Breastfeeding After Returning to Work

Kathleen Tackett's picture


Dear Lactation Consultant,
I was wondering how women continue to breastfeed after returning to work. I have read that it is healthiest for baby to breastfeed for at least 6 months. However, I will need to return to work after only 6 weeks. (My husband and I are just starting to try to conceive, but I am trying to plan ahead.)

Thank you for your response.


It is great that you are looking into working and breastfeeding in advance. That will give you time to think and plan, which will help you better meet your goals. Breastfeeding for six months is a good initial goal, but you may want to know that the breastfeeding recommendation was changed in 1997 to a minimum of one year.

There are many choices about how to manage breastfeeding while working. Some families are strongly motivated to feed their baby only mother's milk and avoid formula, particularly those with a family history of allergies. (Introduction of formula before six months is strongly correlated with increased incidence of allergy.) Some families give both formula and expressed mother's milk feedings while mothers are at work. And in some families mothers breastfeed when they are with their babies and feed formula when they're apart.

As with any new undertaking, the more you know in advance, the fewer unexpected problems you're likely to encounter. Attending a breastfeeding class should help immensely. Ideally, you'll learn how to establish a good milk supply before going back to work and how to avoid common problems (such as sore nipples) during the early weeks of feeding.

If you plan to express milk while at work, with a good breast pump, it takes only 10-15 min. per pumping session. Getting a good quality breast pump is important, because there are unfortunately many ineffective breast pumps on the market. Many mothers have had their efforts to work and breastfeed short-circuited by the purchase of a poor quality pump. For more information on selecting a breast pumps, I would recommend you read the article "Choosing a Pump" on the Art of Breastfeeding web site. If your goal is to provide mother's milk only for your baby, a good strategy is to breastfeed exclusively while you're on maternity leave. When you return to work, calculate how many times per day you need to pump by dividing your total time away from you baby (including travel time) by 3. To maintain your milk supply over time, count the number of times per day you drain your breasts (breastfeedings + pumpings) every 24 hours before returning to work and try to keep up that number while you're working.

Six months is the time solid foods are recommended. Once your baby is taking other foods, the amount of mother's milk needed decreases, because solids take the place of mothers milk in a baby's diet. Most mothers who are working and breastfeeding no longer need to pump at work sometime between their baby's ninth and twelfth months. After that they may wean, or they may continue to breastfeed when at home.

Most working and breastfeeding mothers will tell you that the huge cost savings (formula costs a minimum of $1200 during a baby's first year) are nice, but what they love most is the fact that breastfeeding is the one thing only *they* can do for their babies. When they spend so much time apart, it is one way to help keep their special bond strong.

Good luck and best wishes to you.

-- Nancy, IBCLC