Tips for a Breastfeeding Parent Returning to Work

pumping at work

Welcome guest blogger Kim Hawley as she talks to us about one of working parents biggest concerns...

You’ve had your baby, and you are busy adjusting to the new addition to your family.

You are happy, tired, overwhelmed, in love, and many other emotions that change by the moment. Just as you are starting to find your balance, or maybe long before you have, it’s time to start thinking about your return to work.

Getting ready to go back to work can be stressful and emotional. You need to find childcare, trust them, and get ready to leave your baby. Most new parents are doing this before they are really ready. For breastfeeding families, returning to work comes with the need to pump and store breastmilk.

Going back to work is stressful enough, but much of the common advice new moms share about pumping and returning to work actually causes more work and stress than needed. So here are 3 of the most common questions I hear from new parents preparing to return to work. Hopefully the answers will make your life just a bit easier.

When Should I start pumping?
I know the common advice is to pump, pump, pump in the early months either “just in case” or “to bring in your supply.” This is not only unnecessary if baby is latching and transferring milk, but it’s stressful and can cause oversupply.
Start pumping regularly about 2-3 weeks before you plan to return to work. Pick 1 or 2 times a day to pump. Keep these times the same each day. Don’t be worried if you only get a small amount, especially at first. Ideally, your milk supply has adjusted to your baby’s needs. When you are separated from baby, you will get much more.
Many women find that pumping after an early morning feed works well.

How much milk do I need?
You only truly need enough milk for that first day back at work, although most women probably want a few days’ worth in the freezer. Hundreds of ounces of frozen breastmilk is really unnecessary, unless you travel a lot for work or have some other upcoming separation.
Babies eat on average about 25-30oz in 24 hours. You can estimate about 1-1.5oz of expressed breastmilk per hour of separation from your baby or divide 25oz (or 30oz) by the number of feedings per day. Here’s a very useful calculator for estimating your baby’s expressed breastmilk needs.
Once you are back at work, the milk you pump can be given to your baby the next day. So, Monday’s pumped milk is drank Tuesday, Tuesday’s pumped milk is drank Wednesday and so on. Friday’s pumped milk can be stored in the refrigerator over the weekend for Monday. This way your baby is getting fresh milk matching their developmental and immunological needs.
Remember that your frozen breastmilk stash is only for emergencies. If you are regularly pulling milk from the freezer during the work week then you want to explore why you aren’t pumping as much as your baby is eating.

Will I be able to keep up my supply?
Working, pumping, and breastfeeding is hard. Biologically speaking, most breastfeeding parents return to work long before our bodies were designed to be separated from our babies for long hours. That being said, most parents can keep up their supply if they pump regularly.

To maintain your supply, you should pump the same number of times your baby would eat during your work day. If you go too long between pumping sessions you will signal your body to slow down milk production. Everyone has a stressful busy day here or there. One missed pumping session is unlikely to drop your supply, but how often you pump day after day, week after week, will tell your body how much milk to make.

I hope you will take a deep breath and try and enjoy your time with your baby. You do need to prepare to return to work as a breastfeeding parent, but you don’t need to spend all your time hooked to the pump. Enjoy your baby. You will spend enough time with your pump at work!

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