Heading back to work post-baby can be an emotional and anxiety-filled time. For a nursing mom who wishes to continue breastfeeding during this time you may be wondering how it is possible to keep your milk supply up while away from your baby.
I’m passing along some tips I learned as a fellow nursing mom and pediatric dietitian, which will hopefully help you make a smooth transition back to work, while still feeding your breast milk to your baby.
If you plan on continuing to offer your baby breastmilk during the day after you return to work, it’s important that you keep your milk supply up by pumping, especially if your baby is still nursing several times a day. Investing in a good pump can help to cut down on pumping time and maximize the milk that you can save. If at all possible, purchase or rent a good quality hands-free electric double pump. If you’re planning to stop daytime breastmilk feedings, you’ll still likely need to hand-express during the day if you’re feeling too full at first, so that you don’t become engorged or uncomfortable.
Make sure that all of your pumping supplies are washed and ready in your pumping bag the night before a work day. There’s nothing worse than realizing that you’ve forgotten a crucial part of your pumping gear when you go to do your morning pump. Make sure that you have your lunch, snacks and water packed the night before as well. Set it as a “meeting” in your calendar so that you remember and other tasks don’t take over.
Prior to returning to work, talk to your employer about how often you will need to pump and explain the importance of timing as well.
Although milk supply will vary drastically from mom to mom, most will need to pump two to three times during the work day to keep their milk supply up. As your baby gets older and eats more solid foods, the frequency in which you’ll need to pump will decrease. It also helps to pump at around the same time that your baby feeds, so that you stay on schedule for when you return home from work.
You’ll want to find childcare that supports your wish to continue breastfeeding, feeds your baby in a responsive way and handles and stores your breastmilk in a safe way. Childcare situations vary greatly; from live-in nannies or grandparents, to large daycares, so it’s important to find the right fit for you and your family. You’ll want to make sure that you practice feeding your baby a bottle of pumped milk prior to heading back to work so that he or she is used to drinking from it.
If you have a baby six months or older, you might choose to skip the bottle and offer breastmilk in a spill-proof straw or sippy cup during the day instead. If your baby is used to being nursed to sleep at nap time, you can guide your childcare provider on various alternative soothing techniques such as rocking a certain way, offering a pacifier, rubbing baby’s back etc.
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids since your fluid requirements increase when you’re nursing, and keep yourself well nourished, eating every 2-4 hours. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you require an extra 300-450 calories per day, depending on how often you’re nursing and how old your baby is. Keeping a water bottle beside you will help remind you to drink, and packing a healthy lunch and snacks will make it easier to eat well while at work. Some of Baby Gourmet’s fruit & veggie purees and plant-based snacks link to product page are popular for on-the-go adults too!
It’s important to know what your options are–whether it’s your private office, or if it’s a clean private bathroom, or maybe a private boardroom that you can book two to three times per day. Keep in mind that you’ll need to wash your pumping equipment soon after pumping, so being close to a sink is ideal. Let your employer and your workmates know that you may be occupying that space two to three times per day so that everyone is aware.
If you’re pumping milk at work for your childcare provider to feed your baby at home or at daycare, make sure that you store your milk safely after pumping. Pumped breastmilk can remain at room temperature for 4-8 hours (ideally 3-4), but it’s best to store in a refrigerator between 32-39 °F/0-4 °C. Pumped milk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-8 days. If you don’t have access to a fridge, an alternative is storing your milk in an insulated bag or cooler with ice packs (59°F/15°C) for up to 24 hours. If you have a long commute home, it’s best to transport your refrigerated milk in a cooler and then transfer to a fridge at home.
After returning to work, you might notice that your milk supply decreases, even when you’re pumping. If your baby is still nursing often and you want to continue giving her or him breastmilk several times a day, plan to nurse more frequently at night and on the weekends to build your supply back up. Patience is key here. While some moms won’t notice much of a difference at all in their supply, others do. They’ll need to carve out lots of time to re-establish milk supply during those times that they’re with their babies.