As a new mum, returning to work can be emotionally conflicting. On one hand, you may be feeling quite eager to get out of the house, see your colleagues, flex your intellect, and take on the fun and challenges that your job offers. But on the other hand, you may not feel ready to take the distance from your new baby. You might be worried about childcare and establishing a completely new routine.
On top of that, if you breastfeed your baby, there are some logistics to think about. You’ll need to learn how to use a pump, arrange breastfeeding at work, and learn how to best store and use pumped breast milk.
It may seem like a lot to deal with and, in fact, it can be a bit of a learning curve, but as a new mother, you’re already a pro at adjusting, learning, and overcoming challenges. This one should be no different. With a good research and preparation, you should have no problem breastfeeding and going back to work. This guide will offer you everything you need to succeed at breastfeeding while working.
Why Breastfeed While Working?
You may have wondered if going back to work would be easier if you simply stopped breastfeeding. And the truth is that it might be. But if you don’t want to stop breastfeeding, you absolutely don’t have to just because you’re going back to work again.
After all, breastmilk is a crucial part of the baby’s diet for the first twelve months of his or her life. Not only does it have all of the nutrients that your baby needs, but it also lets you pass antibodies to your baby to keep him or her protected against the new environments, like daycares, that he or she will encounter while you work. And of course, it offers a way for you to be close with your baby again after a long day spent apart.
That being said, if you do have to stop breastfeeding because of your job, it is totally okay. It is your choice to make as a mother and whatever you decide to do is valid.
Learn more: Best Tips and Advice for Nursing Your Baby
The Planning Phase
The first thing you’ll have to do before you’re able to juggle working and breastfeeding is preparing and making a plan of action.
The first step will be an assessment of what you are working with. Ask yourself:
- What stage of breastfeeding am I in? How old is my baby? Does he or she have an established breastfeeding routine?
- Is my baby exclusively breastfeeding or has he or she started eating solid foods?
- How many times a day do I breastfeed?
- How many hours a day will I spend at work? What will my work schedule be like?
- Is there a place at my workplace where I will be able to pump without disruption?
You’ll also need to prepare yourself mentally. After all, this first step toward separation from your child is emotional and difficult. It’s totally all right to feel apprehensive, sad, or nervous. On the other hand, it’s just as okay to feel excited! There’s no correct way to feel about this process. The important thing is to practice self-compassion and to allow yourself to take your time.
Don’t hesitate to lean on a medical and personal support system. Between your OBGYN, lactation consultants, other working moms breastfeeding, your partner, your friends, and your family, you should be able to breathe easier knowing you have somebody to lean on, whether it’s for advice about breastfeeding or practical assistance with childcare and household management as you transition back to work.
Learn more: Ask Lola&Lykke Lactation Experts, free of charge.
Try to practice some self-care. The healthier your mind and body are, the more successfully you’ll be able to navigate breastfeeding and back to work. Eat healthily. Drink water. Get plenty of sleep. Relax whenever you can. Take a bath, indulge in a great TV show, meditate - whatever makes you feel calm and capable. Remember, self-care is not selfish, it is essential.
In addition to preparing mentally, you’ll also need to prepare physically. Do your best to establish a pumping routine early on, as soon as two or three weeks after childbirth. Not only will this allow you to get used to the equipment and mechanics of pumping, but it will also establish good milk production.
Another plus is you’ll be able to start building up a stash of frozen breast milk, which will serve you well in the future. You don’t need to go crazy trying to fill up your freezer, but having enough for a few days is a great place to start.
Preparing Your Baby
Another important step to take before going back to work will be preparing your baby for bottle feeding, which you can start doing a couple of weeks before going back to work. Practice feeding your baby with a bottle. Let your partner give it a shot, too. This will both allow your baby to get used to taking a bottle and get you comfortable learning to feed with one.
As soon as you know who will take care of your baby while you are at work, do a practice run where you leave him or her with the caregiver. Allow the caregiver to feed your baby with a bottle of breast milk. This way, you’ll know what to expect before you actually go back to work and, by getting physically in touch with the space, your body will build immunity to whatever germs are present in the daycare to protect your baby.
Arranging Child Care
When you’re searching for a daycare, make sure you communicate about exactly what your plans for breastfeeding are. Ask the daycare:
- Do the employees know how to bottle feed with breast milk?
- Is staff up to date about breast milk storage guidelines?
- Is there a place in the daycare where you can breastfeed your baby before you drop him or her off and when you pick him or her up?
- Will the daycare be able to follow your feeding schedule?
- How does the daycare support breastfeeding mothers?
