Going back to work after having your baby is a big transition. Planning ahead by gathering information, knowing your rights, and some preparation will help set you up for success. While you are away from your baby, many tips and tricks can ease the stress of returning to work. Time spent preparing for your return to work can make a big difference and make your transition back to work smooth so you can continue to enjoy your breastfeeding relationship.
Know your rights
There are federal and state laws for parents taking leave after their baby's birth and rights you have when returning to work. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are obligated to provide a reasonable amount of time for you to take a break for pumping and a private space to pump that is not a bathroom. These rights are in place until your baby is one year old. State laws vary from state to state. In 2023, a new bill was signed called the PUMP Act, which stands for Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers will be enforced and gives more people in more jobs protections for pumping at work as well as actions to take if their employer does not comply. (4)
Talk with your boss
Discuss pumping at work with your employer before your return. Letting your employer know when you will need to pump can help them understand your needs. Work together to set up a schedule that works for you both.
Consider your options and how you will transition back to work. Some parents begin by working from home or part-time at home and part-time in the office. Discuss ahead of time with your boss what your workload and responsibilities will be when you return. Easing back in might be a solution to making the transition smooth and successful for everyone. If you return full-time, consider having your first week begin in the middle of the week. Getting accustomed to the new routine can be tiring for you and will be new for your baby, so working part of a week to start allows you to reflect and adjust your schedule moving forward.
How to start saving milk for your return to work
The first 6-8 weeks of breastfeeding are driven primarily by your hormones. During this time, the body is getting to know and adjust to how much milk is needed to feed your baby. Frequent milk removal signals to keep up the milk making and establishes your supply. After this beginning period, your milk supply is informed by demand. It is recommended to wait until about 6 weeks before adding pumping in to start storing milk, but it can be done sooner if needed.
You will want to begin adding in pumping, and storing your milk 2-3 weeks before going back to work.
A great time to begin adding pumping in is the morning when your breasts are naturally more full.
Having a huge stash is not necessary. When you return to work, you will be pumping that day for the milk your baby needs the next day.
Enough milk stored for 2 full days allows you to have a little buffer of extra milk.
Milk storage guidelines (1)
Always wash your hands and storage containers before pumping and storing your milk
Label the storage container with the date and your baby’s full name
Store 2-4 ounces per container. Smaller amounts are better, so milk is not wasted. Have a couple of bags of milk with only 1 ounce as well (3)
Freshly pumped milk can stay at room temperature for 4 hours (up to 6-8 hours)
In the back of the refrigerator for 4 days (up to 8 days)
In the freezer section of a refrigerator for 9 months
In a deep freezer for 12 months
How much milk will the baby need
Babies take between 2-4 oz per feeding, adding up to between 20-30 oz per day, with the average being 24 oz. (2)
You will need to send milk for each feeding your baby will be away from you.
Plan on being able to nurse right before leaving your baby for the workday and nurse when you see your baby right after work is done for the day.
Some moms work close enough or at home and can nurse during their lunchtime break.
Using a Milk Calculator as a starting point is helpful. You can make adjustments as you go.
Pumping at work
Plan to pump every 3 hours while away from your baby. For example, an 8-hour work day may mean you are away from your baby for 8-10 hours, depending on breaks and travel time. This means you will need to plan on pumping 3 times while at work.
Look at photos or watch videos of your baby. This encourages oxytocin release, “the love hormone,” triggering the milk ejection reflex or let downs and yielding more pumped milk. Stress impacts oxytocin release and inhibits the milk ejection reflex.
Listen to relaxing music, do a pumping meditation, or watch funny videos to help you relax while pumping.
Schedule when you will pump and stick to it. When you return to work, getting caught up with tasks is easy, so build pumping times into your daily calendar.
Have some responses ready for the questions from co-workers. This is a great time to share information and feel prepared to do so rather than be caught off guard. It also lets you show off a photo of your adorable bundle of joy!
Your baby’s care provider
Talk with whoever will be watching your baby before your return to work. Let them know your expectations, schedule, and any information to help them best care for your baby while you are at work.
You did it! Your day is done, and you and your baby are reunited. It is normal for you both to have missed each other. Sometimes babies will make up for missed daytime snuggles during the night. They may want to nurse a little more often when you are together.
Babywearing is a great way to meet their need to be held more and to still be able to get ready for the next day.
Allow for breastfeeding as often as they ask.
As babies get older and are busy playing and exploring their world while you are at work, they may not eat as much during the day and will want to nurse more during the evening and middle of the night.
Take a bath together. It will help ease the tension of the day for you and reconnects you and your baby.
Infant massage is a way to spend quality time together and decompress from the day. It can be a nice before-bed routine.
Be gentle on yourself as you and your baby adjust to your return to work. Remember to be flexible. Returning to work looks different for everyone, and it may take some experimenting to figure out what works best for you and your baby.