If you are going back to work after baby is born, you may be worried about how you will continue to be able to breastfeed. Many moms worry that they will not be able to keep up with pumping and breastfeeding, but it can be done!
Does returning to work fill you with mixed emotions? You’re excited to get back to your old routine, but you’re not happy about upsetting your baby’s routine. You have to worry about how your baby will adjust to life with a caregiver and how you will balance time with your family and time at work, and then there’s your milk supply, too. That is a lot to consider! How will you keep the milk flowing while attending meetings and giving your professional projects the attention that they deserve?
Don’t worry. With these tips, you can successfully continue to breastfeed, pump, and keep your breast milk supply strong when you return to work after maternity leave.
Top 10 Tips for Maintaining Supply When Going Back to Work After Baby
1. Get Everyone on Board
This is perhaps the most difficult task for many new moms because it involves having sensitive conversations with your boss, manager, and perhaps other members of your professional team. The goal is to ensure that everyone around you understands that you are now a mother and need to stick to a routine pumping schedule. You could return to work without mentioning this to anyone, but there are a couple things that you accomplish by having these conversations before you go back to work:
- You won’t have the stress of sneaking off to the bathroom or another location to pump. The fact that you’re pumping and need to take reasonable breaks to take care of that responsibility will be out in the open.
- You will have the opportunity to assure your management team that pumping won’t interfere with your job. They will have the chance to ask questions or express concerns, and everyone should be on the same page when you return to work.
Remember that as of March 30, 2010, your boss is required by federal regulations in the United States to provide a private, sanitary place for you to pump at work. You need to work out where that place will be and how often you are permitted to pump prior to your first day back.
You should also have a conversation with your significant other, your caregivers, and anyone else whom you may depend on during this transition. When everyone understands what to expect, things will flow smoother once you start reporting to work.
2. Stick to a Regular Pumping Schedule
You talked to everyone in your life about the importance of sticking to a routine pumping schedule, right? Good because that is one critical step to maintaining a healthy milk supply long term. Try to stick to this schedule even on the weekends or your days off work, allowing your body to adjust accordingly. This can cut down on the amount of leaking you experience during the day, making your work day far more comfortable.
The first pumping session should be in the early morning before your baby wakes up. Your breasts will have an overflow stored up from the night, and breasts tend to produce more milk in the morning. You can decide whether you still breastfeed your baby in the morning, but delegating that task to someone capable of feeding a bottle may give you more time to get ready for work.
Timing for your remaining feedings will depend on your work schedule, other responsibilities, and how much help you have from others. Some general guidelines that you may want to keep in mind include:
- Don’t underestimate your commute time. There are times during your day when breastfeeding just isn’t possible, and commuting to work is one of those periods. You don’t want to get caught with painful, engorged breasts because you got caught in traffic and couldn’t pump on time. Your schedule should account for potential delays, so choose your pumping times carefully.
- Time your intervals between sessions carefully. How long you should go between pumping sessions depends on the age of your baby. If your baby is at least six months old, you should pump about every three hours. As your baby starts to consume more solid foods, you can start eliminating some of your pumping sessions.
- Consistency Matters. The more consistent the timing of your pumping sessions are, the more ready your body will be to produce milk when you are ready to pump
3. Don’t Forget Actual breastfeeding time!
Let your baby latch on when you are together and not working. The more access the better! It gives you the opportunity to bond with your baby and sends the message to your body that your baby still needs your milk to survive. Even if you only get to breastfeed in the morning and before bed, it’s better than relying entirely on the pump.
4. Try NOT to Rely on the Freezer Stash
Ok. So we KNOW that is why you created the freezer stash. We even encourage you to have one.
(If you don’t know – a freezer stash is a supply of frozen breast milk that you can use when fresh milk is unavailable. Some mothers prefer to freeze all of their milk, sending the oldest milk from the freezer with the baby each day. Others use the freezer stash only as an emergency backup, sending the milk pumped the prior day to the caregiver each morning. Learn more here… )
The problem is that you want to make sure that you aren’t relying on that stash too much. If you aren’t pumping often enough each day because you know that you have that backup, your breasts will think that your baby is demanding less milk and decrease your supply. You may also unintentionally run out of milk because the supply in the freezer runs low without you realizing it’s happening.
