Helpful advice when you return to work and continue to breastfeed

I recently participated in an interview with Blood + Milk on the topic of pumping and returning to work and wanted to share some helpful information with all of you who are returning to work and trying to navigate pumping and continuing to protect breastfeeding at home.

1. When it comes to breastfeeding/pumping in the workplace, what should all new moms know? How often will you be pumping roughly in a given day?

Leaving your baby for the first time and going back to work can feel very emotional. However, having a good strategy and a sustainable plan in place can go a long way in helping you feel more in control, making the process easier on both you and your baby. It can also be helpful to take things one day at a time and remember that whatever plan you choose to start with might fluctuate and change as you figure out what works best for you and your baby and that’s okay!

 Every mother’s situation will be slightly different when they return to work. A great way to prepare is by starting to express milk 2-4 weeks before returning to work. This will help by creating a stash of stored milk in your freezer in case you run into any difficulties or challenges your first few weeks into the new routine. It will also help by giving your supply a small boost.

 The best way to do this is to pump a couple times a day after your baby would normally nurse and freeze whatever additional milk you’re able to remove. It’s normal that this amount won’t be very much at first because it’s the “bonus” milk that your baby wouldn’t normally be removing at those feeds. Expressing milk a few weeks prior to returning to work also gives you an opportunity to start using your pump and experimenting with different settings and flange sizes to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible before returning to work. Pumping should never be painful and if you feel pinching or pain, lower the speed at which you’re pumping or adjust the flanges to a smaller or larger size. There are plenty of great guidelines online for sizing or you can speak to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for some support with this.

 To get an idea of how many times you’ll need to pump on an average day pay attention to how often your baby normally feeds at the breast in a 8-9 hour period. This is roughly your guideline.

 Most breastfed babies on average will drink anywhere from 2-4 ounces (60-120 ml) of pumped milk every 2.5- 3 hours. This means that in a 8-9 hour day you would need to leave roughly 12 ounces of milk for your baby at a minimum. Again, until you try the routine for a few weeks this amount may fluctuate and your baby might need a little more or a little less depending on the day, and that’s completely normal. It’s always best to leave a little extra just in case rather than not have enough.

 This amount of milk your baby needs does not increase much after 6 weeks of age. Breast milk has the amazing ability to adjust its nutritional factors to provide everything your baby requires as they grow without increasing the quantity of milk required. Unlike formula, the amount a baby requires increases the older they get, but breast milk doesn’t work that way.

 Here is an example of a nine-hour day at work: Nurse first thing in the morning when your baby wakes up, offer another short feed or “top off” right before you leave the house or drop them off at childcare. The best opportunities to express milk will likely be your mid-morning break, lunch and/or afternoon break. Some mother’s only pump twice while at work (mid morning and mid afternoon) and feed their babies first thing when they arrive home at the end of the day. You can ask your childcare to help with this plan by not offering your baby a bottle within an hour or so of you picking them up or returning home from work.

 When you return home from work you can continue to nurse your baby at the breast as usual following their cues throughout the evening and overnight.


2. What should you do if standards and needs are not being met, whether it's privacy or time to pump during the day at work? Should you talk to your  boss? 

 The California Labor Code states that all employers in California are legally required to provide reasonable break times in addition to your regular lunch break to express breast milk.

 In addition to this, employers must make an effort to provide reasonable accommodations for a mother to pump. Some examples of this is a clean and private space that is not a washroom, access to running water nearby to wash pump parts, access to an electrical outlet for your pump and a comfortable chair to use when expressing milk. If you feel like your rights are not being met or that any of these reasonable examples are being refused speak to your human resources department or contact the California Department of Labor directly.

You can file a complaint directly here:

 Last year Breastfeed LA (please link to Breastfeed LA website) released a wonderful resource online that you can use to refer to when speaking to your employer about your rights when it comes to expressing milk in the work place.


3. What advice would you give to new moms feeling the potential anxiety or even potential blow back? 

 I believe it is normal for women to feel nervous about pumping and asking for additional time to express milk at work. Mothers don’t want to feel like an inconvenience or ask their employers for special treatment in their work place. The truth is, you are legally within your rights to ask for this additional support at work.

 Continuing to provide your baby with pumped milk when you return to work is a great way to protect your baby from germs and illness when they are being cared for in day care. Studies have shown that babies who are formula fed are more likely to develop ear infections, have increased risk of colds and respiratory illness and are more likely to experience gastrointestinal infections. This means you would need to take more days off work to care for your baby, not to mention your own health risks can increase as well by weaning from breastfeeding. So ultimately it’s to your boss’s advantage if you continue to breastfeed when you return to work.

 Speaking to other mothers in your office or work place may give you insight into what worked for them when they spoke to management about pumping. The human resources department is also a great place to ask for support and they should be able to provide you with some guidance or suggestions prior to speaking to your boss.

 It can feel like a lot, but remember you are only asking for a clean and private space to pump a few times a day and a couple additional breaks. These additional 15 minutes breaks to pump are more than likely the amount of time other employees are already taking to grab a coffee or take a smoking break.

Pumping at work does not mean you are less of an employee or asking for too much. It’s important to explain what you need to make pumping easier for you rather than ask for permission – It is your legal right to continue to nurse your baby when you return to work.


 4. Anything else you want to share on this subject about what new moms who breastfeed can expect and how to handle it, would be wonderful. 

 Be prepared that when you return home from work your baby will more than likely want a few extra nursing sessions in the evening or throughout the night while they adjust to this new routine. This is completely normal. Nursing can feel very reassuring and become an incredible way to reconnect, cuddle and interact with our babies after a long day apart.

 It can also be very helpful to continue to feed on demand as often as your baby wants when you aren’t at work to keep your milk supply high.

 Lastly, I think an important thing to remember throughout this experience is that your pumping plan will be unique to you. Your routine is not set in stone and may feel a little awkward at first. It will more than likely change as you figure out how much pumped milk your baby needs while you’re away. Contacting an IBCLC to help create a pumping plan and navigate this transition can be very helpful a few weeks before returning to work as well.

**A few extra helpful tips:

  • It’s worth the investment to purchase a higher quality double electric pump to help ensure your milk is being removed effectively, especially if you are returning to work full time.

  • If your workspace doesn’t have a fridge to store your breast milk make sure you invest in a cooler bag with freezer packs to keep your milk cool until you can store it at home.

  • Remember to bring an extra blouse or shirt to keep at work incase of unexpected leaks

  • Purchase an extra set of pump parts to keep at work so you don’t have to worry about packing them every day.

  • Consider bringing large zip lock bags to work to store extra parts that need to be cleaned when you get home

  • Consider purchasing a manual pump just incase your electric pump breaks or fails to work one day.

  • Remember to encourage your childcare provider to pace the speed at which bottles are being given to your baby. A bottle should take roughly 15-20 minutes and not be guzzled quickly. This can protect your baby’s expectation of flow while they nurse and minimize the risk of potentially refusing the breast when you return to work.