If your family is formula-feeding, the transition back to work can be pretty straightforward - business as usual, even - since your baby’s feedings can continue on just as before. But if you've been breastfeeding, there’s a little more that you’ll need to consider.
If you're breastfeeding and happen to work close to where your baby will be cared for - whether at home or at daycare - or enjoy the benefit of in-house daycare where you work, keeping up with regular nursing sessions may be pretty simple. You might just need to zoom back home or to the daycare a few times a day - perhaps by spending your break or lunch with your baby or by carving out some additional time for feedings.
But for most breastfeeding moms, this isn’t an option - and so returning to work will mean pumping and expressing breast milk at work. This does mean that there’s one more thing on your “back to work” plate, but there’s a lot you can do to make this transition a successful one.
A few things that will set you up for success include working out the details of pumping - including exactly where you will pump - with your employer prior to your return. Will you use a dedicated lactation room? A temporary pumping space? And will you have access to an electrical outlet or a fridge?
It’s also a good idea to set a schedule for when you’ll pump so that all of your coworkers understand that you’ll be unavailable when taking breaks to do so. This will help to set up clear expectations in advance of your return, which is helpful for everyone involved. Having this sort of info will allow you to know just what sort of pumping equipment and accessories you’ll need to bring and even what you may want to wear to make pumping at work as easy and comfortable as possible. And do make sure that you get familiar with all of your pumping equipment beforehand - pumps can be trickier than they look, and some of them look pretty complicated to begin with.
Something else to keep in mind when returning is that you’ll want to make sure that you’re able to pump often enough at work to keep up your milk supply and meet your baby’s feeding needs. When you first return, you’ll essentially want to be pumping just about as regularly as she would be nursing if you were home - so every few hours. Obviously, your baby’s needs will change over time, as will your milk supply, so eventually you may pump a bit less at work. But initially, if you’re pumping less than your baby would feed at home, your milk supply could decrease. And if you go too long between expressing milk - say, by skipping a pumping session at work - you may suffer from breast engorgement.
If you think you’d rather pump a bit less while at work - or if you have to pump a little less than would be ideal based on your job responsibilities or what your lactation space is like - many moms decide find it helpful to nurse their little ones right before leaving for work and right after returning home to help keep up their milk supply.
If your baby has been feeding on demand, you may have a good sense of just how often she will likely feed during the day when you’re apart, but she may also adjust her feeding a bit once you don’t spend all day with her. Moms who haven’t been pumping and feeding from a bottle already may also be not quite sure of just how much their little ones will eat in terms of ounces and bottles. This means it can help your peace of mind to have some extra breast milk stored at home before you return to work. And remember that detail about getting comfortable with pumping before returning to work? It can be helpful to pump a bit between feedings before you return to work not only to get familiar with the pumping process, but also to build up a nice little stockpile of stored milk.
You can store breast milk in the fridge for up to 3 to 8 days, and in a standard freezer for up to 6 months, so even with just a small space in your fridge and freezer dedicated to breast milk storage, you can still manage to stock up! If you have a decent supply at home for your baby before you go back, you’ll feel good knowing that she will have the milk she needs when you’re at work.
Many moms who pump at work and continue to breastfeed exclusively might also choose to keep some formula at home, just in case. Some moms also decide that while they would like to continue to breastfeed and pump, they might also like to supplement that breast milk with formula, just to take a little break from what can sometimes feel like an intense feeding and pumping routine. We know that breast milk is immensely beneficial for babies, but breastfeeding can be challenging, and so can pumping. Just remember that if you do want to keep up your milk supply, you should continue to breastfeed and pump consistently.
If this feels like a lot to manage, especially since working pumping at work into your schedule is such a new responsibility. But you’ll make it through, and before you know it, you’ll be a pumping pro!