You’ve decided to breastfeed and it is going well. You have been following the right diet, you have mastered the latch, and now it’s time to go back to work. What do you do? Can you continue to give your baby and yourself what you both need, and master your busy schedule? Of course! Let’s talk about what you need to know to get your game plan in place.
When to Go Back
Aim to go back during the middle of the work week. This will allow you time to adjust to the change in pace without having the stress of the new projects starting on Monday. Starting in the middle of the week will also give you a break over the weekend to decompress over the stress of your new identity as a working mom.
How to Prepare Yourself
Prior to your return to work, ensure that you have all of the supplies you will need to pump at work. You need to ensure that you have a place to store your liquid gold. It can be a refrigerator with allotted space at your place of employment, or a cooler with ice packs to keep your milk fresh. Make sure that you have plenty of bottles or storage bags for your milk along with your trusty pump. Just like you pack an extra outfit for your baby when you head out for the day, you should pack an extra blouse/sweater/blazer for yourself in case of leakage. Cotton nursing pads worn next to your breast in your bra are a good plan to. If you can, plan ahead and scope out the scene to find an ideal place to pump. This will allow you to focus on everything else. You will need a place with an electric outlet and a place to sit, ideally a quiet space to allow you to relax to allow your milk to flow.
Getting Enough Breast Milk For Day One
Once you’re off and running you can pump each day for the next but how do you get enough breast milk set aside for day 1? How much will you need? Depending on your baby’s age and size, the amount will vary but a rough rule of thumb is babies take about 1/2 ounce per pound per feeding every 3 hours. In other words, a 10 pound baby will take around 5 ounces per feeding every 3 hours. Breast fed infants tend to take less but this is a decent goal to shoot for.
To build up a supply of breast milk for day 1, start about 2-3 weeks before you go back to work and express milk from both breasts after your first morning feeding and again 90 minutes later. Your milk supply is greatest in the morning and you will replenish the milk in time for the next feeding. You will eventually start making more milk in the mornings due to the increased breast output and you will start building a storehouse of milk.
Pump it Up
Make sure you have tried out your pump prior to the first day back at work. This will allow you to be most at ease, so your milk can flow, and you can get back to work. Depending on the time it takes to pump you will need an average of 20-40 minutes per session. The difference in time will depend on your pumping method, manual vs electric, single vs double pump. Practicing pumping at home between nursing your baby helps your body to adjust to the mechanical stimulation of the pump, instead of the natural sensation of your baby. Try to avoid working during pumping sessions, you may not be able to fully relax if you are working and your milk supply may be affected by this. While pumping thinking about your little one, looking at pictures, or even watching video clips of your child will help to calm you and trigger your milk letdown.
Introducing the Bottle
While you are at work your baby will have to eat from an artificial nipple. Introduction of the bottle prior to your return to work makes for a smoother transition. So, when should you introduce the bottle? The ideal time is around 3-4 weeks of age. You don’t have to jump immediately to starting feeds via the bottle, you can allow your baby to play with the nipple or bottle itself. Gradually you can introduce bottle feeding, by placing your pumped breastmilk into the bottle. Don’t be dismayed if your baby does not have an interest in taking bottle feeds from you though. Sometimes your stubborn little one will only feed from other caregivers, expecting you to give the real thing and nurse directly. However, being consistent and giving a bottle feed at least once every couple days will help smooth the transition when you return to work.
Fresh pumped milk is stays good at room temperature for a maximum of four hours. If you are working a full day, the use of ice/freezer packs can carry you through the day. Refrigerated breastmilk is good for an average of 5-7 days. Don’t forget that freezing your milk is an option as well. You can keep your frozen milk for 3-6 months. Remember when thawing your milk, that it must be used within a day, so don’t thaw large quantities that your baby won’t be able to finish. Once breast milk has been frozen it may look a little different and smell a little different too. It is still good!
Preserving the Mother-Child Bond
It can be stressful for both mom and baby to be away from each other for the work day. In order to keep your relationship strong, nurse your baby during the evening and if your baby still needs to be fed during the night, night feeds. Also, feed your baby right before you leave for work. You can continue to pump to store extra milk when you are at home over the weekend, but nurse your baby to keep an optimum milk supply. Remember, the natural cues from your baby are more effective in keeping your milk supply adequate.
You got this! There will be times that you will be frustrated, and wonder why you put yourself through this, and that’s okay. You can push through it and make it work! Find a good support system, whether it’s friends and family, or an online group; there’s someone out there that can understand your joy and pain.