By Ali Weatherford

Last week was the first week of National Breastfeeding Month. The theme was “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a Difference for Working Parents.” I was very fortunate to stay home with my babies for a pretty long time, so I didn’t have to experience some of the struggles that people often go through to maintain breastfeeding while working. This is a HUGE issue for most people and an important one to address.

How to Prepare

If you know you will be going back to work at a certain point, and want to continue breastfeeding, there are some things you can do to prepare to make this transition.

  • Take a breastfeeding class and maybe even a pumping class! You can do this before the baby comes, and it can help you know how to be best prepared.
  • Order your breast pump. Insurance should cover the purchase of your pump. If you are told that they can’t send you the pump until after your baby is born, you can push back or consider using a service like Aeroflow, Babylist, or Yummy Mummy to help you get your pump easily and quickly. They do not charge you for the service. They are usually an in-network supplier of breast pumps and parts, and do the work of getting the pump covered for you by your insurance. Make sure to ask to upgrade to a particular pump that you want, even if it’s not on the list of covered pumps. Sometimes they will agree,if you’re willing to cover the price difference.
  • Practice using your pump! Read the directions and just look over all the pieces of the unit. It will seem a lot less intimidating when it’s actually time to use it if you’ve gotten familiar with it first.
  • Talk to your employer about your intention to breastfeed and find out about how they can support you.

It takes most people several weeks to feel comfortable with breastfeeding and to have a good reliable milk supply. What I mean by “reliable”, is that your milk supply won’t be so easily affected by changes in routine.

At first, going too long without breastfeeding can make a significant difference in the amount of milk you make. Newborn babies are designed to eat OFTEN, and when you respond to their hunger cues quickly and reliably, you can usually create a good milk supply. After a few weeks of this, babies will start eating a little less often, and you can sometimes stretch the time in between feedings without doing harm to your milk supply.

Pumping Milk

If you get a couple of months off work, that might mean you don’t have to do too much pumping to have milk for your baby while they’re with a caregiver. You may only have to pump once or twice while you’re at work, and maybe another time in the morning before you go or at night before you go to sleep. With a good pump, you might be able to express enough milk with these 2-3 pumping sessions to feed your baby while you’re at work the next day. That might also be enough to maintain a good milk supply, as long as you’re also breastfeeding plenty when you’re with your baby.

A good pump means it works for you! For a lot of people that means an electric pump that allows you to extract milk from both breasts at the same time. Some are battery powered or easy to use even if you have to be moving around or working at the same time. It’s also important to get the correct flange size so you’re sure to get the most milk for your effort. A lactation consultant can help you be sure you’re using the right one, or try using our sizing guide.

After a few weeks of this schedule, you might be able to pump a little less. You might not need that steady routine of breast stimulation to maintain your milk supply. If pumping at work is really hard, you may be able to do less or even eliminate those pumping sessions. You might instead choose to pump more on the weekends. You can stock up on milk that way, and have enough to send with your baby during the week. As long as you are breastfeeding often when you are with your baby, your milk supply will likely adjust to this new routine.

If pumping feels manageable to you and it is working, keep doing it! It’s a great way to maintain your milk supply AND feed your baby when you go back to work. Pumping at work should not be impossible. We have laws to protect parents who need to express milk at work for their babies, including the most recent PUMP ACT.

You should be provided with some break times for pumping, and a decent place that is private and NOT a bathroom to do the pumping. Even if pumping is not IMPOSSIBLE for you, it can sometimes be too hard and people wonder if they’ll be able to keep it up. A lot of people do not keep it up. It’s just not worth it.

Your good mental health is extremely important to your whole family. If pumping is causing you a lot of stress, you might have more problems at work and at home, and it might even mean that you can’t produce enough milk. High levels of stress are shown to decrease milk production. If this is the case for you, there are other options too.

Breastfeeding Does NOT Have to be an “All or Nothing” Option

There are a lot of different ways to handle breastfeeding and work. The key to maintaining a good milk supply is making sure you are removing enough milk from the breast every day. Pumping at work as often as you were feeding your baby at home is the best way to guard your milk supply and make sure you always have enough to feed your growing baby. Adding one pumping session at home, in addition to pumping at work, is an even better option for guaranteeing a great milk supply. If this can’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you can’t continue to breastfeed! There are other options:

  • You could pump often at work AT FIRST, then gradually do it a little less so you won’t be as likely to experience some of the negative effects of stopping abruptly like engorgement, leaking, mastitis, and clogged ducts. Maybe you pump 3-4 times per shift at first, then you take away one of those sessions per week until you’re down to just one time. If you are exclusively pumping, you might not want to taper off as quickly. If you can do this gradually enough and you had a very reliable supply to begin with, you might not need to supplement with formula.
  • You could pick a work pumping routine and just stick to it for a few months. You could choose to have as many pump breaks as you can comfortably manage. Maybe you have one, two or three pumping breaks per work day and stay consistent with it. It’s possible that if you’re very consistent, and you continue to feed your baby often or pump regularly at home, your milk supply can adjust. In that case you won’t need to supplement with formula.
  • Depending on when you have to go back to work and how reliable your milk supply is, some people are able to stop pumping at work completely after just a few weeks without too much consequence. If you have three months of maternity leave, and you pump at work for another six or eight weeks, you might be able to not pump at work at all. If you pump some breast milk in the mornings before work, and some on the weekends, that might be enough to get your baby through without needing to supplement your feedings with formula.
  • If you need to go back to work quickly and/or pumping at work will be too difficult, you might choose to provide your baby’s caregiver with formula for the time you’re at work, and then breastfeed and/or pump at home. Any amount of breast milk is beneficial. Even if you can’t provide breast milk exclusively to your baby for one or two years, your baby will benefit greatly from the breast milk they receive. Even if all you can manage is a few months, weeks, days, or even just a few drops, that amount of breast milk will also benefit your baby. Most people don’t think to try a hybrid option like this.

A lot of people believe that if pumping at work is too hard, you just have to stop breastfeeding completely. This doesn’t have to be the case. Sometimes when people stop pumping, the milk supply will dwindle until it’s gone. But even if that does happen, you were able to offer the milk until it was gone, if you continue to breastfeed when you’re home. You also likely won’t have to deal with issues of engorgement or pain while you wait for the milk to dry up. It will just gradually lessen until it’s gone.

On the other hand, it might not go away at all. You might have less milk than before, which means you might need to continue to use formula even on days when you’re not at work, but you can also breastfeed as often as you want and continue to provide breast milk.

These hybrid strategies can be a great solution for a lot of families. You still get to breastfeed, but you don’t have to deal with the stress of maintaining a very full milk supply while trying to work. However you choose to do it, you are still doing an amazing thing by providing any amount of breast milk for your baby.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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