breastfeeding while working and pumping

How to continue breastfeeding when you return to work

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Tips and tricks for continuing to breastfeed when you return to work

If you’re heading back from maternity leave and want to continue breastfeeding when you return to work, congratulations! You’re doing an awesome thing for your baby. Although it can be daunting, I want you to know that it’s absolutely possible to go back to work and continue to breastfeed. I pumped for 12 months and breastfed for 19 months so trust me when I say it can be done. It’s true!

If you plan to exclusively breastfeed and work outside the home, pumping will become a necessary part of your life. Although you’ll need to adjust your schedule, pumping at work will just become part of your (thrice) daily routine.

I had a love/hate relationship with the mother’s lounge at my office. It allowed me to continue exclusively breastfeeding while working full time, but I never got used to the constant interruption of my day.

Or my never-ending battle to get the ounces I was chasing. However, after pumping 2-4 times a day for over nine months, I knew what I was doing. This article outlines exactly what you need to know to go back to work and continue breastfeeding your baby. We’ll cover all the necessary steps and products to get through pumping at work. You CAN continue to breastfeed (and even exclusively breastfeed) once you return to work.

Nursing my girls was a huge accomplishment. It’s something I’m really proud we were able to do, and I want you to have the same success. So, let’s dive right in.

If you’re here, you might also like:

Related: The best products to get you through the first year nursing

Related: How to travel without your baby while breastfeeding

This post probably contains affiliate links. That means if you buy something using one of my links I may receive a small commission – at no additional cost to you! How cool is that? It’s kind of boring, but feel free to read my full disclosure if you want more info.

If I work full time do I have to wean my baby?

In case you didn’t catch this from my story above, the answer is a resounding No! In fact, you shouldn’t (unless you want to). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months, and breast milk up to a year. Most women return to work significantly before then, so unless you’re ready, please don’t wean just because you’re heading back to work. 

The World Health Organization actually recommends breastfeeding up to two years, and around the world, the average age of weaning is closer to four! While those ages seem old to most Americans, around the world it’s incredibly common to breastfeed through toddlerhood. There is no need to wean your baby when you return to work unless it’s just time for your family. 

There are a few things to know about what you’ll need to do to continue to provide breast milk for your baby after you return to work, and we’ll cover them all in this article. 

It’s important to note that breastfeeding isn’t an all or nothing experience. Depending on your ability to pump while away from your baby and your output, you may end up supplementing with formula, and that’s OK!

We’ll cover how often you’ll need to pump to keep up your milk supply, and what to do if you need to wean from the pump.

Will my milk supply drop after returning to work?

This is a huge concern for many moms, and rightly so. The short answer is no, and yes. In theory, if you’re pumping every time your baby has a bottle you should be able to maintain your current supply without supplementing.

In reality, many women go back to work at three months, right as their supply is fully regulating. Daycares and other childcare also have a tendency to overfeed breast milk in a bottle. Pumps aren’t quite as efficient at emptying the breast as your baby is. 

Combining all those factors leads to many moms needing to add in extra pumping sessions to keep up with their baby’s milk intake while you’re separated. Or, you can supplement. However, know that once you begin to supplement, your body will no longer make that amount of milk. 

Technically your milk supply hasn’t dropped, but your baby may be eating more out of bottles than they would if you were together. It’s a problem we’ll never quite solve, but it doesn’t mean the end of your breastfeeding relationship. 

Additionally, once you introduce solids around six months, and your baby begins to eat more and more table foods, sometime between 8-10 months, your supply will take another hit. This is a natural part of your baby’s growth, but can also lead to moms needing to supplement or add in extra pump sessions. 

{Mom Tip: Build up as large of a freezer stash as possible before you return to work. You’ll definitely have more trouble keeping up once you’re separated from your baby, and the backup milk may be what gets you through to hit your breastfeeding goals.}

Breastfeeding and returning to work laws

Ah, the right to pump. “Lucky” for us in America, we don’t have federally mandated paid maternity leave, but we do have “the right to pump.” The rights in this section come from the Fair Labor Standards Act. There is a lot of information on the U.S. Department of Labor website but I’ll give you the cliff’s notes below: 
Employers with over 50 people are required by law to provide: 

  • “Reasonable” break time for employees to express breast milk for up to a year after the child is born. However, these breaks can be unpaid. 
  • A place “shielded from view of employees and the public” to express milk. A bathroom is not a permitted location to be compliant with this law. 

