Returning to Work or School

I often have mothers ask me what will happen if they don't pump at all during the day, but want to nurse in the mornings, evenings, and weekends when they are with their baby. The answer depends on the baby's individual temperament, as well as his age. A young baby whose diet consists solely of milk is likely to lose interest in nursing when your supply drops drastically, as it is certain to do if you go an eight or nine hour stretch without emptying your breasts. This is not true for all babies, however, so it is worth trying if you absolutely can't pump at work. The worse thing that will happen is that your supply will drop and your baby will wean himself. Some babies seem to enjoy nursing for the sake of nursing as much as for the milk, and will continue nursing no matter how low your supply gets. This is more likely to be the case with older babies who are nursing less frequently and eating solid foods. If you can't pump at work, expect a period of engorgement, leaking, and discomfort while your body adjusts.

Mothers often get extremely creative when finding locations and opportunities to pump at work/school. Ideally, you should try to pump at least three times during an eight- hour work -day, twice during a six- hour day, and once during a four- hour day. Short pumping sessions of five minutes or so are better than not pumping at all, and with a good double electric pump, you'd be surprised at how much milk you can get out in five minutes.

While some employers provide a special place set aside for mothers to pump, as well as frequent breaks during the day, this is the exception rather than the rule, especially in the United States. I expect that this will change as more and more employers realize that encouraging their employees to breastfeed is cost effective for them, due to breastfed babies being healthier (fewer trips to the doctor, resulting in fewer health care claims and less time missed from work to care for a sick baby). Studies have also shown that when employers promote and encourage breastfeeding, it creates a better work environment and a more loyal, satisfied employee.

Given the fact that, in many cases, we are light years away from a uniform breastfeeding friendly work environment in the U.S., here are some suggestions on places to pump: lounge, locker room, unused conference room or office, your car (yes, that's one reason that Medela makes vehicle lighter adapters), or a women's restroom. As yucky as it sounds, for many mothers pumping in the restroom is the only option they have. Make sure you have hot water available for cleaning pump parts, and bring your own soap. You may even want to bring your own basin from home if you don't feel comfortable with the cleanliness of the sinks.

Try to find a comfortable space with an electric outlet. If you absolutely don't have a place to plug in your pump, you can use a small battery pump (which is less effective than the Pump In Style or the Lactina) or you can rent or buy a PowerPack. Medela offers this option that allows you run either the Pump In Style or the Lactina on battery power, and it also contains a vehicle lighter adapter for pumping in the car.

I know of one mother who pumped in a locked storage room right inside the employee break room. Since no one knew she was in there, she got to hear all the juicy office gossip before anyone else.

Before returning to work, you may want to discuss your options with your employer. If at all possible, try to return on a part-time basis, even if only for a week or so. You may also try to return to work on a Friday rather than a Monday so that you'll have the weekend to recover from your first day back.

Another reason to have a discussion with your boss is to make him or her aware of any changes you may need to make in your work schedule. For example, you may need to take two 30-minute breaks instead of one 60-minute one.

While all employers should be supportive of your efforts to continue nursing, you may occasionally encounter a boss or supervisor who not only is not supportive, but may actually be hostile when you try to pump at work. In situations like this, sending a copy of the following letter may be helpful:

To whom it may concern:

Jane Doe, the mother of a six-week old breastfed infant, will be returning to work on a full time basis on March 11, 2000.