How To Return To Work Or School And Still Successfully Breastfeed
Like many moms, I wanted to stay home and breastfeed my baby indefinitely. And like many moms I had to return to work. It’s a whole different circus when you transition from staying at home and breastfeeding to a hectic mix of breastfeeding at home, working, pumping at work and managing milk storage and transportation.
Many moms who return to work – even moms who never had low milk supply issues – find that their milk supply goes down. So for moms already struggling with milk production, returning to work or school can be scary as hell. But it doesn’t need to be. With the right plan you can be successful at both breastfeeding and work or school.
Everyone’s situation is different so I’m going to make several assumptions. They are:
- You plan to give your baby breast milk, instead of formula, at the sitters.
- You plan to breastfeed baby when you are together.
- You can find regular times while you are away from baby to pump.
- You have low milk supply concerns going in.
- It’s one month or more before you are due to go back.
?The Return To Work Plan For Breastfeeding Moms
1 Month from Returning to Work
Buy or rent a high quality pump – If you haven’t done so already, purchase or rent a high quality pump.
Wean from supplementation, if possible – If your baby is being supplemented, now is the time to work toward weaning him. You still have a month before returning to work or school so it doesn’t have to be done overnight, but you want baby to have as little supplementation as possible when you return to work or school. Going from 8 ounces of supplement a day to 2 ounces a day is a win. To wean your baby from a supplement, follow the advice in this article on how to supplement.
4 Weeks Out
Increase supply – The goal is to start work or school with the highest milk supply possible. See the 11 ways to increase milk supply.
Pump and bank milk – Part of that advice is to add one or more additional pumping sessions and to pump after each feeding. Save all extra milk you pump in breast milk storage bags. Write the date and ounces on the bags, and store them in the freezer. TIP: I put the bags from each month into a larger freezer bag with the month’s name written on it, so I can quickly find the oldest milk to use first.
3 Weeks Out
Count breastfeeding sessions – During a typical day, note the times when your baby breastfeeds. These are roughly the times when you’ll need to pump at work or school to maintain your supply. Please note that pumping less frequently than every three hours will likely decrease your milk supply. If you’re trying to increase your supply, you should plan to pump every two hours.
Contact work or school – First find out about flexibility:
- Can you return to work with reduced hours? The less time away from baby the better. ??????
- Can you take Wednesdays off? That way you’ll only have to pump two days in a row.
- If you have to work a set number of hours, can you work more hours on 3 or 4 days and take 1 or 2 days off?
- Can you work partially or fully from home?
- Can you bring baby to work for some of the time?
- Can you take a lighter class load?
- Can you drop any classes?
- Can you take one or more classes as Pass/No Pass and just study class notes, instead of going to class?
- Can you take any of your classes online?
- Can you arrange to see baby between classes?
After you’ve found out about flexibility, inquire about where you can comfortably pump. For work: Talk with your boss or Human Resources. Never pump in a bathroom. Instead, ask for a room, preferably with a lock on it that has curtains or blinds that can be drawn. Maybe an empty office or a conference room that can be scheduled. You want a place where you can fully relax, without fear of interruption or embarrassment. If a room with a lock can’t be found, bring a door stop and wedge it from the inside and hang a sign on the door that says:
Do Not Enter. This Room is Temporarily Closed.
If you know of any current or former breastfeeding moms that work with you or breastfeeding friends that returned to work, ask them where they pumped. Find out what they liked and disliked about that location.
The goal is to find a place where you can be comfortable and fully relax because any stress or anxiety will prevent letdowns and reduce the amount of milk you can pump which ultimately will reduce your breast milk supply.
For school: Talk with your favorite professor or your guidance counselor. And like the room requirements for work, find a private room, with a lock and curtains or blinds. Someplace where you can fully relax, without fear of interruption or embarrassment. Find other student breastfeeding mothers who are pumping and find out the challenges and suggestions they have. Facebook is great for this.
If your work or school is reluctant to help, check your state laws. Many states have passed breastfeeding harassment laws that might apply to your situation. For a summary of state and federal laws concerning breastfeeding and pumping see: http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx
Finally, whether you return to work or school, you’ll need a place to store the milk you pump. Is there a convenient mini fridge in someone’s office you can use? If you have to use a communal fridge, consider buying a lunch box or fabric cooler for putting your pumping bottles and flanges in. Keeping everything refrigerated will save hours of washing. If there isn’t a fridge available or if you have a long commute, look for a contoured reusable ice pack that will keep your pumped milk cool and fresh. Sometimes you can find a fabric cooler designed to hold 4 pumping bottles, along with the perfect size contoured ice pack all included as a kit.
2 Weeks Out
Night cycle – No, this isn’t a midnight ride on the exercise bike – though that might help with some of that remaining pregnancy weight, right? Rather, night cycle means shifting your baby’s milk intake from heavy in the day to heavy in the night. “Night” means anytime you’re with baby – immediately after work or school to immediately before you leave the next day.