Employers with under 50 people are not required to comply with the law if it causes “undue hardship.” This is determined by looking at the complexity and cost of the employer to comply. 

That being said – there are a lot of incentives for companies to allow you to breastfeed – if nothing else than it’s the law for most of them. Share the FSLA section 7 with any employer who is not supportive of your breastfeeding goals.

How long can I legally pump at work?

Per above, there isn’t a specific amount of time you’re allowed as a break to pump. The law does mandate that you may have the time to pump up until your baby’s first birthday. Depending on how long it takes to empty your breasts, I’d plan on at least a 30-minute break as often as your baby is eating. 

If you go back to work at six weeks, and your baby eats five times while you’re separated, you’ll need to pump five times. Ideally, around the time she takes a bottle. I’ve outlined a sample pumping schedule below, based on a mom who returns to work at 12 weeks. 

When should I start pumping to return to work?

Ideally, you won’t begin pumping at all until your baby is 6-8 weeks old and your milk supply has regulated. This advice is for normally breastfeeding infants who have been gaining weight and have sufficient diaper output. If your baby is nursing well, there is no need to introduce a pump earlier. 

The main reason you won’t want to immediately begin pumping is so that you don’t inadvertently cause oversupply. This can happen when your body is figuring out how much milk to make for your newborn. If you’re adding in an extra pump every day and removing 3-4 ounces of milk, your body thinks your baby needs that milk and will continue to make it — even if you don’t pump. 

This can lead to clogged ducts and even mastitis, which is no fun. If you want to build a small stash before you begin double pumping, I recommend using a Haakaa on one side while feeding on the other. 

This is a great way to get a few extra ounces of milk without signaling to your body that you need a significant amount of extra milk at a certain time each day. 

Haakaa Silicone Breast Pump

You should begin building your stash at least 2-3 weeks before you return to work, or earlier if you’ll be traveling away from your baby. 

I started pumping for storage at about six weeks with my first and eight weeks with my second, although I was taking a much longer maternity leave with baby #2.

How do I pump to build a stash before I return to work?

The easiest way to begin building a breast milk stash is to pump on one side during the first feed of the morning. Feed your baby on one side as you normally would, and pump the other side. If your baby is still hungry, you can put them back on the original side you first fed on. 

You’ll want to alternate the side you pump on every day or so, just to ensure you’re stimulating both sides. The caveat here is if one side makes significantly more than the other, and your baby just isn’t satisfied if you feed off the “small” side. If that’s the case, pump the lower producing side and feed your baby off the breast that produces more. 

Your milk-making hormones are the highest in the morning, so a pump in the 4-6 a.m. timeframe will produce the most milk of the day. 

This method of building a stash will only allow you to build a small stash, slowly over time. But, it is the gentlest method of telling your body to make more milk without the risk of clogged ducts or oversupply.

If you’re really worried about building a stash, you can also just double pump after the first-morning feed. This is what I did with my first daughter. This extra milk and stash I built on maternity leave is the main reason we made it without supplementing the first year. 

Breastfeeding & Pumping Schedule for working moms

Once you’re back at work, I’m going to assume you’re on about five feeds during the day and as many as needed overnight. This is what a schedule could look like if you’re feeding in the morning and before bed, with three feeds while you’re apart.

Sample breastfeeding/pumping schedule:

4-6 a.m: Nurse (unless baby is sleeping through — woo hoo!)
7:00 a.m: Pump (after feeding, if needed to keep enough milk on hand)
9:30 a.m: Pump
Noon: Nurse at lunch or pump
3:30 p.m: Pump
5:30 p.m: Nurse
7:00 p.m: Nurse before she goes down
9:30 p.m: Nurse (dream feed)

Eventually, as you introduce solids, you’ll be able to drop some of these feeds. Grab your free breastfeeding schedule cheat sheet printable below.