Avoid these problems by using the milk that you pump today as your baby’s milk supply for tomorrow. You can pump a bit extra and put it in the freezer for days when your baby may demand a bit more, but the primary source of nourishment for your baby remains the milk that you pumped the prior day (or at least MATCH your pumping to the amount baby required the previous day!) This will require you to stick to a routine schedule and produce a consistent amount of milk each day.
5. Allow Your Breasts to Empty
One of the fastest ways to deplete your breast supply is to allow milk to remain unused in your breasts. Your body will assume that you don’t need as much milk as before, and you will start making less. This is a simple problem to solve by simply ensuring that your breasts are both emptied each time you pump or breastfeed. If your baby only empties one breast or leaves them both partially full, use your pump to finish the job. You should also make sure that you’re finishing the job when pumping.
6. Give Baby Access to Your Breasts at Night
This is not a strategy that works for all mothers, but some find it helpful. The goal is to encourage your baby to do most of their eating at night, which naturally means that they may sleep more during the day. Reverse cycling is common in co-sleeping families, but you can make it work even if your baby sleeps in his or her own room. You just might not get as much sleep if you’re up and down each time the baby is ready to feed.
The process is rather simple. Just give your baby unlimited access to your breasts when you’re not at work. For most women, this means in the evening and during the night. You want to make sure that your baby fills up and is satisfied before you head out to work the next day. Your breasts will still get the message regarding how much milk is in demand, but your baby will have more time to breastfeed.
You may find that you want to embrace reverse cycling when you first go back to work because it gives you that special time with your baby that you crave (and believe it or not…studies say you won’t even get less sleep!) As you and baby grow more accustomed to your schedule and your baby gets close to eating solid foods, you may start to cut back on night feedings naturally.
7. Avoid Stress!
How many times have you heard someone say that you can’t take care of others if you aren’t healthy and well yourself? This is a fact that most people hear but few people embrace, but it’s critical for you to do so as a working mother. You’re carrying a lot of stress on your shoulders as you try to balance your career with your growing family, and you won’t succeed if your body isn’t at its strongest.
Your milk supply can also suffer if you aren’t taking care of yourself and keep stress as low as possible. (Mohrbacher and Stock, 1997) Delegate tasks at home and at work as much as possible so you don’t get overwhelmed as you adjust to life as a working mama!
8 . Hydrate!
Drink water instead of coffee, tea and soda. These drinks can deplete your body of hydration, and you desperately need to stay well-hydrated when creating milk for your baby. A cup of coffee may not hurt in the morning as long as you keep the water bottle with you and sip your way through the day. If your urine isn’t clear or light yellow and you experience dry mouth or lips, you’re not drinking enough water.
9. Don’t Neglect Sleep
Are you laughing at this one? It may feel difficult to get eight or more hours of sleep each night when your baby may not sleep through the night yet and you have a crowded schedule since going back to work. Sleep is still important to maintaining healthy milk flow, so think of creative ways to get a bit more rest.
10. Try Some Milk Production Boosting Tricks
What should you do if you notice that your milk supply declines after you start working again? Many women quickly reverse this problem by adding a pumping session or two to their schedule. You may also make sure that your baby is breastfeeding enough in the evening and at night. Decreased demand is the most likely problem for many women.
Other known milk boosters:
- Power pumping (Click here to learn how…)
- Cluster feeding (when with your baby!)
- Eating foods that increase breast milk production (Here is a list)
- Using herbs or supplements that are known to increase supply
- Try lactation cookies! (Click here for some favorites…)
There are a lot of details to coordinate before you can return to work, so give yourself as much time to prepare as possible. Not only will you have greater peace of mind when it’s time to walk out the door on that first day back, but your baby will have a much smoother experience as well. For instance, you may want to introduce your baby to his or her future caregiver before your first day back at the office arrives. Familiarity and a consistent routine is the best gift that you can give your little one in your absence.
- Do Lactation Cookies Really Increase Breast Milk Supply?
- 10 Mistakes Working Moms Make Pumping That May Decrease Their Supply
- Working Moms CAN Breastfeed
- Pumping at Work – Your Rights, Schedule and Tips for Working Moms
Breastfeeding State Laws, Natural Conference of State Legislatures, Accessed February 18, 2020. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx#Fed
Pumping Strategies for the Working Mother, Lactation Matters, Accessed February 18, 2020. https://lactationmatters.org/2012/05/17/pumping-strategies-for-the-working-mother/
Nighttime Breastfeeding Behavior Is Associated with More Nocturnal Sleep among First-Time Mothers at One Month Postpartum, National Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Accessed February 18, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927438/