HIGHLIGHTS | Pumping tips for sustaining breastfeeding
- Practice pumping and bottle-feeding before you return to work.
- Missing your baby is normal, so talk with your support people about what you can do to cope.
- Review what lactation amenities are available to you with your supervisor.
- Try to schedule regular pumping sessions throughout the workday.
- Chat with your provider or lactation consultant about ways to boost your milk production.
Congratulations — you’ve welcomed a new baby into the world. Now after navigating those sleepless newborn nights, you’re preparing to return to work.
This can be daunting for any parent, but it’s especially so if you're nursing and now have to figure out how to balance the time-consuming but necessary task of pumping with managing their workload.
How much time will you have to pump during the workday? What private space do you have to do that? And will your milk production drop as a result? In short, there’s a lot to think about.
That’s why UW Medicine lactation consultants Barbara Lautman, RN, and Nancy Estill, RN, are sharing their tips for how nursing parents can make the transition back to work as smooth as possible.
Practice pumping and bottle-feeding
If you and your baby are used to breastfeeding, the sudden move to pumping and bottle-feeding can be a little difficult for all involved.
Lautman and Estill suggest practicing both before you return to work and your baby starts child care.
Familiarize yourself with your breast pump and parts, including how to use and clean them. Help your baby practice drinking from a bottle if they’re not used to one yet, and make it a point to collect and store at least a day’s worth of pumped breastmilk for your little one to have on your first day back at work.
Prepare yourself emotionally
Let’s face it — it’s not just about breastmilk. Returning to work and being apart from your baby can be more emotionally difficult than you anticipate.
If you know others who have done this before, talk to them about how they felt and what they did to cope. It can help just sharing how you feel and knowing that someone else has been through the same thing.
Do what you can to secure reliable, trustworthy child care so you can rest easy knowing your baby will be in good hands while you’re at work. Make sure to discuss your breastfeeding plans with your child care provider to ensure you agree on policies and routines they will follow regarding feeding your baby.
UW Medicine offers discounted and priority child care options for employees, but many locations fill up well in advance, so look into it as soon as you can.
When you do return to work, pack a photo of your baby or a favorite onesie. This can not only help you feel more connected while you’re apart but — as an added bonus — can help trigger your body’s let-down reflex when you start pumping.
Whatever you do to prepare yourself, know that at the end of the day, you’ll be back together snuggling up with your little one once again.
Research work accommodations
Another way to make the transition back to work easier is to look into what amenities you have at your workplace, such as private pumping locations and a refrigerator to store expressed breastmilk. (Pro tip: Store used pump parts in the refrigerator, too, so you don’t have to clean them between pumping sessions.)
Under the University of Washington’s policy on providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, you must be allowed reasonable break time to express breastmilk for up to two years after your baby is born. You must also be allowed a private location, other than a bathroom, in which to pump.
At UW Medicine, private lactation stations are available at Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center – Montlake, UW Medical Center – Northwest, UW Medicine Eastside Specialty Center and South Lake Union.
Hours and reservation systems vary, so determine which lactation station is most convenient before you head back to work.
You should also talk with your supervisor about scheduling times to pump during the workday. If you have additional questions about lactation breaks, check with your HR consultant.
Figure out a workable pumping schedule
Lautman and Estill say it’s ideal to pump both breasts for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every three to four hours. Try to schedule your breaks accordingly to allow for appropriate pumping time, or block these times out on your work calendar so no one schedules a meeting over them.
If you can, use a hands-free pump or use a double breast pump with a pumping bra to maximize your pumping time and allow you to multitask. For those who are able to work remotely, you can even bring your laptop with you to respond to emails or do other work tasks on the computer.
If your baby is on a regular feeding schedule at home, you can also try to time your pumping sessions to the times of day when your baby normally eats. Everyone’s milk production is different, though, so do what feels most comfortable to you.
Boost your milk production
If you notice your milk production is dropping after you return to work — a common issue — it’s normal to feel some additional stress about your situation. Don't be afraid to get help and support.
Lautman and Estill suggest pumping more frequently throughout the day but for shorter periods of time. You can also add an extra pumping session after breastfeeding in the evening to help boost your milk production.
And when you’re reunited with your baby, maximize your breastfeeding time, as this with your baby can empty the breast even better than a pump, which promotes increased milk production. If you still have concerns, talk with your provider or lactation consultant about herbs or supplements you can take to boost your milk supply.
The bottom line
Whether you’re returning to work after a few weeks or after several months, your transition back to work can be challenging at first. But with some planning and support, you’ll find a way to go with the flow and settle into your new work and family life.
And your baby? Well, it’s safe to say they love you no matter what.