Employee & Community Health

4 success tips for returning to work while breastfeeding

9/18/2017 by Maegen Storm, APRN, CNP

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In the U.S., 68% of women who breastfeed work outside the home. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends only breastfeeding until your baby is six months old, followed by breastfeeding, complemented by solid foods, until your child is one. Studies show that not only does breastfeeding provide health benefits to both mother and baby, but working parents of breastfed infants also have an absenteeism rate three times lower than those whose infants are formula fed. 

Pumping at work may seem like a challenge, but these four tips can ease the transition form home to work while providing the best nutrition possible for your little one. 

#1: Set yourself up for success

Work with your supervisor to accommodate your needs. A flexible schedule or splitting up your break time(s) can give you the pumping frequency you need. Where you pump should be private and have electricity Some items that can make pumping more manageable are: 

  • Extra set of pump parts
  • Hands-free pumping bra
  • Microwavable steam bag to sterilize pump parts. 

Bring a cooler with refreezable ice packs to store your milk until you get home. Milk can be stored: at room temperature up to eight hours, in an ice-packed cooler up to 24 hours, and in the refrigerator up to eight days. 

#2: Practice introducing a bottle

Typically, it is wise to introduce a bottle to your baby when they are about three to six weeks old so they will be comfortable using it while you are at work. Breastfeeding usually is established by this time; babies older than six weeks may refuse to take a bottle. At first, be sure to use a slow-flow nipple. If your baby isn't taking to bottle feeding, try: 

  • Different feeding positions
  • Having someone other than mom feeding with the bottle
  • Different milk temperatures
  • Other styles of nipples

#3: Using your pump

About two weeks before returning to work, start pumping an additional time to store up some milk. At first, you will not pump much milk, but you are setting your body up to make more later. When you do pump some extra, freeze it for use on the day you return to work. Once back at work: 

  • Try to relax and consider bringing sensory cues, such as a photo, a onesie your baby has worn or an audio of them crying. 
  • You should pump as often as your baby typically nurses. 
  • If your baby is a frequent nurser, you may need to space out your pumping times, but setting aside about 15-20 minutes should be sufficient. 
  • You should pump until no more milk comes out, and then for another minute or two if you are trying to boost your supply. You may also use the let-down button on your pump to trigger more rapid suction, which stimulates a second milk let-down. 
  • To completely remove milk, hands-on pumping using breast compression, massage and then finishing with self-expression can increase your pumped volume. 

#4: Skin-to-skin time

Once you are home from work -- especially if you are experiencing a dip in volume pumped -- allow your baby to nurse on demand while cuddling them skin-to-skin. Some babies take less volume by bottle during the day and prefer to nurse more often in the evenings. 

If you need support or guidance on pumping while at work, talk with your local lactation specialist -- they are here to help you succeed! Also, consider enrolling in a free class from the Mayo Clinic Perinatal Education department. To register, call 507-266-7473. 

Maegen Storm, APRN, CNP, is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) and has a special interest in breastfeeding for the health of the baby. Maegen and her husband have enjoyed partnering to breastfeed their four boys.