A lot of us have been fortunate enough to be able to work from home during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. In the next few weeks and months, however, businesses will begin to open and allow workers to come back. Whether you are a new mom or a seasoned one, if you are planning to go back to work while breastfeeding in the near future, now is the time to put together your strategy.
As a word of caution, it is important to accept that staying on top of your feeding/pumping schedule will certainly become more difficult as you spend more time away from home and away from your little one. We know how hectic work schedules can be, especially if you are just coming back from maternity leave (or quarantine). There are a lot of breastfeeding-related things to consider:
- How do I build up a milk supply?
- Will my baby take to a bottle?
- When and where will I pump at work?
But don’t stress, we are going to cover all of these things here today!
One of the first things we recommend doing to prepare for returning to work is to begin stocking up on your milk supply. We suggest you do this as soon as your supply becomes established (this occurs around 2-3 weeks postpartum). Having a stockpile of milk gives you a little bit of a safety net while you get used to trying to pump at work. The best time to pump for storing is between your baby’s feedings. You can safely store your breast milk in a standard refrigerator freezer for 3-6 months and a chest freezer for 6-12 months. Just make sure to store them in the back of the freezer and not in or near the door.
*Tip: Date all of your milk and use the oldest milk first. This is important for two reasons:
- the quality of your milk will slowly degrade the longer it is frozen
- the nutritional needs of your baby changes as they grow and the quality of your breast milk changes in order to meet those needs. Therefore, if you are feeding your 9-month-old breast milk you pumped when they were 2 months old they may not be getting all of the nutrition they need
2. Practice Bottle Feeding
Get your baby used to taking a bottle as soon as possible (around 3 weeks old). To avoid confusion, it is best to have someone else bottle-feed the baby. This is a great chore for the non-breastfeeding parent! Have your partner bottle feed the baby 2-3 times a week. This will not only give them time to bond, but your baby will also develop familiarity with the different styles of feeding. We cannot stress this step enough. If your baby is not used to being bottle-fed, they may protest and refuse to eat when you are away. And that’s fun for no one.
*Tip: A great time to pump for your stockpile is when your baby is practicing bottle-feeding
3. Talk to your Boss
To ease your transition back to work, discuss your needs with your boss or supervisor before you return. Let them know how often you will need to pump (on average you will need 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a day). Block off time on your calendar to pump so you don’t find yourself trapped in a meeting or forgetting because you are wrapped up in a project. Find out if there is a lactation room available or if you can arrange to use an empty office or conference room to pump. Do you need/have access to refrigeration facilities? If possible, arrange for a designated drawer or shelf space where you can store your milk. If you have your own office or workspace, ask if it is possible to arrange for a small refrigerator.
4. Practice with Designated “Work” Days
Choose one day each week several weeks before your expected return to work and if possible (and safe), go to work, even for a few hours. This will be beneficial for several reasons:
- it will help your baby get comfortable with spending more time bottle-feeding
- it will give you the opportunity to work out any “bugs” in your action plan ahead of time rather than on the first day back where you will undoubtedly be overwhelmed with work – and emotions
Preparing to go back to work while breastfeeding is a challenge. According to recent statistics, 66% of nursing mothers return to the workforce with the intention of pumping their breast milk. However, after the first few months, barely 13% continue. This sharp decline is because of a lack of flexibility in the workplace, tension amongst co-workers, and an increase in work-related stress. BUT, as we covered in this post, the best way to set yourself up for success is to prepare, prepare, prepare. Also, you have rights as a breastfeeding mother, which are clearly outlined by The United States Department of Labor.
The first year is very important in your baby’s development and if breastfeeding is part of your plan, eliminating as much stress as possible before you return to work will allow for greater chances of success!
Breastfeeding can be challenging in any scenario. If you need assistance, education, or insight on breastfeeding, we are here for you. We offer in-person and phone consultations. Click here to learn more.