If a return to work is part of your breastfeeding journey, planning ahead can help ease the transition for both you and your baby.
Here are six steps you can take to prepare, from planning a pumping schedule to reviewing milk storage guidelines and more.
Using a breast pump or expressing your milk by hand can be a very different experience from nursing your baby. Practicing ahead of time in a familiar environment can help you feel comfortable when you return to work.
Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before you pump at work or express breast milk by hand. If pumping, make sure your breast pump parts and bottles are clean.
This is a big transition for your baby too. Prepare them for the change by helping them adjust to feeding from a bottle. (This will also give you extra pumping practice!)
Many experts recommend introducing a bottle when your baby is three to four weeks old. Older babies may be more likely to refuse a bottle, but introducing a bottle too early can lead to difficulty switching between a bottle and a breast (aka nipple confusion). Waiting for several weeks also helps you build up your milk supply.
When first introducing a bottle, it sometimes helps to have your partner, a friend, or family member feed your baby. They may be more likely to initially accept a bottle from someone else since they are used to your breast.
Make sure your baby is comfortable with bottles before you go back to work. If possible, give them one or two feedings from a bottle each day for a week or two leading up to your return.
Proper storage and preparation of breast milk is essential to your baby’s health and safety.
Expressed breast milk can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator or freezer using a glass container, a BPA-free clear plastic container, or breast milk storage bags. It’s common to store breast milk in an employee refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs at work.
Speak with your supervisor or a human resources (HR) specialist in advance if you have any concerns about using a communal refrigerator for breast milk storage.
Make sure your baby’s caregiver is comfortable feeding a bottle of expressed milk and understands preparation and storage guidelines.
You will need to pump or express breast milk at the times you would feed your baby. For many breastfeeding individuals, this means pumping every three hours during their first weeks back at work. Keep in mind that this varies by individual. If you are having challenges with milk supply, you may need to pump up to four times during an eight-hour workday.
Pumping can take as little as 10-15 minutes, but you may need more time. Some women find hands-free breast pumps convenient to use while at work.
If necessary, share details about your pumping schedule with your supervisor or an HR specialist to ensure that you can step away when needed.
It’s important to clearly communicate what you need in order to pump at work.
If you feel uncomfortable doing so, know that most employers are required by federal law to provide appropriate accommodations to breastfeeding employees.
Make sure that you have access to a clean, private space with an outlet for an electric pump and a locking door. While it may take you as little as 10 minutes to pump, allow yourself more time. You’re well within your rights to ask for 20-30 minutes every few hours.
This one may sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget: bring everything you need with you to work! To ensure you have all the essentials on hand, make a list of pumping supplies.
Ruth Health offers nearly 24/7 virtual lactation support from Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) to provide individualized care throughout your breastfeeding journey.
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