A Breastfeeding Mom's Guide for Returning to Work

A Breastfeeding Mom's Guide for Returning to Work

If you're a parent, chances are you have heard more opinions and tips than you ever thought possible. For every question or concern you have, everyone has different advice or wants to share what their cousin or best friend did. Preparing for your return to work as a pumping mom is no exception. We'll share some of the best tips for stress-free and productive pumping in this breastfeeding mom's guide for returning to work.   

First, focus on breastfeeding.

In the early weeks, it is important to put your baby to the breast frequently to establish supply. It's best not to pump at all in the first few weeks, or until you feel that your breastfeeding is established and going well. There will be exceptions, of course, such as mothers who pump exclusively, who may need to supplement, or who have to return to work early. In general, however, feeling really comfortable with breastfeeding before you begin pumping can help reduce stress.   If you want to maximize breast milk in these early days (and also catch leaks), many moms like to use a milk catcher on the opposite breast while their baby is nursing. These milk catchers are simple to use and require no electricity. You'll be amazed at how much milk you can collect this way!  

Get comfortable with your breast pump before returning to work.

Breast pumps usually come with lots of parts and have multiple settings. The first time you pump can already be nerve-wracking, so becoming familiar with the equipment before it is needed is a good idea.   Your pump may have simple settings where you just choose between slow, medium, or fast, or it may be more customizable with vacuum and suction settings. Generally, starting low is good: you can always work your way up. The highest setting is usually not needed and can even cause pain for some.   When preparing to go back to work after baby, you'll also want to figure out whether your pump is portable, how it fits in your pump bag, and what kind of bottles are compatible with it.

Check flange fit.

Pump parts are not one-size-fits-all. No two breasts are exactly alike, and having the right size flange can make all the difference. For a good fit, your nipple should glide in and out of the flange easily. There shouldn't be any gapping in between, nor should your nipple be rubbing the sides. The breast shield should fit flush against your breast.  

Breast Pump Flange Fit Chart


Understand how much milk your baby will need

A breastfeeding mom's guide for returning to work wouldn't be complete without answering the question: "Will there be enough in the freezer to feed my baby while we are apart?" This is probably the concern that stresses nursing moms the most. Hopefully, this will be reassuring to you: You DO NOT need a freezer full of milk to return to work. While having a freezer stash can be comforting, it is not necessary. All you really need is enough breast milk for the next day. While you are pumping at work, you are replacing what your baby ate that day.   Your baby will need the equivalent of 1 to 1.5 ounces per hour that you are away. So, if you work a typical 8-9 hour workday, you shouldn't need more than 15 oz (and that’s on the high side) for that first day back, and then after that, you are replenishing what they've eaten every day. To learn more, check out our guide titled: Am I Making Enough Milk?   You may see lots of posts on social media from moms with countless pouches of breast milk stacked in their giant chest freezers, but there is no need for that. Breastfeeding is not a competition. Your body provides what your baby needs on a daily basis.  

How to get started pumping breast milk

Ready to start pumping? Need a break from being the only one who can feed your baby? Feeling totally overwhelmed with a baby who wants to nurse all the time? You are not alone!   Don't worry, you don't have to pump all the time. Adding one or two sessions each day will help you to save up. If it feels too stressful on a given day, give yourself a break and don't pump until the next.  

Potential Pumping Routines

Depending on the natural routine you and your baby have fallen into, the exact time when you pump can vary, but here are some sample pumping schedules.

Routine 1:

7 am or first morning nursing session Pump Nurse on demand throughout the day 9 pm or baby’s "bedtime" nursing session Pump Nurse on demand throughout the night

Routine 2:

7 am or first morning nursing session Pump Nurse on demand for rest of the day and through the night

Routine 3:

Nurse on demand throughout the day 9 pm or baby’s "bedtime" nursing session Pump Nurse on demand throughout the night

Routine 4:

Nurse on demand throughout the morning Nurse before baby's longest naptime and then pump while they are sleeping Nurse on demand throughout the remaining day and night

Routine 5:

Nurse on demand and pump on the side that your baby is not eating from   There is plenty of room to be flexible here. These routines are general suggestions. If pumping in the morning is easiest on one day, but pumping at bedtime is what works best the next, that's totally okay! Although you may wish to pump more than this, just one or two sessions on top of breastfeeding will be plenty. Please do not feel like you need to be tied to your pump during your entire maternity leave! Enjoy your time at home with your baby, and savor those precious moments. You will get your fill of pumping as soon as you're back at work.   One last thing you will want to know as you prepare are the guidelines for storing your pumped milk. Remember to always thaw pouches of frozen milk in the refrigerator or by placing them in warm water. Use a breast milk/bottle warmer like the Kozii SafeHeat Pro, or water no warmer than 140 degrees F, to heat the milk for feeding. Do not microwave or boil breast milk.  

Breastmilk Storage Guidelines Chart

(Adapted from official CDC Human Milk Storage Guidelines)

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