planning how you will continue to breastfeed after returning to work. You've got this!
Check out these tips for breastfeeding after returning to work.
Your schedule will be one of the most important factors for successfully incorporating pumping into your work schedule AND for maintaining your supply for an extended period of time.
Pump as frequently as you intend
If you pump the same time each day, you are much more likely to stick to your schedule and not miss a pumping session. Depending on the type of work you do, this can be challenging.
Flexibility to Your Schedule?
When I was nursing my children, I actually found myself to be more productive during the time leading up to and the time directly following a pumping session, since I wanted to finish what I was doing before I stepped away to pump, and make up for my time away when I returned.
If you have at least some control over your work schedule, be sure to plan your daily "tasks" accordingly so you can accomplish the necessary work before, in-between, and after your pumping sessions each day.
Limited Flexibility To Your Schedule?
If you have little or no control over your work schedule (nurse, teacher, waitress, factory worker), you can still try to pump at the same time each day.
In fact, the consistency of your schedule will allow your colleagues to anticipate when you will be gone each day and have a plan to cover your work if need be.
It also allows you to anticipate your pumping sessions and manage your work accordingly (dispense your meds before a certain time, put your customers' food orders in, complete a lesson and give your students an independent assignment).
Maintain your supply
This next piece of information may be the single most important piece of information for helping you maintain your supply.
Lengthening the time between feedings/pumping leads to weaning.
This is because <ALERT, SCIENCE NERD INFORMATION > lengthening the time between feedings leads to lower prolactin levels (the hormone that stimulates production of breastmilk) and leads to less rise of prolactin when you do pump or feed your baby, even if you pump/nurse the same total amount of time. Therefore...
...it is better to pump more frequently for a shorter period of time, than less frequently for a longer period of time.
So what type of schedule should you create?
Keep your work day in mind
No one schedule works for every working mother. Keep in mind your ultra busy times of the day and avoid planning to pump during these times. You want to set yourself up for success, not failure!
Mimic your baby's feeding schedule
Although you likely won't be able to duplicate your baby's feeding schedule exactly, plan to pump as frequently as your baby' nurses. Beginning at around 3 months, babies typically eat about every 3 hours.
This is my favorite part of being a working and breastfeeding mama. I LOVE being productive while pumping.
Things you can do while pumping:
Whether you bring your computer with you, respond to emails on your phone, or review/make edits to materials you printed out, many women can continue working while pumping.
Call to schedule your dentist appointment. Call the cable company to have your bill corrected. Call your mom to catch up.
Pump during your lunch break. This is a great time to pump as it won't interrupt
your work day and if your coworkers depend on your being on the clock during other working hours, you won't have to make alternative arrangements.
My all time favorite... pump on the drive in and the drive home from work. Or if you drive while you work, pump then!
To do this, purchase an adapter for your car, and plug your pump into the adapter. Use a hands free nursing bra (a must have anyway!), and bring a nursing cover or throw a blanket over top of you.
There are some days when you just need a mental break.
During these days (or maybe it is the same time of day, every day for you) you would normally take some time to chat with your coworkers or mindlessly check your social media accounts.
If you know you need this mental break each day, plan to use one of your pumping sessions as your break time. Knowing you are going to take 15+ minutes to decompress during your mid-afternoon pumping session may even help you be more productive the rest of the day.
Whether you are sleep deprived because your baby isn't sleeping well at night, or exhausted from endless meetings, set a timer, kick up your legs, close your eyes, and take a snooze!
There were so many times when this truly got me through the day (and helped me to be more productive while working)!
There is nothing more panic-provoking than getting to work just to realize you forgot your pump (or storage bags, or breast shields, or collection bottles) at home!
Every mama will do this at some point. But set yourself up so this doesn't happen more than once and so you have a backup when it does happen.
Keep Your Bag Packed
Organize your bag with all the necessary supplies for pumping (pump, storage bags, tubing, hands-free pumping bra, sterilizing bags, spare valve/membrane).
Avoid taking these supplies out of your bag so you don't accidentally leave them on the counter at home.
The only thing you need to change out each day are your collection containers and breast shields for cleaning.
