Back to Work & Breastfeeding
“For a new mom, returning to work can be stressful, and the thought of continuing breastfeeding can seem like an overwhelming task. But with advanced planning and the support of your family and workplace, it’s possible to combine breastfeeding and working, and it will benefit all parties in several ways.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year of a child’s life. The longer babies are breastfed, the greater the health benefits for both mom and baby. Breastfeeding also subsequently is good for the employer since it tends to reduce parent absence due to baby illness. The AAP notes that breastfeeding reduces the occurrence of the following illnesses in babies: ear infections, diarrhea, infections, pneumonia, SIDS, diabetes, urinary tract infections, and meningitis.
Here are some basics on breastmilk expression and bottle feeding in anticipation of returning to work (see also my articles on breastfeeding basics, breastmilk pump option articles 1 and 2, and BPA and baby bottles):
Pumping & Storing:
There is no need to start pumping or giving bottles during your baby’s first three weeks. Milk expression can occur sometime during the third week so that you can begin giving the baby a bottle by week four. To express milk effectively, it is extremely important to have a good quality breast pump. Breast pumps can be rented through the hospital or purchased at a retail store. It is not always necessary to use a hospital grade breast pump. An electric pump that allows you to collect milk from both breasts simultaneously is a great choice. Many of these pumps come in discreet carry bags with collection bottles and ice packs for easy transport.
Begin by pumping your breasts twice per day, once in the early morning and once in the early afternoon, about 30 minutes after you breastfeed your baby. It is normal to get very little milk when you first start pumping. What you are doing by pumping is building a little bit of milk storage, getting used to pumping, and increasing your milk supply. It is important to pump at the same time each day and be consistent in your pumping schedule, since you are programming your body to make a little more milk. Even if you pump and no milk comes out you are sending signals to your body to make more milk. An increase in milk production will be noticed in 3 – 5 days on average.
Immediately after pumping or expressing, breastmilk can sit out or be stored at room temperature for about 4-6 hours. When refrigerating freshly expressed breastmilk, it is safe to store for an average of 6 days. If you plan on freezing your breastmilk, note that the guidelines on storing the milk in the freezer vary depending on the type of freezer you have and the temperature. On average, frozen breastmilk can be stored for 3-4 months in a self-contained refrigerator freezer unit. Deep frozen milk (at 0 degrees F or -19C) can last for 6-12 months. Be sure NOT to store breastmilk in the freezer door compartments because the temperature is too variable. Finally, when ready to use frozen breastmilk, if you have thawed your breastmilk at room temperature or under running water, use the stored breastmilk within 4 hours, whereas if you are thawing breastmilk in the refrigerator, use the stored breastmilk within 24 hours. It’s also important to note that you should NEVER refreeze thawed breastmilk. Whatever isn’t used within the above time parameters must be discarded. (Temperature and storage method information was derived from Medela.)
Planning Your Return to Work:
To avoid feeling overwhelmed when returning to work, find ways to ease in slowly. For example, start your job midweek so you will only be away from your baby for two or three days instead of five, or begin working half instead of full days to help ease the transition.
When you are away from your baby, the general rule is that you should pump your breasts once for each missed feeding. Typically, this works out to three 15-minute pumping sessions for a 9-hour workday. If you cannot pump enough at work, then you may need to pump right after you breastfeed your baby in the morning (before you leave for work), and to work in a similar routine at the end of the work day once you reconnect with your baby. Also, to help maintain an adequate milk supply, it is recommended to exclusively breastfeed your baby on the weekends and when you are home with the baby, especially during the night, given that nighttime breastfeeding boosts milk supply.
Breastfeeding while working outside of the home is a rewarding endeavor with many benefits for both mom and baby. However, if these benefits come at a cost, such as a mother who is physically or emotionally drained, then it may be time to revise the game plan a bit. Talking to other breastfeeding moms, consulting with a lactation specialist, staying open minded, and remembering that every instance that you have breastfed your baby to date has been beneficial can help alleviate some of the stress you may feel as a new mom back to work. Being patient, flexible, and giving yourself time to adjust will ultimately make both mom and baby happy.”