Making Breastfeeding “Work”

Working Mothers

As you prepare to go back to work, you should also prepare baby for this event. In making this change there are many decisions to be made. Two of the biggest decisions that you make are: when you will be going back to work and how you are going to feed baby once you go back? The options you have for feeding baby depend on how long you are planning to stay home before you return to work. There are several other things to consider as well.

When You Go Back Matters

If you plan to feed your baby breast milk as long as you can, it is better to delay your return to work as long as possible. Mothers who have at least 16 weeks before they have to return to work tend to be able to breast-feed their babies for longer periods of time. Many mothers do not have the option of a 16 week maternity leave but still have a leave long enough to establish and maintain a reasonable milk supply. No matter how long you have, it is important to focus on both establishing and increasing your milk supply before you return to work. Then you will have to work to maintain and increase it after you go back to work.

Those mothers who wait 6 months before returning to work may not even have to worry about providing milk for their baby while they are gone. At 6 months babies are able to start eating solid foods. They can do this while their mothers are at work. At this point the mother no longer needs to supply as much milk. Thus, a slowly decreasing milk supply is not an issue. If mother works long shifts of 8 hours or more it may still be necessary to pump or hand express so baby to get enough breast milk.

It is important to remember that every mother’s situation is different. Look at all the factors in your situation and do what is best for you and baby.

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Getting Baby Ready for the Bottle

If baby is going to be fed with a bottle it is best to have him start on a bottle before you go back to work. It is best to wait at least four to six weeks from birth to begin feeding with a bottle. This will give you enough time to get your milk well established before you begin to pump. Waiting to introduce a bottle is beneficial for baby because he will be accustomed to feeding at the breast. A baby has to make different movements with his mouth when he breastfeeds compared to when he bottle feeds. Learning both at the same time can make it harder for the baby to figure out the differences between the two.

There is not really a need to start introducing a bottle until about ten days before you go back to work. You can wait until you return to work, but your baby may refuse a bottle at first. Changing from the breast to a bottle is a form of weaning, and it is best to have time to work any problems out. If possible, have the person who will be caring for baby introduce the bottle instead of doing it yourself. If baby is not accepting a bottle feeding by another person, there are a few things that you can try.

  • Leave the room while someone else feeds baby
  • Try to keep things as close to the normal feeding as possible
  • Have the caretaker hold the baby in the same position that he is fed in with warm mother’s milk
  • Use a soothing, quiet atmosphere with dim lights
  • Use a nipple that your baby likes, you may need to try several

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Using Other Feeding Methods

If baby is six-months old or older then you may not have to worry about using a bottle. Work on switching him to solids and using a cup instead. This way he can eat solids when he is with the caretaker and drink breast milk from a cup. When baby is with you feed him from the breast.

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Going Back to Work

As you make the transition back to work, here are a few tips that can make it easier for you.

  • If possible, try to work half days the first week back.
  • Go back to work at the end of the week. Returning Thursday or Friday so the weekend comes sooner can help you work out any issues with transition back to work.
  • Use your breast pump or try hand expression before you return to work. Do not expect a large quantity of milk the first time you pump or express your milk. It takes time for your body to get used to expressing milk. Starting three to four weeks before you return to work will give you time to adjust to expressing milk either manually or with a pump. You will also be able to build a store of milk for baby.

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Your Breastfeeding and Pumping Schedule

As you return to work, your pre-work feeding schedule will most likely change. You can feed baby once before you go to work, but some feedings will most likely need to occur while you are at work. If baby is less than six months old, then he will probably have to be bottle fed while you are away. This is not always the case. Some mothers are able to feed their babies during the day if they can see their baby on breaks. This usually occurs when daycare is provided in the place of work. At times it also works to have someone bring baby to you at work. Other mothers encourage their babies to go on reverse cycle feeding and sleeping patterns. A reverse cycle pattern encourages the baby to sleep more during the day and less at night causing them to feed more during the night and less during the day. Sometimes baby will do this on his own and just wait for mom to come home. Then he will feed often in order to get enough to eat.

No matter what your situation, you can continue feeding at the breast when you return from work. This return feeding is important; as it can help you unwind from a long day at work and keep your mother-child relationship strong. Continuing feedings through the evening and night will also help you keep your milk supply established. If you are struggling to keep your milk supply up, the weekends can become very important. If your milk supply has decreased over the week you can feed your baby at your breast exclusively on weekends. This can allow your milk supply to increase again.

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Pumping at Work

How much you express at work will depend on how much milk baby needs. If baby is young and has not yet started to eat solids, expressing milk three times during an eight hour work day, or once every three hours is ideal. Express milk once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at lunch if you cannot go home to feed baby. Pumping or hand expressing this much not only allows you to maintain a good milk supply, but can also relieve fullness. It will help you provide enough milk to feed baby while you are at work. Even if you plan to give formula to baby while you are at work, at some point you may need to express milk to relieve fullness.

As baby grows older and begins eating solids, his need for breast milk will decrease. As he eats more food and drinks less milk, you will not need to make as much milk. As he continues to drink less breast milk you will be able to cut down on expressing breast milk. You may eventually be able to stop pumping or expressing milk at work altogether. Even though baby may not need your milk while you are at work, you can still nurse at home. It is important that baby gets enough breast milk for good nutrition and growth.

How you express your milk at work makes a big difference in how long of a break you may need. A good double electric pump can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes to pump. A single electric pump takes twice the time. Hand pumps often take even longer than electric pumps. If the length of a break is a concern to you, it may be best to rent or invest in a good electric double pump. Many mothers also find hand expression to be easy and fast.

Other than a good pump you will need a cool place to store the milk. If there is no refrigeration space available then you can use a cooler with ice packs. Make sure to store your milk in a clean and sterile container. Cold thermoses or milk coolers that may come with electric pumps are also an option. After each time you pump, make sure you clean your collection kit well. A dirty collection kit can grow germs that can make baby sick.

The key to successful breastfeeding while working is to come up with your own individual plan based on your needs and work circumstances.

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A Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace

Though more and more states are creating laws that are friendly to giving breastfeeding mothers the right to pump while at work, Utah is not yet one of those states. So the best time to start talking to your employer about your breastfeeding needs is before your maternity leave. Talk to other mothers who have pumped at work to learn about their experience. Some companies already have guidelines for breastfeeding and pumping. If your company does not, see if you can help to develop such guidelines.

Setting Guidelines

If your company is not used to employees who are breastfeeding and expressing breast milk then do not expect them to make accommodations for you without your input. Inform your employer of the many benefits of continuing to provide breast milk for your baby. There are not only benefits for you and baby, but for your employer as well. The United States Breastfeeding Committee publishes a pamphlet available at that can take your employer through the benefits of breastfeeding and suggestions on how to make your workplace breastfeeding friendly. Babies that are fed with breast milk are sick less often creating lower medical bills, and causing you to miss less workdays. Providing accommodations for breastfeeding also creates happier employees and gives a more family oriented image to the community.

Helping Your Employer Accommodate Breastfeeding

If your employer has no program in place for breastfeeding, ensure your employer that the program can be as big or small as they want. A minimal requirement would be a small room somewhere with a lock and an electrical outlet. This room could be a vacant office, the corner of a storage room, or any other clean facility. Try to steer them away from having you breastfeed in a bathroom. Although a bathroom can work, it is not very sanitary and therefore, not ideal. Have ideas of where a good breastfeeding area is so that you will be able to make practical suggestions. If all that is provided is a room, then bring in a comfortable chair, adequate lighting, welcoming decorations, and anything else that you might need. It is up to you to make your experience of breastfeeding at work a positive one.

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