6 Tips for Breastfeeding Moms Headed Back to Work

Nutrition, Behavior & More

Heading back to work after maternity leave can be filled with many bittersweet emotions. Being a breastfeeding mother AND going back to work can add to the complexity. Let’s discuss some tips to help prepare you and ease your mind during this transition time.

1. Back to work with reduced hours.

If you’re breastfeeding, going back to a 40+ hour work week with a 6, 8, or 12 week old infant can be very challenging. Some mothers are able to inquire with their boss about decreasing hours when first going back to work. This can help so that mom is able to maintain the breastfeeding relationship longer, to meet her own personal goals, rather than perhaps having to mainly pump all week long and not put baby to breast as often. It can help to discuss this option during your pregnancy, before your little one is born, if possible.

2. Build Your Breastmilk Supply Before Going Back to Work.

The best time to begin pumping for your freezer stash is right around week 2 or 3. If you have a longer maternity leave you may wait a little longer, and if your leave is shorter, then start right when your little one turns 2 weeks old. (Of course, if there are issues with weight gain, latching, etc, then you may need to pump and feed prior to this time frame. The 2-3 week pumping start is for babies who have been nursing well and gaining weight well.)

Most moms will begin by pumping once per day, after the morning nursing session. Moms often have more milk in the morning due to hormone levels, and often feel more full, so pumping after this session often works best. Don’t expect to get lots in the beginning. Your body has regulated to make just enough for your baby, so you won’t see much milk the first week or so when you begin pumping. The goal is to just add to your stockpile when you can so that you have breast milk on reserves for when you head back to work.

3. Practice using a bottle.

It is recommended to wait until week 3 or 4 to try a practice bottle. Giving a bottle earlier than this time frame, we can see babies begin to prefer the bottle with the faster flow; on the flip side—introducing a bottle past week four, we can see babies who refuse the bottle altogether due to being so used to the breast only.

If you are a breastfeeding mom who plans to go back to work following your maternity leave, it is important to practice using bottles beginning around 3-4 weeks old. Selecting a bottle with the appropriate flow will also be important to help maintain the breastfeeding relationship.

Another tip: use a slow flow/level one nipple for the bottle in the beginning. After you go back to work, it may be necessary to go to a level 2 – but keep in mind we do not want to use a nipple where the flow of the milk comes much quicker than it does at the breast. For example, if a breastfeeding session usually takes 20 minutes total, and baby is taking 4 oz in 5 minutes via bottle, that nipple size is too large! Baby may not have the patience to nurse if milk flows from bottles much more quickly.

Keep in mind some babies need frequent reminders of how to eat from a bottle – often every other day or even every day, whereas other babies maybe once a week or so is sufficient for baby to continue to take the bottle well until mom is back to work.

4. Use paced bottle feeding.

Paced bottle feeding is the best way to ensure baby continues to nurse when mom is back from work and with baby, while also giving bottles when baby is away from mom. This video shows paced bottle feeding very well and I highly encourage anyone feeding baby a bottle watch this video. It may also help to have a caregiver other than mom feed baby these practice bottles, as babies are smart and often won’t take a bottle from mom!

5. Pump at work.

As a breastfeeding mom I encourage you to learn about ‘Break Time for Nursing Mothers‘ so that you know your rights.

Remember that you will need to be pumping at work at least every 4 hours to keep up an adequate milk supply while away from baby. Aim to pump about each time your baby would be breastfeeding if you were with him/her; for most moms this is pumping about every 3 hours at work. If you are limited on time, it is recommended to pump more often for shorter sessions, than just one long pumping session.

It can also be difficult to calm down and pump while stressed at work; bringing a photo of baby or even a blanket that smells of baby can help get the oxytocin hormone going to help the success of the pumping session. Also, using a hands-free pumping bra can also assist in a higher pumping output; moms who massage their breasts during pumping often get much more milk out than ones who do not use breast compressions.

Don’t forget about milk storage and cleaning pump parts.

Milk can stay on the counter-top for up to 4 hours, in the fridge for 4 days (and then can go to the freezer if not consumed), and up to 9 months in a deep freezer. Keep in mind that it is necessary to wash the pump parts after each use and to sanitize them once a day. 

While there is more as a breastfeeding mom who is heading back to work, it is possible to maintain this relationship with your child when you do!

About the author: Kimberly Kelk is a Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Kimberly graduated with her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and has worked as an RN in Labor & Delivery, Postpartum, and Special Care Nursery units in the hospital setting.   Kimberly currently supports nursing moms and babies meet their breastfeeding goals in an inpatient and outpatient hospital setting.

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