Related: Breastfeeding Schedule Cheat Sheets for the first year

You may or may not be nursing overnight as well in addition to nursing and pumping during the day. This will depend on how old your baby is when you go back to work, and their overall sleep patterns. We struggled hard with sleep with both our girls.

If you haven’t done a lot of sleep reading, you might also like The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep. Dr. Karp has awesome tips on how to get better sleep and break bad sleep associations and habits. Nursing to sleep is a big offender, so be sure to check this out if you’re looking at optimizing your schedules.

Our daughter would wake up once or twice from 9:30 p.m. – 6 a.m. and I’d usually nurse her then as well. This nursing/pumping schedule allowed us to keep ~500 oz. in the freezer for the first year. I’d built up most of my freezer stash before I went back to work, and then maintained it until she was 10-11 months old when I started pumping less than she was consuming daily.

Here’s a quick video on how we built a huge breast milk freezer stash before I went back to work.

Tips to prepare for returning to work and pumping

Adjust your calendar to include pump breaks BEFORE you return to work

I pumped every 2 ½ to 3 hours for the entire first year. I blocked 30 minute holds on my calendar at 9 a.m. noon, and three p.m. until little lady’s first birthday.

If you don’t add the pump breaks to your calendar before you return it’s all too easy to book over them or never get them on the calendar to begin with. Make pumping a priority every single time you give a bottle. This is the ONLY way to keep up with your baby’s milk needs for a long period of time if you’re separated.

Before you go back to work add pumping holds on your calendar, or let your supervisor know that you’ll need frequent breaks for as long you plan to breastfeed. You can adjust the time and frequency later. If you don’t hold your calendar before you’re back in the groove, it will be way too easy to skip pumps as work piles up.

Make sure you have all your pumping supplies

Make sure you have everything you’ll need to pump for the day, along with extra parts. Pack your pump bag the night before, and keep extra parts at work in your mother’s lounge or at your desk. Bring an extra set of EVERYTHING. Flanges, bottles, tubing, valves, and membranes. Feel free to stick a couple of bottles in there too.

Packing your bag the night before ensures you won’t forget anything as you’re rushing out the door in the morning.

There is a 100% chance that there will be a time that you either forget to pack something, or even leave the entire bag sitting by the door. Don’t take out these extras or bring them home frequently or you won’t have them when you need them. Trust me on this.

Bring dish detergent and a storage container and leave those as well. If you have time to clean your parts at the end of the day this will cut down on dishes when you get home, or you’ll always have it handy if something gets dirty during the day.

Trina and Alli from Mom Smart Not Hard have some great tips on How to Pump & Store Expressed Milk. Check out their great advice to make sure you’re maximizing your effort and storing your milk safel

It’s easiest to continue breastfeeding while working if you make your pumping time count

In order to maximize your time and get out as many precious ounces as possible, bring photos or videos of your baby and look at them while you pump. Especially at first, it really helps to relax and think of your little while you get in the groove.

If you’re lucky, this may even get you a second let down. Eventually, you’ll probably be able to get work done. After a few months, you’ll feel like a professional multi-tasker.

For efficiency, a hands-free pumping bra is 100% necessary if you plan to work while pumping. You may even want to get two of these so you have one handy if the other one is in the laundry. I liked using my pump sessions to check and respond to emails. It was a good way to fully utilize my 15-20 minutes of sitting in the pump room when I wasn’t able to get going on a new project.

This bra is my favorite pumping bra, and it’s actually affordable.

Simple Wishes Hands-Free Pumping Bra

How to store and transport breastmilk pumped while at work

After all your hard work in providing milk for your little one – you’ll want to make sure you get it home safely. With commute times this definitely means you’ll need to get an ice pack to keep everything cold. Make sure you get a pack and cooler that holds the amount of milk you’ll be pumping during the day. I never needed more than this medela cooler, but if you have a large supply, you may need something bigger.

At the end of the day you’ll need to pack up all that milk you pumped and put it in your cooler. You’ll put the cooler along with your pump parts in your breast pump bag and take it home for the evening to clean and store your milk.

