A back-to-work breastfeeding guide - Ruth Health

A back-to-work breastfeeding guide

Fast facts:

  • Advanced planning can ease the transition of returning to work while breastfeeding.
  • Practice pumping or expressing milk by hand in a safe, comfortable environment before your parental leave ends.
  • Help your baby become comfortable with bottles. If possible, give them one or two feedings from a bottle each day for a week or two leading up to your return.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need at work. Most employers are required by federal law to provide appropriate accommodations to breastfeeding employees.
  • A lactation consultant can offer individualized support with this phase of your breastfeeding journey. 

If a return to work is part of your breastfeeding journey, planning ahead can help ease the transition for both you and your baby. 

You may also consider working with a lactation consultant for individualized support with this phase of your breastfeeding journey.

Here are six steps you can take to prepare, from planning a pumping schedule to reviewing milk storage guidelines and more.

1. Familiarize yourself with hand expression and/or pumping

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.

If you have difficulty getting your milk to flow, the following tips may help.

  • Think of your baby. Some individuals find it helpful to have their baby’s photo or a clothing article on hand.
  • Place a warm cloth on your breasts.
  • Gently massage your breasts or rub your nipples.
  • Sit quietly and take deep breaths.

2. Help your baby get comfortable with bottles

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.

3. Review breast milk storage and preparation guidelines

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.

Here are some tips to ensure safe storage:

  • If storing your breast milk in a container, make sure the lid fits tight.
  • Label your breast milk and include the date it was expressed.
  • If storing your breast milk in the refrigerator, place it in the back,where temperature is most consistent. Avoid storing it in the refrigerator door.

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.

View our comprehensive guide to milk storage and preparation.

4. Plan your pumping schedule

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.

5. Speak with your employer about accommodations

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.

6. Make a back-to-work breastfeeding checklist

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. 

Here are important items to include.

  • Electric pump
  • Back-up manual pump
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Breast pump bag
  • Power adapter
  • Tubing
  • Nipple cream (to aid with comfort and milk production)
  • Storage containers (and lids!) or bags
  • Pen to label containers or bags
  • An extra shirt (because leaks)
  • Nursing pads (for extra leak protection)

Lactation support from Ruth Health

Ruth Health offers nearly 24/7 virtual lactation support from Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) to provide individualized care throughout your breastfeeding journey.

Learn how we can help ease the transition back to work, and sign up below to join our community.

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