Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work

by Kathlynn Roysdon

baby drinking expressed breast milkIs it that time already? Seems like yesterday the tiny tot was just born! Breastfeeding moms heading back to work can have more questions than breastfeeding gadgets. While there isn't a standard list, here are some of the common questions that come up:

• "When should I start getting ready?"
• "How soon do I start pumping?"
• "How much money should we save?"
• "What kind of bottles should I use?"

Pumping 101

Most experts suggest you hold off for at least two weeks before starting a pumping regimen. Starting too soon or pumping too often can trigger your body to produce too much, which can be a whole different problem!

Maternity leave in the United States usually lasts six weeks. Start pumping three to four weeks before your return date. At roughly the three week mark, set up a pumping routine that you can live with. Start by pumping two or three times per day between feedings for 10-15 minutes per side. Try to allow yourself an hour between feedings and pumping.

Did you only get an ounce or two? Don't worry, your baby's the best pump in the world. Plastic vacuum pumps don't begin to compare to the effectiveness of a baby at the breast! After a day or two you should be able to tell how your body is reacting to the pumping. Over the next few weeks, you can gradually increasing your pump time.

How Much Breast Milk?

Your baby should be getting two and a half to three times current weight per day in breast milk to continue a healthy weight gain. Your baby should also be eating at least 10-12 times per day. Let's work together to decide how much my baby will need while I'm at work. He weighs eight pounds and eats ten times a day. So if your two-week-old weighs eight pounds and eats 10 times a day you should be set to feed baby two ounces of expressed breast milk for every feeding that you are away.

Your baby's current weight × 2.5 = number of ounces baby needs per day, minimum
Example: 8 x 2.5 = 20 ounces per day

Number of ounces needed per day ÷ number of feedings per day = ounces per feeding
Example: 20 ounces / 10 feeding a day = 2 ounces per feeding

This calculation allows you to estimate how much breast milk you'll need each day. Your baby's caregiver can let you know if your baby's satisfied or if the bottles are too big. Once you figure out how much milk you need to pump the next decision is how to store it.

Storing Your Breast Milk

Many mothers prefer to use disposable breast milk bags because they lay flat in the freezer and defrost quicker when needed. The other great part about the bags is that they are reseal able so you can add multiple pumping into one bag over the day to get to your goal amounts.

If you decide to mix multiple pumping sessions into one container, make sure that all of the milk is the same temperature before mixing. One easy way to remember -- keep all of your expressed milk in the fridge for the day, then divide into your storage containers in the evening. That way they're all at the same cooled-down temperature.

When making up your bags, you shouldn't include more than your baby will need. Once breast milk is defrosted, it should be used within 24-hours and there is nothing worse than wasting hard earned breast milk!

Which Bottle and When?

While some babies will fuss at the bottle it's rare that a baby will flat out refuse one when given properly by someone other than mother. You have to face the fact that your baby is smart and will rarely accept a fake nipple when the real thing is within reach!

I recommend you avoid giving bottles, if possible, until breastfeeding has been well established (usually after two weeks). The type of bottle is really up to you. The key things to look for in a bottle are:

  • A slow flow nipple: We want baby to work for that meal! Let-down doesn't happen immediately for most women. Hiving a baby a fast flowing bottle a fast flow can lead to problems later.
  • A wide nipple base: The wide based nipple helps babies adjust more easily to the feeling of the bottle because it more closely resembles the feeling of your breast. Many bottles on the market today try to help breastfeeding moms. Try a few before buying a complete line of one brand.

Back at Work

After you've returned to work, keep a pumping routine that mimics your baby's feeding schedule. This means you need to pump every time your baby eats. Skipping a pumping session can lead to a lower milk supply during work hours.

Put your baby to your breast as often as possible when you're together. If you're using a daycare facility ask them if you can breastfeed right before leaving in the morning and immediately when you pick your baby up in the evening. Some daycares even encourage moms to visit during lunch to breastfeed!

Pumping on the Job

If you're not sure of your company's policies on pumping during work, contact them now before going back to work. Each state has their own rules and regulations about when and where you're able to pump for your baby. You can contact a local lactation consultant, breastfeeding task force or La Leche League Leader for more information about your specific city or state.

Kathlynn Roysdon is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor and recently completed the UCSD Lactation Consultant certificate program. She's mom to a 2 1/2-year-old with another on the way. You'll find her around the groups on where she hosts "Everything Breastfeeding" and "February 2009!"

Copyright © Kathlynn Roysdon. Permission to republish granted to