Breastfeeding and Working: It Can Be Done!
For many new moms, anxiety sets in as maternity leave comes to an end. Moms who prefer that their child continue to breast milk feed may wonder how to make it work once they are back on the job. It’s tough enough leaving your child with a caregiver, but how can you continue to breastfeed your child too?
According to Dr. Joan Y. Meek, director, general academic pediatrics at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women in Orlando, FL, the key is to plan ahead to ensure a smooth transition between maternity leave and working full-time.
Having enough breast milk for your child while you are at work is imperative. One to two weeks before you head back to work, express milk at least once each day, freezing the breast milk for future use. You’ll want to have at least enough milk on hand for your caregiver to feed your baby your first few days at work.
“Build up a little stock in the freezer before you go back to work,” says Tammy Whitehouse of Akron, OH. “There’s no greater stress on a mom’s emotions or milk supply than the pressure to produce every day to assure there’s enough milk to leave behind for the next day.”
Regularly pumping and storing your surplus milk will not only keep your milk production high so that you are able to provide your baby with milk each day, but also will condition your body to respond to the pumping sensation with a milk ejection reflex.
When pumping both at home and on the job, it’s important to be aware of your breast milk’s “shelf life.” According to Lactation Education Resources in Fairfax, VA, breast milk can be stored for eight hours at room temperature, 72 hours in a refrigerator, and three months in a standard freezer.
“If you do decide to freeze breast milk, store it in heavy plastic or glass containers or in specially designed freezer bags,” says Ann Douglas, author of “The Mother of All Baby Books: The Ultimate Guide to Your Baby’s First Year”. “If you’re adding fresh breast milk to milk that has already been frozen, be sure to refrigerate the freshly pumped breast milk before adding it to the frozen breast milk.”
Once you go back to work, you’ll need to pump your milk at least two to three times during your work day, particularly if you plan to exclusively breast milk feed your baby. Frequent pumping will maintain your milk supply, while helping to prevent painful breast infections, such as mastitis, which can be caused when you suddenly decrease the number of times you empty milk from your breasts each day.
“If a mother does not pump often enough, she becomes engorged initially. This increases the risk of developing mastitis,” says Meek. “If the excess milk is not removed regularly, the breasts will begin to produce less milk.”
Before you go back to work, you’ll need to choose the right breast pump for you and your work situation. Robyn Eckard of Mira Loma, CA spent the first week back at work stressed out trying to get her battery-operated pump to work. “I spent more time pumping than working,” says Eckard, who later purchased an electric Medela Pump in Style®, which made it easier for her to pump during her busy workday.
A double pump, such as the Pump in Style, which allows you to express milk from both breasts at the same time works well since this allows you to collect more milk in less time. Electric breast pumps can be rented or purchased from your local hospital, and are available online.
While a good quality breast pump is important, a photo of your baby and a comfortable place to relax may make it easier to express milk in the workplace. These encourage oxytocin production, helping breast milk to readily flow.
Surviving the First Week
- Start back to work in the middle of the work week, which will make it easier for everyone to adjust to the change.
- Stockpile milk. The first week back at work will likely be stressful and exhausting. Having a back-up supply will put you at ease.
- Be sure to wear clothing that either unbuttons in the front or can be pulled up from the waist, enabling easy access for pumping.
- Introduce your baby to at least one bottle a day a week or two prior to your return to work so that he is used to receiving breast milk from a bottle.
- Do a trial run with your child care arrangements so that you and your baby know the routine before you go back to work.