Transitioning back to work after having a baby can be tricky, especially for breastfeeding moms who wish to continue nursing. If you’re anything like me, you may have some anxiety about how it’s all going to work; keeping your milk supply up, making sure that you have the time and a comfortable space to pump at work, and finding the right childcare situation where your wish to continue breastfeeding is supported.
My third baby is six-months-old now, and because I’m self-employed and don’t have a typical maternity leave (here in Canada, most women have a year-long maternity leave), I’ve returned to work part-time and am leaving all three of our kids with our part-time nanny. Luckily, she’s very supportive of my desire to continue nursing, and handles and stores my pumped milk with care. I’ve also sourced out a room at my workplace that I can pump in, which has allowed me to keep my supply up and continue to offer my baby breastmilk during the day when I’m not there. It hasn’t been a walk in the park though–it takes time, perseverance, and dedication to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
Top 8 tips to help nursing mamas make a smooth transition back to work:
Invest in a good pump. You won’t regret it!
If you plan on continuing to offer your baby breastmilk during the day after you return to work, it’s important that you keep your milk supply up by pumping, especially if your baby is still nursing several times a day. Investing in a good pump can help to cut down on pumping time and maximize the milk that you can save. If at all possible, purchase or rent a good quality hands-free electric double pump. If you’re planning to stop during-the-day breastmilk feedings, you’ll still likely need to hand-express during the day if you’re feeling too full at first, so that you don’t become engorged or uncomfortable. After nursing and working with 3 babies, I can safely say that our favorite breast pump is the Medela Pump in Style. Super easy to take with you places, and it is a really efficient pump so it doesn’t take you forever every time you have to pump!
Make sure that all of your pumping supplies are washed and ready in your pumping bag the night before a work day. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you’ve forgotten a crucial part of your pumping gear when you go to do your morning pump. Make sure that you have your lunch, snacks and water packed the night before as well ( if you’re like me, you’ll want to reserve time in the morning for a good nursing session). Carve out time in your work day to pump (ideally so that it coincides with when your baby drinks a bottle of pumped breastmilk at home or daycare). Set it is a “meeting” in your calendar so that you remember and other tasks don’t take over. Prior to returning to work, talk to your employer about how often you will need to pump and explain the importance of timing as well. Some employers are more flexible than others, but hopefully you can come of a compromise that suits everyone.
Pump when your baby eats
Although milk supply will vary drastically from mom to mom, most will need to pump two to three times during the work day to keep their milk supply up. As your baby gets older and eats more solid foods, the frequency in which you’ll need to pump will decrease. It also helps to pump at around the same time that your baby feeds, so that you stay on schedule for when you return home from work (so that baby is ready to nurse when you arrive home). When I first returned to work, I had my nanny text me when she was about to start feeding my baby a bottle, so that I could pump around the same time. This worked well for me, both because I’m self-employed and have a nanny. A friend of mine, who works at a large corporation and cannot always slip away to pump on short notice, would schedule two to three (depending on how often her baby was feeding) daily “meetings” for herself where she would pump in her office with the door closed so that no one would interrupt her.
You’ll want to find childcare that supports your wish to continue breastfeeding, feeds your baby in a responsive way and handles and stores your breastmilk in a safe way. Childcare situations vary greatly; from live-in nannies or grandparents, to large daycares, so it’s important to find the right fit for you and your family. You’ll want to make sure that you practice feeding your baby a bottle of pumped milk prior to heading back to work so that he or she is used to drinking from it. If you have an older baby (6 months or older) you might choose to skip the bottle and offer breastmilk in a spill-proof straw or sippy cup (or an open cup) during the day instead. If your baby is used to being nursed to sleep at nap time, you can guide your childcare provider on various alternative soothing techniques such as rocking a certain way, offering a pacifier, rubbing baby’s back etc.
Stay hydrated and nourished throughout the day
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids (your fluid requirements increase when you’re nursing) and keep yourself well nourished, eating about every 2-4 hours. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you require an extra 300-450 calories per day, depending on how often you’re nursing and how old your baby is. Keeping a water bottle beside you will help to remind you to drink, and packing a healthy lunch (and extra for snacks!) will make it easier to eat healthfully while at work.
Source out a good pumping room
Some workplaces have reserved and comfortable “pumping/feeding rooms” and others aren’t as accommodating to nursing mothers. It’s important to know what your options are–whether it’s your private office, or if it’s a clean private bathroom, or maybe a private boardroom that you can book two to three times per day. Keep in mind that you’ll need to wash your pumping equipment soon after pumping, so being close to a sink is ideal. Let your employer (or your workmates or employees) know that you may be occupying that space two to three times per day (and rough timing) so that everyone is aware.
Keep your your milk safe
If you’re pumping milk at work for your childcare provider to feed your baby at home or at daycare, make sure that you store your milk safely after pumping. Pumped breastmilk can remain at room temperature for 4-8 hours (ideally 3-4), but it’s best to store in a refrigerator between 32-39 °F/0-4 °C. Pumped milk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-8 days (ideally 3-4). If you don’t have access to a fridge, an alternative is storing your milk in an insulated bag or cooler with ice packs (59°F / 15°C) for up to 24 hours. If you have a long commute home, it’s best to transport your refrigerated milk in a cooler and then transfer to a fridge at home.
Plan to nurse more at night and on weekends
After returning to work, you might notice that your milk supply decreases–even when you’re pumping. If your baby is still nursing often (and you want to continue giving her or him breastmilk several times a day), plan to nurse more frequently at night and on the weekends to build your supply back up. Patience is key here. While some moms won’t notice much of a difference at all in their supply, others do (like me), and need to carve out lots of time to re-establish milk supply during those times that they’re with their babies.
Sarah Remmer is a registered dietitian and mom of three. She writes all about kids nutrition over on her blog Nutrition From Stork to Fork. For free daily advice on nutrition for your little ones, follow Sarah on Facebook.