- Can you bring your baby in for a test run before you return to work?
Pay special attention to the distance of the daycare from your workplace. If you’d like, maybe there is an opportunity to go visit your baby for a feeding midway through the day.
Equipment and Accessories
Now comes the technical part: choosing equipment and accessories for breastfeeding. Here, you have a few options.
One option is to hand express your breast milk. While this has the convenience of requiring few materials and being accessible anywhere you go, it is also much more challenging than the second option of using manual or electric breast pumps. If you will be pumping regularly, spending hours of the day at work from your baby, an electric breastfeeding pump will likely be best suited for your needs. You should look for a breast pump that is small, portable, and quite so that it’ll be easy to bring to work and used discreetly.
A high-quality electric breast milk pump like the Smart Electric Breast Pump will be able to mimic your baby’s natural sucking pattern to promote letdown and optimize milk flow. It has no wires, no tubes, and is compact enough to fit in your bag.
In addition to the pump itself, you’ll need bottles, ice packs, and a freezer bag to store your milk in. You can also choose to use modern breast milk storage bags instead of bottles, which have the advantage of saving you time by allowing you to pump directly into them. They are small, making them easy to store flat or standing, and you can feed directly from them with an attached adaptor.
Talking to Your Employer
One final thing you’ll want to do before returning to work will be to speak to your employer in order to make sure you’ll have all of your needs met at work, including a clean, private place to pump, the ability to take breaks every few hours for 20 to 30 minutes in order to pump, and the respect and understanding that this is a priority for you.
Don’t worry about receiving a negative reaction, as EU law forbids discrimination against breastfeeding mothers, especially in the workplace. Employers must comply with minimum standards, namely taking reasonable action to protect your health and safety while you are breastfeeding. This includes giving you adequate breaks to ensure proper nutrition, access to water and washing facilities, an environment that is not too hot or too cold, and consideration of your levels of fatigue and stress.
Pumping at Work
Pumping at your workplace may feel uncomfortable at first, but you’re sure to get used to it rather quickly. After all, you’ll be doing it often. Here are some tips you can follow to make it a bit easier.
- Try to go back to work in the middle of the workweek. That way, your first week back will be a bit shorter to help you gradually transition into being away from your baby.
- Include a bit of extra time in your morning routine so that you will be able to be close with and bond with your baby before you leave for work.
- Put together a breastfeeding bag with all of the necessary materials (pump, storage bags, ice bags, insulated bag, breast pads, and an extra shirt in case of leaking) so that you don’t forget anything. Keeping a checklist may also make it easier to remember everything you need.
- When you pump, try to create a calm, relaxed environment. Thinking of or even looking at photos of your baby can help encourage letdown.
Making a Pumping Schedule
When exactly should you pump? Well, like with most things motherhood, let your baby guide you. If your baby is currently feeding every three hours, that will most likely be how often you’ll want to pump. Usually, this will work out to pumping once in the middle of the morning, once at lunch, and once in the middle of the afternoon, but this will depend entirely on factors such as your work schedule, the length of your shifts, and your baby’s feeding patterns.
Know that once you start bottle feeding on weekdays, it’s a good idea to commit to “on-demand” breastfeeding sessions whenever your baby is hungry on nights and weekends. This will allow you to get in that crucial bonding time to comfort and connect with your baby, as well as help you keep up your milk supply.
As far as storing breastmilk goes, you can follow these guidelines:
- Breast milk can stay out at room temperature for six to eight hours
- Breast milk can be stored in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for 24 hours
- You can refrigerate breast milk at 39°F or 4°C for up to five days
- You can freeze breast milk in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator for three to six months
- You can store breast milk in an infrequently-opened chest or upright manual defrost deep freezer at −4°F or −20°C for six months to one year
Ideally, it’s best to feed your baby room temperature or refrigerated breast milk, as freezing causes milk to lose some of the protective enzymes and antibodies present in fresh milk, but frozen milk is still just fine.
Getting Help From Others
As we mentioned above, there is no reason to feel like you are in this alone. In fact, it’s important to get help from others whenever you may need it. Between your family, your employer, and the daycare, there should be plenty of opportunities for you to pump when you need to while you’re away from your baby, and loving, knowledgeable people to care for him or her while you’re at work.
Don’t worry if all of this sounds like a lot. It may take some time to adjust to being a working mother, but it’s absolutely something you can handle. Just have some patience with yourself and with your baby and do your best to keep a positive attitude. You’ve got this.
Have questions around breastfeeding, pregnancy, and postpartum?Ask Lola&Lykke Experts free of charge.