Ask the experts: Nursing after returning to work

By Published On: February 20th, 2012

  This month’s topic for our Ask the Experts column […]

This month’s topic for our Ask the Experts column is breastfeeding, and here today to talk about continuing to nurse after returning to work is Helen Anderson, registered nurse, lactation educator and co-founder of Milkies.

Back to work and breastfeeding—You can do it!
The end of maternity leave doesn’t mean the end of breastfeeding. In fact, pumping milk for your baby can be a welcome break and help you feel connected to your little one during the work day. When I was a nursing mom working 12 hour shifts in a hectic ER, pumping was a quiet time to focus on my son and the reasons I was working. If your job allows you to bring your baby to work, or your husband stops by when baby needs lunch, consider yourself lucky. The majority of moms will be pumping, or expressing, milk at work.
Plan ahead
Adding pumping sessions into a busy work day will be challenging, but commitment and planning can help your transition go more smoothly. Before taking your maternity leave, find out about your options for pumping when you return. The location of the lactation room, where you will store your milk and rinse your pump parts are all important to know. If possible, ask a co-worker with experience to give you a quick orientation of her pumping routine. She may have some valuable advice to share. (Your right to nurse or pump at work is federally protected, find out more here.)
When baby arrives
When your baby is born, establish a strong nursing relationship. Don’t be tempted to use your maternity leave to catch up on a work or household project; try to keep commitments to a minimum. Caring for a newborn takes all of your time and energy. Start pumping and storing milk when your baby is 4 weeks old, it is normal to pump a few ounces at first. You can use a Milk-Saver when your milk comes in (usually 2-5 days after baby is born). Introduce a bottle of freshly pumped milk at this time. Use a double sided electric pump. You don’t need to splurge on an expensive pump—cheaper brands can work just as well, or sometimes better.
Getting ready for your first day back
Practice for baby—Leave your baby for 3-4 hours with the person who will be caring for him (grandparents, day care, friend) at least 1 week prior to return to work day. If there are any problems, you will have time to address them.
Practice for you—Go through your new morning routine. Will you nurse your baby at home or when you drop him off or both? How long will it take to get you and the baby ready? Do your clothes fit your new figure and camouflage leaky breasts?
Ease into your new routine
Start back on a Wednesday or Thursday—you will have a short work week and avoid the craziness of Mondays. It may be easier for both you and your baby to manage emotions if you are working a short week. By the way – I had a brief cry every morning for the first week I was back at work.
Managing your time and coworkers
Be prepared for comments from coworkers about pumping breaks, milk in the fridge or other possible areas of resentment. Try to laugh with your colleagues, “This is my breast milk, please don’t use it as coffee creamer!” If you store your milk in a shared fridge, use a cooler pouch or paper bag to keep milk separate from other food. Plan to pump every 2 to 3 hours and be sure to thank coworkers that cover for you.
On your days off nurse as much as possible to keep a strong milk supply. A pump doesn’t empty your breast as effectively as a baby—so put baby to the breast when you can. Ask your baby’s caregiver not to feed your baby within an hour of pick-up time so you can breastfeed right away.
Just like any new job the first days and weeks can be the hardest. Make a commitment to stick with breastfeeding and pumping for 30 days at a time. Juggling your responsibilities at work with your new life as a mom can seem overwhelming at times, but it only last a few months and the benefits last a lifetime.
Helen Anderson is a registered nurse, lactation educator and co-founder of Milkies. Her articles on breastfeeding, emergency care for young children and evidence based parenting have been featured on BabyMeTV, Breezy Mama, and many other popular websites and blogs. Her blog and newsletter, Milkies Lactation Education, can be found at Helen has 2 sons ages 4 and 6 and is expecting another in August 2012.