Babies need a certain number of ounces per day and really don’t care all that much when they get those ounces. Of course they need to feed regularly, but it’s just like after Thanksgiving dinner, you don’t feel all that hungry for the rest of the day. Sure you might have a snack or two, but that’s not where you got most of your calories for the day.
We want every day to be Thanksgiving for our babies when they’re away from us. Start offering the breast increasingly during the times when you’ll be home from work or school. Add a breastfeeding session right at the time when you would first see baby after a day at work or school. Encourage more and more feedings in the evening and consider sleeping with baby to have him breastfeed while you sleep. Be sure to add a breastfeeding session just before you plan to be away from baby.
Next start offering the breast less during the times when you’ll be away at work or school. When baby starts showing hunger cues, distract him with a game for a while. Put off breastfeeding a little and when you do breastfeed, just put him on one side and be sure to take him off when he’s done. Important: Each time you do this you must pump at least the other side to keep your milk up and ideally you should pump both breasts to encourage increasing your supply. And be sure you are either nursing or pumping at least every three hours – if you are able to dissuade baby longer than this, just be sure that you are pumping at least every 3 hours to maximize your supply.
This night cycling will make your baby want less milk while away from you and heads off problems like overfeeding, nipple confusion and flow preference. In addition you’ll have to pump a lot less to cover the smaller amount of milk your baby is having during the day. And pumping less means a better work or school day for you!
Figure out your schedule – based on what you learned last week about your work or school’s flexibility, determine your schedule for each day you’ll be away from baby. Schedule your pumping times in your calendar. Be sure your pumping sessions are no more than 3 hours apart. I find it best to schedule them for 2 hours apart, then if I am held up for any reason and pump an hour later than expected, I’m still pumping at the three hour mark. But if I schedule them for 3 hours and then get held up in a meeting for an extra hour, its now been 4 hours and my supply starts going down.
Begin an herbal regimen – to ease the transition to work or school you want your milk supply to be as high as possible going in. If you have not been taking herbs for lactation, begin now. Take Lactiful Supply Max or follow these directions for creating your own herbal blend.
1 Week Out
Pump n Nurse – Now that you’ve been night cycling for a week, we’ll add pumping to your daytime nursings. During each nursing session that takes place when you would normally be away from baby, pump one breast while baby nurses on the other. This is an important transitional phase as you get used to pumping when baby would normally be nursing. It’s a gentle way of passing the torch from breastfeeding to pumping and can help you pump more milk, more easily when you’re at work or school.
?Prep a letdown kit – A letdown kit is made up of reminders of your baby that you’ll use to get letdowns while pumping at work or school. My kit had a small unwashed blanket that smelled like my baby, several photos of my baby, including one of him breastfeeding as seen from my angle and a recording of him cooing that I made on my iPhone. Each time I’d pump I’d set out the photos, rub the blanket on my cheek and nose and breathe in the smells of my baby and about halfway through the pumping session, I’d play the cooing recording.
I also made 2 slide shows of my favorite pictures of my baby that I could run on my computer for when I was able to pump at my desk. I rotated between the 2 slideshows so that the emotions didn’t wear off. Whenever I got new photos that I just loved I would add them into the slideshows. This was particularly useful because I was a bottle watcher. And watching the pump bottles just stressed me out and lowered my output. So instead of watching the bottles, I could watch the slideshows and let myself feel the love and emotion for my growing little one. Slideshows now can often be run on phones, or tablets if you need to be away from your computer. Videos can even be added into your letdown kit.
Educate your sitter about bottle feeding – breastfeeding babies that need bottles at the sitters have very different needs than formula fed babies. Be sure your sitter knows your wishes:
- • Use only slow-flow nipples – Size 0 (zero) or “Newborn.” Please note: the age of the baby doesn’t matter. A slow flow nipple is most like the breast – our breasts don’t change as baby gets older so the bottle nipple doesn’t need to either. Faster flowing nipples are not better for babies, only better for providers because it doesn’t take as long to give the bottle.
- Don’t overfeed – some sitters give bottles at the first sign of fussiness. Babies will take a bottle if given, but maybe he just wanted a fresh diaper or to be held or played with.
- Don’t overfeed – stop bottle feeding when baby is satisfied. Don’t finish bottles out of principle. Breast milk keeps hours and hours longer than formula.
- Bottle feed baby in an upright position and with the bottle level with the ground, tipping the bottle up slightly every few minutes for twenty to thirty seconds to simulate breastfeeding and letdowns.
- Don’t give baby a bottle right before you arrive. If baby insists on bottle, have the sitter give him just an ounce or two to tide him over until you arrive. You can breastfeed him immediately upon your arrival. I recommend that you determine when your typical arrival time will be and plan on the sitter not giving the baby a bottle within an hour and a half to two hours of that time – most sitters seem to do well knowing a time to go by. You want baby to be hungry when you get there, but not fussy and difficult for the sitter to deal with.
- Go online, download and give them a copy of this handout: http://www.kellymom.com/store/freehandouts/bottle_feeding.pdf
Follow this advice and you should be well-prepared to return to work while maintaining your breastfeeding relationship.