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Article originally published March 19, 2020.

Returning to work can be a stressful and emotional situation for a new mother. You may experience some conflicting emotions, such as guilt for leaving your new baby and maybe a bit of joy at the thought of getting out of the house and getting back to “life as usual” at work. It’s okay–you’re normal.

One of the hardest parts of the transition, however, may be establishing a new routine in regards to your breastfeeding and pumping schedule. It’s important you continue providing breastmilk for your newborn when you return to work: the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding through (at least) the first six months of your baby’s life for optimal health benefits. It may seem daunting, but you can do it. In no time at all, you will be an organized and efficient breastfeeding, working mom.

Getting Ready for the Return

Choosing someone to care for your baby is an important (and sometimes scary) decision. Some workplaces provide daycare–if this is the case, you will have the ideal opportunity to breastfeed at work. For many mothers, however, this is not an option. Therefore, invest in a good breast pump–you will thank yourself later. The more efficient the breast pump, the more abundant your breastmilk supply will be. Whether you rent or purchase your pump, try to select one that can pump both breasts simultaneously. Some commonly recommended brands include Medela and Ameda, but there are plenty of other options to choose from. Speak to your employer regarding the need for a quiet, clean space in which you can pump–some workplaces even have a designated lactation room. Once this is established, do a test run: be sure you know how to put together and use your pump, figure out how long it takes you to get to and from your pumping space and identify where you plan to store your milk.

Lastly, it may give you peace of mind to stockpile some breastmilk to use as “back- up” before returning to work. Try to have enough previous expressed breast milk for the first day that you will be away from your baby.

The Importance of Pumping

Plan to use your breast pump at work the same number of times the baby will be feeding while you’re gone; typically, this equates to two to four sessions, but may vary depending on the length of your shift. Try to maintain a routine in your scheduled pumping sessions and avoid skipping or postponing your pumping: doing this too many times may negatively impact your milk supply. If you have a long commute and have the ability to pump an additional time, take advantage of it; the more you pump, the more milk you make. All in all, make pumping a priority and do the best you can.

Finding the Perfect Fit

Be sure your breast pump kit fits you well. Having an ill-fitting flange can result in insufficient pumping. Your flange is well fitted if:

  • Your nipple moves in and out with each suction/release phase
  • Your breast empties all over: no pockets of hardness
  • None of the areola is pulled into the nipple tunnel
  • There is slight movement in the breast with each cycling of the pump
  • The nipple is not sore or cracked, and there is no pressure ring or blanched skin around the nipple.

Pumping Guidelines

Start the suction on low each time you pump and gradually increase the suction strength over the first 2-3 minutes: you’ll want it to be strong, but not uncomfortable.

Each pumping session should range from 10-20 minutes. Breast massage and a picture of your baby might help you relax before pumping. Continue pumping for a few minutes after the last drops of milk. If you happen to be pressed for time, frequent short sessions are better than one long session.

Storing Your Milk

Once you have finished pumping, be sure to seal the bottle of pumped breastmilk with a tightly fitting lid to ensure it doesn’t leak or spill. How you store the milk moving forward may depend on the length of time remaining in your work day. Click here for human milk storage guidelines.

The Fear of Leaking

For most women, leaking breastmilk at work is not a problem. With that said, it may happen occasionally and can be embarrassing. Luckily, there are a few ways to safeguard against mishaps. If you have a tendency to leak or are nervous about leaking, have a ready source of breast pads– either reusable or disposable–on hand.

You’re Not Alone

At times, you may feel overwhelmed by all that’s expected of you–you are, after all, superwoman! It’s always important to keep in mind that you are not alone. If you are having trouble with breastfeeding and milk let-down, consult a lactation specialist. If you are producing milk fine, but are having a hard time keeping up with all of life’s demands, get in touch with your support group. Your support group may be made up of family and friends, or it may consistent of other busy mothers just like you. Whatever the case, take comfort in knowing you are doing an incredible thing for yourself and for your baby and remember that you have people cheering you on.

For more information, contact a lactation consultant at 740-687-8953, or the childbirth educator at 740-687-8218.