When you arrive home each day, immediately put your breastmilk in the refrigerator (you don't want to realize the next morning that your breastmilk has been sitting out all night), put your collection container/breast shield by the sink to be washed, and immediately replace it with a clean set for the next day. Place your bag by the front door with your keys so you don't accidentally leave it at home.
Do this every day so it becomes part of your routine and you won't even have to try to remember to do it... it will just be done.
Extras at Work
Keep an extra set of supplies (storage bags, collection container, breast shield) at work for those days that you do forget something at home or forget to replenish your supply bag.
Even if you use these only one time, they will be worth their weight in gold!
Can't Live Without
I am not sure how (or why) I made it through a full year of pumping (three+ times a day!) without a hands-free pumping bra, but when I splurged on one for my second child, my life changed.
In my opinion, a hands-free pumping bra is not a splurge, it is a necessity! It will make pumping so much easier, portable, and enjoyable... all things that improve your chance of pumping success while at work.
How to get your milk flowing
Some women find it challenging to achieve let down when they are not with their baby. There are a few things you can do to help with this dilemma.
Look at pictures or watch videos of your baby
You have a conditioned response that triggers your brain to release your breastmilk. You can assist with activating that response by looking at pictures of your baby, watching videos of your baby, or listening to your baby cry (among other things).
Touch your breast
Touching your breast stimulates production of the hormone that releases milk from your breast (oxytocin). You can do this by gently touching, stroking, or massaging your breast.
Stimulate your nipples
Nipple stimulation also leads to production of the hormone that releases breast milk. Although many breast pumps try to simulate the nipple stimulation you get from your baby, if you are having trouble achieving a let down, you may want to try to stimulate your nipples before you start pumping. You can do this by gently touching or stretching your nipples
Stress and adrenaline can both temporarily affect the release of your baby's milk. Try to choose a time of the day to pump that is not particularly stressful for you, and take a moment while you prepare to pump to relax.
NOTE: Chronic stress does not affect the release of your baby's milk.
Now... where will you actually pump?
Whether you work for a large company or a company that has had just one other lactating mother who was brave enough to ask for accommodations, there may already be a designated place for you to pump.
Be sure to ask your employer, you may be surprised!
No Designated Space
If there is no designated place for you to pump while at work, walk around and scout out a spot to suggest to your employer (an unused office, a spot in the employee lounge, an unused walk-in closet, the ante-room to a bathroom or locker room).
If you find a space that doesn't have a door, suggest hanging a retractable curtain so you can make the space private upon use.
Transform Your Desk
If you work at a desk and are comfortable enough with pumping behind a curtain, you can make a makeshift privacy curtain and pump right at your desk.
Talk to other moms at your work to see where they have previously set up shop. You may hear a creative solution!
Pump In The Car
If you spend time driving around town between clients, consider pumping while you drive. Its super productive, you can cover up for privacy, and you don't need to lug your supplies in and out of the office each day. Even if the only time you spend in the car each day is driving to and from work, consider pumping during your commute.
This will cut down on the amount of times you need to actually step away from your work during the day, or can provide an extra session to give you a little extra stimulation and milk. Plus it takes very little effort, so why not?!
Being a working and breastfeeding mama is no small feat.
Just as it took some time to find your rhythm when you first became a mom, it will take some time to figure out what works and what doesn't work for pumping while at work.
And although the many bags of breastmilk that you pump will certainly provide you with a huge sense of accomplishment, it will be the moments when you and your baby are able to snuggle and nurse together that makes the effort of pumping at work totally worth it.
If you have questions about pumping and breastfeeding when returning to work, please feel free to ask! Click here or ask below.
Katie Ramirez, RN, BSN, CLC
Born Happy, Owner and Care Consultant
Katie Ramirez is a Registered Nurse and Certified Lactation Counselor. She has spent more than a decade serving patients at major university hospitals such as Vanderbilt University and Penn State University Medical Centers. Katie now spends her time supporting and empowering parents of babies and toddlers as owner and Care Consultant for Born Happy.
Katie is the proud mother of two beautiful children, Roberto (age 3), and Veronica (age 1). She has a passion for health, wellness, and happy children, and believes that, with the necessary knowledge and support, all parents can live happy.