Breastfeeding After Returning To Work

Many mothers wonder how they will manage to juggle breastfeeding and their employment responsibilities when the time comes to return to work, and many more wonder if it is even worth it. The answer to the latter question is an resounding “yes!” Breastfeeding mothers who report to work report higher levels of job satisfaction, higher levels of satisfaction with parenting, lower absenteeism, and they–and their babies–continue to reap the rewards of breastfeeding, including a special re-connection time each evening (or morning as the case may be).

Tips to make returning to work easier include:

Take as long a maternity leave as possible. This, unfortunately, is difficult to do in the US since maternity leave is generally unpaid, but try to save up–either money or leave–so that you can give you and your baby as much time to adapt to your new lives together as you can. Many times breastfeeding isn’t even well-established until 6 weeks postpartum, so returning before this time is likely to be especially difficult.

Don’t stress about going back or try to make being home look anything like your work schedule. Yes, you’ll need to introduce a bottle at some point between 3-6 weeks (once you feel breastfeeding has been well-established for a week or so), but that doesn’t mean you need to get fully into your work schedule. Enjoy your time with your baby!

Try to ease back into work. Maybe you can go back part time, maybe you can take the baby with you one day a week, maybe you can work at home a bit…whatever works is great. Going back to work full-time right away can be a much more difficult adaptation than easing in. If you can work part-time even longer, that is especially easy to make breastfeeding work.

For full-time workers, you need a good quality, double electric breast pump. I have ethical issues with the “Big M” manufacturer, but it is generally a decent pump, as are Ameda and Hygeia (a company I can feel good about recommending). But not all pumps work as well for all women, so there may be a bit of trial and error here. You might want to consider renting a hospital grade pump for a few months before deciding which to purchase, or you might decide to jump in and get one. Whatever you do, don’t buy a pump manufactured by a company who is affiliated with formula manufacturing at all–they aren’t exactly invested in designing a good product.

Start pumping once a day fairly early on. There will be times when your baby has a growth spurt or hungry days and eats more milk than you pumped the day before. It’s nice to have a little freezer stash for these times. It also helps give you time to get used to pumping. That being said, see my second point–don’t stress about it! And don’t become a slave to the pump. Once a day, whenever it works out–maybe your baby sleeps a little longer one day or only wants to nurse on one side. Seize those opportunities. Don’t worry about it if you pump and your baby wants to eat right after. There is no such thing as an empty breast–when a baby nurses on breasts that were just “drained” it triggers you to make more right away.

Consider child care options close to work. If you have a long commute, you could add two hours to your separation time. It’s best to nurse right before leaving your baby and as soon as you are reunited. So, if you keep your baby close to work, this could add one to two feedings that can come from you instead of the bottle each day.

Consider pacifier use for when your baby is away from you, but try to comfort nurse when you’re together. But babies do need to comfort suck (non-nutritive sucking), and if your childcare provider only has bottles to feed, you may find your baby eating more than they really want or need–and find your stash may dwindle too quickly. That being said, comfort nursing is an excellent way to stay connected and boost your supply.

Realize that your baby may “reverse-cycle” nurse. That is, he may save up his appetite for you and eat very little during the day, making up for it in the evening and overnight. Many mothers find co-sleeping is the best way to facilitate night nursing and getting the maximum amount of sleep possible. Consider that if a baby wants to reverse cycle, they need to get a lot of calories during that time. While this sounds unpleasant, most women whose babies do this are grateful for their babies’ reliance on nursing from the breast and for the boost this causes in supply. When a baby is separated from mom during the day, sleeps through the night, and doesn’t nurse for comfort, you’re pretty much guaranteed that your supply will dwindle after 4-8 months. Babies of this age aren’t interested in nursing without a plentiful supply (especially when they know plenty comes from the bottle), and will generally wean prematurely.

But most importantly, enjoy this time. Yes, it can be challenging, but you’ll never regret this investment. I highly recommend attending La Leche League meetings–there are evening meetings in many locales that are especially suited to the schedules of working moms. The support and sisterhood is invaluable. When you minimize non-work related separation and don’t try to maintain your weekly schedule on the days when you have your baby with you, but rather go with the flow, nurse ad lib, and enjoy each other, you’ll find your supply is up when your days off come to an end. This not only helps keep the milk flowing, but it allows you to have fun with your baby.


    1. Gina

      What kind of pump are you using? How many times do you pump and how long are you away from Baby? How old is your baby? How often does baby nurse when you’re together? So many questions, I know! But there’s not an easy answer–it depends on many factors.

  1. Adrienne

    Hi Gina! I have two questions:
    1) I have heard conflicting information on how long you should keep a baby on the breast exclusively before introducing bottles. Can you shed some light on this?
    2) Any suggestions on how to handle people (family members) who maybe be angry about me exclusively breastfeeding (from the breast) because they want to be able to bottlefeed the baby when she is a newborn?


    1. Gina

      Hi Adrienne! My thoughts:

      1. I don’t think there’s a perfect time, but I do think that you want to consider two things. First of all, if you’re still struggling with anything–sore nipples, bad latch, whatever–introducing a bottle could be difficult and exacerbate the problem you’re already having. So, I generally say between 3-6 weeks, but give it a week or two AFTER things are running smoothly. Secondly, if the baby is a bit older and a good nurser, he may resist taking a bottle if you wait too long to introduce one. This is different for every baby, but it’s been my observation that if you wait longer than 3-4 months your baby might be uninterested. Again, though, these are guidelines and you’ll know what you and your baby need best–better than any advice (even mine, LOL) you can get.

      Which brings us to number 2. There are going to be many parenting choices you make that friends or family may disagree with or resist. Frankly, that’s too bad. You’re the mama now, and you get to decide these things for your baby. You could offer information (that introducing a bottle too early can be sabotaging or that you prefer to nurse when you’re with the baby, etc.), but you don’t have to. In the end, it’s your decision. And this will be good practice for all those other things that you’ll get flak for later on down the road. 😉

  2. Margaret Ashton

    I went back to work at 7 weeks post-partum with both my nurslings. The only way we were able to keep a healthy breastfeeding relationship was to co-sleep and reverse-cycle nurse. I did pump at work, but neither child drank more than about 4 oz. of EBM during the day, saving their appetite for when I was nearby. Because they were sleeping next to me, I was able to doze while breastfeeding and sometimes, as they got older, they just latched on before I even woke up and noticed. Both weaned at around age six, so it definitely was what worked for us!

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