Returning to Work While Breastfeeding - Advice from a Lactation Consultant

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

As we kick off this week’s line-up of virtual events for World Breastfeeding Week, we’d like to turn our attention to all the nursing moms going back to work. It can be a highly stressful, emotionally-draining experience when a mom leaves her precious baby in another’s care to resume working life. Besides figuring out schedules (both mom’s and baby’s) and striking a balance between work and home life, breastfeeding moms have a whole host of other concerns.

We asked Amy Siegrist, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and one of our telehealth providers at EmmaWell, to share her recommendations for some common questions related to breastfeeding and working. Note that her advice here is general and may not apply to every mom’s individual preferences or struggles. When doing a back-to-work consult, Amy would consider important details about a mother’s situation (e.g. the age of her baby, the nature of her job, her long-term feeding goals, her history of plugs or mastitis) and tailor a custom plan to ensure a smooth return to work.

What are some steps I can take while breastfeeding during maternity leave to make my transition back to work easier for me and my baby?

  1. Try to establish a good milk supply in the first few weeks of lactation. Your body usually gives you extra milk in the beginning, so take advantage of this with frequent breastfeeding and/or emptying your breasts at least 8 times in 24 hours. A good supply in the beginning will make your whole breastfeeding journey easier.

  2. Introduce a bottle around 3-4 weeks if you haven't already. When possible, it's best to exclusively breastfeed for the first few weeks, and then add in the practice bottle. This helps prevent bottle refusal, which can happen as early as 6-8 weeks.

  3. To get started with pumping and bottles, I usually recommend pumping twice a day. Pump once in the morning after breastfeeding to fully drain any leftover milk. Then, around the same time your baby is drinking a bottle, pump again. One pumping session will go towards extra milk for the freezer, and one pumping session will supply tomorrow's practice bottle. Set up a daily routine in which your baby gets one bottle per day or at least a few bottles per week. I suggest using a slow-flow nipple.

What questions should I ask my employer’s HR department about policies for breastfeeding mothers?

It's helpful to know that there is a law that requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day [Read more on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act here]. Ask where you will be able to pump, such as a lactation room, private office, or conference room. Discuss break times and scheduling. It will take you about 15-30 minutes to pump and 5 minutes to clean up. After discussing with HR, you might find it helpful to talk to colleagues who have previously pumped at work.

What equipment will I need to pump and store breast milk?

  • Double electric pump such as Spectra S1 or S2 or Medela Pump in Style

  • Extra pump parts kit

  • Hands-free pumping bra [All registrants of our virtual events this week will be entered to win a Lilu Massage Bra in our World Breastfeeding Week giveaway!]

  • Milk storage bags

  • Cooler bag with ice packs to store and transport the milk

  • Disinfectant wipes

[Read this article for more detailed suggestions on what to stock up on in preparation for pumping while working.]

If I’m planning to prepare bottles of breast milk for my baby to drink while I am working, when should I start pumping and storing milk?

The milk you pump one day can be consumed by your baby the next day. So, as long as you plan to pump about every 3 hours at work, you don't need a huge freezer stash of milk. Most moms pump once or twice a day after breastfeeding and store this milk. You can start this routine when you start offering practice bottles, which is usually recommended around week 3.

Where and how should I store my breast milk in the workplace?