Lenora and I frequently work with moms having to return to work. Their concerns are universal — “how do I build a supply” “is this the right pump” “does it fit properly” “how do I store milk” ”what if my workplace is not supportive“.
The working mom transition can be incredibly stressful. My very first tip is to not wait until just a week or two prior to your return date to start thinking about it. Start early and plan ahead! The best way to plan ahead is to get help early on with establishing a strong and abundant milk supply! A strong milk supply is your golden ticket to sustaining a strong pumping routine and storing lots of milk! And the best way to establish a strong supply is nurse often, frequently and with a great latch — let baby be your “best” pump and do the work of building a strong supply! This way, when you start to pump – after your supply is well established — you can ease into the pumping routine with confidence.
If you have the ability, negotiate with your employer to return to work well after your milk supply has been established. I do recommend waiting 4 – 6 weeks before you even start thinking about pumping & storing milk for a return to work. That may seem obvious, but many women are in the difficult position of having to return to work so very soon, after only a few weeks post partum. Negotiating maternity leave in our country is way too complicated a conversation to have here and now, but hopefully your employer is able to work with you to make your return as easy as it can be. Part of that negotiation should be returning mid-week! Don’t start on a Monday – pick a Wednesday or a Thursday, so you have a short work week that first week back. Even better, see if you can negotiate working from home or part time for the first few weeks.
Consider that when you do return to work you’ll likely have to pump at least twice while you’re at work, and possibly three or four times during the day to keep up your supply. A good rule of thumb is that the number of times you need to express milk will probably be equal to the number of feedings your baby will need while you are away. If breastfeeding is well established, these pumping times should fall into place quite logically during the day. You will begin to see a pattern with how and when you feel full and need to pump. Consider way ahead of time what your schedule will be at work, what break times you may take and where you will be pumping. A great resource for researching law and policy on breastfeeding, workplace & pumping issues is breastfeedinglaw.com.
One thing to keep in mind is that getting into a rhythm with pumping is easier said than done when you’re still home with baby! After all, if baby appears hungry you’re going to offer your breast, so when and how are you going to squeeze in extra pumping during your regular day? Rest assured, any pumping or hand expressing you do now will only help to get your body ready for the regular pattern of pumping you’ll be doing once you return to work. I do recommend you invest in a good, high quality pump. With pumping, you get what you pay for. Quality pumps are expensive, but 100% worth it when it comes to building and maintaining a supply — when pumping day in and day out for a year or more you want a great machine!
One of the benefits many women find of pumping and bottle feeding during the day is the joy and connection that breastfeeding provides when you return home! You *can* have the best of both worlds. You may even find your night time nursing increases, as baby is thrilled to have you home and there to snuggle with all night long. This is normal and a real blessing. So embrace it! Interesting bit of hormonal info — prolactin (the hormone that encourages milk production) levels are higher during night feedings, so if you snuggle with your baby and are readily available to nurse and cuddle at night, it will only help in maintaining your milk supply! Night nursing is excellent, especially if you can get into a groove with sleeping and resting so you don’t feel exhausted by the night time feedings.
Similarly, weekends are for breastfeeding only if you can! Feed “on demand”. This way you are protecting your milk supply and nurturing the time at the breast. Weekends can “re-set” your milk supply too if a long, exhausting week has left you feeling as if your supply has taken a dip. Look at the weekend as a way to just nurse around the clock, and boost that supply.