Going back to work after having your baby is a big transition. Planning ahead can ease the stress of returning to work. Having information along with some tips and tricks for while you are away from your baby will help set you up for success. Preparation before your return to work can make a big difference. You will still be able to continue your breastfeeding relationship after you return to work.
Know your rights
There are federal and state laws for parents taking leave after the birth of their baby as well as your rights when returning to work. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have an obligation to provide a reasonable amount of time for you to take a break for pumping as well as 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 what your workload and responsibilities will be when you start back with your boss ahead of time. Easing back in might be a solution making the transition smooth and successful for everyone. If you do 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 is going to be new for your baby so working part of a week to start allows you to reflect and make adjustments to your schedule moving forward.
How to start saving milk for your return to work
The first 6-8 weeks of breastfeeding is 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 of time, 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 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 with adding pumping in is the morning time when your breasts are naturally more full
- Having a really large 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 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 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 are able to nurse during their lunch time break.
- Using a Milk Calculator for a starting point is helpful. You can make adjustments as you go.
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 that will help them best care for your baby while you are at work.
- Print out Human Milk Storage Guidelines for them to have
- Discuss and demonstrate paced bottle feeding, why it is important and the preferred way to feed a bottle
- Give them a written plan for how often to feed your baby and what to do if your baby is hungry more often
- Keep communication ongoing and regular
- Do a dry run before you go back to work. It gives you an opportunity to practice and make any adjustments to your plan
Pumping at work
- Plan to pump every 3 hours while away from your baby. For an 8 hour work day, it may mean you are away from your baby 8-10 hours depending on breaks and travel time. This means you will need to plan on pump 3 times while at work
- Maximize your milk output when you pump by using heat, breast compression and breast massage
- Look at photos or watch videos of your baby. This will help release oxytocin, “the love hormone” encouraging milk ejection or let downs and more pumped milk. Stress impacts oxytocin release and inhibits the milk ejection reflex.
- Listen to relaxing music, a pumping meditation or maybe watch funny videos to help you relax while pumping
- Schedule when you will pump and stick to it. It is easy when you go back to work to get caught up with tasks, 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 in doing so rather than caught off guard. It also lets you show off a photo of your adorable bundle of joy!
Pack your bags
Make sure everything is ready to go the night before making the next morning easier and not rushed.
- Pump and pump parts, tubing, duckbills, flanges, power cord/battery. Replace parts as needed so everything is working at its best.
- Milk storage containers and labels
- Ice or cold packs
- Flange Pumping Spray for a more comfortable pumping experience
- Snacks and water to stay hydrated during the day
- Extra breast pads and your heat pack
- Dress in layers to add some protection if you leak some milk in between pumping. Pack extra clothes just in case
- Check the TSA guidelines if you are traveling with breast milk.
- Ask the daycare or babysitter what they require you to bring for your baby
- Diapers and wipes
- Bottles and milk clearly labeled with your baby’s full name and the date
- Extra clothes
- A written plan of your baby’s typical routine
- Emergency contact list with phone numbers on it in case they needed to reach you or someone you have approved
- Snacks if your baby has started solids labeled with their full name and the date
- Toy or teether your baby likes
Reconnecting with your baby after 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 you 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 some 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 during this time. Remember to be flexible. Returning to work looks a little different for everyone and it may take some experimenting to figure out what works the best for you and your baby.
Wondering if there is any different recommendation for people that are part-time. I work 3 days a week and I don’t pump on my days off. Is it better to do some pumping on my days off to keep the body used to the pump or does it not matter?
Appreciate everything that you do/, I really find is information helpful, thanks!!
Legendairy Milk replied:
Great question! Have you checked out our Live Chat: Breastfeeding and Pumping when returning to work with Tracy Corey, RN IBCLC, and Jenn Green: https://www.instagram.com/tv/Cd6MDGspnCd/ 😊
Good post! It would also be nice to address washing pump parts (add a clean bowl or dishpan and dish soap to clean pump parts to your pump equipment to bring to work) or the fridge method to cut down on the number of times you have to wash. Personally, I bring two sets of pump parts to the office and a wet/dry bag to store one set in the fridge between uses. The second set is in case I am working away from the office and pumping in the car or someplace else where I don’t have easy access to a fridge.