Jennifer Pitkin, BS, IBCLC, RLC
As I approach my due date with my third child, I am already starting to worry about how I will feed my baby when I return to work. Too soon? Well, maybe. But, as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) working in private practice, I am all too aware of the challenges that returning to work presents for breastfeeding. But, my experience has shown me that with a little planning and preparation, the breastfeeding journey can continue on successfully after you get back to work. Read on for 5 tips for returning to work with confidence.
Tip #1: Pick the best pump for you
One thing is certain: if you plan to continue breastfeeding after you go back to work, you will need a reliable breast pump. Keep in mind that when it comes to breast pumps, one size doesn’t fit all. You will want to find a pump that fits your specific needs, which might take a little bit of research. Use your couch time with your baby to search the web for available pumping options. Read reviews and ask your friends.
If you will be away from your baby for more than a few pumping sessions during the week, you will probably want to invest in a double electric pump. A double electric pump allows you to pump both breasts simultaneously, which can save pumping time. Ideally, you will want to choose a “closed system” pump instead of an “open system” pump. To be designated as a closed system, a pump must include a barrier between the engine of the pump and the milk collection parts to prevent milk from backing up into the pump and getting stuck, allowing bacteria and mold to grow. An open system pump does not have this barrier and is impossible to completely clean and sterilize, and, therefore should not be shared or passed along from mom to mom. If you opt for an open system pump, be sure to purchase a brand new one. Even with closed system pumps, buying brand new is a good idea, as most closed system pumps have an expected motor life of about 1 year and a warranty period of about the same. By buying new, you will increase the likelihood that your pump won’t burn out before you are done with it.
Most insurance plans cover breast pumps. Before you purchase a pump, be sure to call your insurance company and ask which pumps are covered, which stores to buy from, and if you’ll need a prescription. Visit Healthy Baby Essentials to see if the pump you want is covered.
Tip #2: Start pumping
This part isn’t a contest, so take it easy on yourself and resist the temptation to compare yourself to other moms. Each and every mom has a unique story, and a different storage capacity (ability to “hold” a bunch of milk at a time). Be positively thrilled with whatever amount you pump in the beginning and celebrate! The goal here is to gradually increase supply to store small quantities to add up to a replaceable amount. You won’t pump much and that’s okay! You’re telling your body that you need to make just a bit more.
At least 2 weeks before you head back to work, begin pumping 2-3 times each day within 30 minutes or so of a feeding session for just a few minutes. This pumping part isn’t super complicated. You are pumping now to build up a small reserve. A deep freezer brimming with breast milk isn’t a requirement for returning to work. You just need a few day’s worth of milk, not a few months, as you will be pumping at work to replace what your baby eats while you are gone for the day. And, to help simplify the task of storing and freezing your breast milk, be sure to check out Fairhaven Health’s line of breastfeeding essentials. http://www.fairhavenhealth.com/breastfeeding-products.html
By the time your baby is 1 month old, and up until around 6 months old, he/she will consume roughly the same amount of breast milk. Your milk supply will only need to increase a little bit to allow you to start building a reserve in your freezer. The extra stimulation from the pump will automatically cause your body to increase your supply.
Tip #3: Introduce a bottle
To help ensure your first days back at work go as smoothly as possible, be sure to introduce a bottle at least 2 weeks before you return to work. Borrow some bottles from friends and family before buying so that you don’t get stuck with a bottle that doesn’t work for your baby. The best bottle is one that flows slowly and that your baby can latch onto with flanged (open wide, instead of rolled in) lips. Have a supportive caregiver attempt the initial bottle feedings. Feed your baby in a semi-upright position with the bottle held parallel to the floor. When your baby sucks, gently lift the bottle. Take occasional breaks and drop the bottle to a more horizontal position. This will help prevent your baby from filling up too quickly, and reduces the likelihood that he/she will overeat. The goal here is to simulate an actual breastfeeding session as closely as possible,
If your baby resists feeding from the bottle, here are a few tips to help him/her adjust:
• Try different temperatures of breast milk. Some babies love super cold milk!
• Put a couple of drops of breast milk on the nipple of the bottle.
• Face your baby away from the caregiver during the feeding. Bouncing and/or babywearing can help distract.
• Wrap the bottle in something that smells like you.
• Try feeding from a spoon or cup
There really IS a better bottle for your breastfed baby, and although most will claim on the box that they are in fact THE best when you are both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, that is not always the case. Find the bottle that works best for your baby.
Tip #4: Pumping at work
First things first, you will want to plan your workday so that you are sure to have breaks for pumping. Pump every few hours during your shift for 15-20 minutes, or as often as your baby would eat if you were with him/her. To maximize milk production, in this order, try massaging breasts before pumping, double pumping, massaging, and either hand expressing or single pumping (whichever works better for you). Relax. Put your feet up and know that you’re a pretty amazing mom. To help pass the time, watch videos of your baby nursing, listen to cheesy music, shop for clothes, and keep yourself distracted. And, remember, you only need to pump enough to replac e
In most cases, your right to pump at your place of employment is protected by either Federal law or State law or both. Be sure you know your rights, and make sure your employer is aware of the laws that protect breastfeeding women in the workplace. Also, it never hurts to present your employer with the facts about the cost-saving benefits of breastfeeding. Research shows that breastfeeding keeps health care costs down AND that breastfeeding moms take less sick days for themselves and their sick little ones.
Tip #5: Feed at the breast when you are with your baby
After a day away from your loved one, no doubt you will be missing the closeness that breastfeeding provides. In the evening and on your days off, make sure you continue to feed your baby at the breast as frequently as possible. The skin to skin contact, along with the sucking action of nursing at the breast, will help keep your supply up.
You and your baby’s feeding journey will be “you”nique. Keep your chin up as you acclimate to being away from your sweet little one. Here’s a good time to tag in your mama tribe for support. You’ll likely need affirmation that this time away is hard, AND you deserve to know that you’re doing a great job for your new little one. Think about your new baby, about what an amazing thing you’re doing for them. You ARE an amazing mom! It will be hard to feel that way when you’re away at work, but know that you’re going above and beyond for them. They’ll thrive on your milk. They’ll grow knowing their mom worked extra hard for them. They’ll be thrilled to see you when you’re done for the day. They’re so lucky to have you.
Jennifer is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in private practice and at a thriving midwifery practice in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, IA. She’s the mother to two previously breastfed children, and is expecting a third little one soon!