Frozen breast milk and bottle prep

I typically used half fresh and half frozen milk when prepping bottles for the next day.  I needed to cycle through the frozen milk at regular intervals so none of it expired. Ideally, you’ll use as much fresh milk as possible, but since I was nursing a lot she got milk right from the source in many instances. I felt ok using some frozen every day.

Frozen milk is good in your freezer for 3-6 months (refrigerator/freezer combo) or for 6-12 months in a deep freezer.

When I got home I ran a bowl of hot water with some Dawn in it and put in all the bottles from the day, my pump parts, and the bottles she drank from at daycare. This was a HUGE bowl of dishes. I’d make sure to take out enough frozen milk to finish her bottles for daycare the next day and use some of the fresh milk I’d pumped to get the bottles ready. Anything extra I’d put in my milk storage bags, label, and freeze.

Be sure you wash your pump parts in a sterile environment – either in a separate bowl or side of the sink you don’t use for food prep. Sinks can be pretty dirty places so you don’t want any nasty germs getting into your freshly washed pumping equipment.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to make this phase easier!

Learn everything you need to know to go back to work and continue breastfeeding!

If you want to learn to breastfeed and really set yourself up for success when you go back to work, check out the awesome Breastfeeding & Working Ebook I put together on breastfeeding and working success.

We’ll tackle questions like:

  • How to set up the conversation about breastfeeding at work
  • How to prepare to be successful breastfeeding when you return to work
  • Getting your baby ready for bottle-feeding
  • Your rights as a breastfeeding mom

You’ll also learn how to:

  • Set up your day so you get more done
  • Prioritize and set yourself up for success
  • Outline expectations and your schedule with your boss
  • Crush it as a boss mamma when you’re back at work

Click the banner below for more information!

breastfeeding success

Troubleshooting: Going back to work and breastfed baby won’t take a bottle

Oh mamma, if you’re facing this I’m so sorry. This is one of the most nerve-wracking things that can happen when you’re returning to work. I do have to assure you, it’s really common, and you will get through it. 

BOTH my babies refused the bottle right around three months. Our first took bottles well (one or more a week) after two weeks up until about 12 weeks when I was preparing to go back to work. Out of the blue, she stopped taking the bottle and I freaked out.

I was convinced she was going to starve to death while I was at work. Spoiler – she didn’t, but I was a nervous wreck for awhile. We switched through multiple different bottles, had dad give the bottle, and I even left the house — no dice. Luckily, after a couple of weeks, she gave in and finally started taking them again. 

With baby #2 I was convinced we wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. But, with two kids in the house and quarantine, it was just easier to breastfeed. So we ended up back in the same position. This baby was less stubborn, and all it took was me just leaving the house for her to take the bottle from her dad.  

There are many babies who will just never take a bottle from mom. If the alternative is available, why bother with a bottle? 

The easiest way to fix this problem is to prevent it. Once you introduce a bottle (after breastfeeding is well established) just ensure the baby takes a bottle a few times a week while you’re on maternity leave. 

However, if you’re struggling with this, that ship has likely sailed. But, don’t worry, we can fix this. Check out what to do when your breastfed baby won’t take a bottle. 

Related: 9 tips to get your breastfed baby to take a bottle

If your job has you traveling away from your baby, it adds another level of complexity to the breastfeeding relationship. Again, no need to wean. You CAN do this. There are just a few additional things you’ll need to prepare for as you go back to work. 

Related: How to travel away from your baby while breastfeeding

Help! I went back to work and my supply tanked. What can I do?

Ok, this is hard. And I feel your pain. I really do. I fought the ounce wars for months, constantly worried I wasn’t producing enough for my baby. 

Supply dips can happen when you’re stressed, when your period returns, once your baby begins eating more solids, or even when you’re sick. 

There are tons of reasons you may experience a dip in supply, but it doesn’t always mean a total drop. Many times, you can bring back the milk. 

One of the easiest things to do is put your baby to the breast more. Obviously, that doesn’t mean you should skip work and nurse the baby exclusively. But, you can add in a dream feed if your baby is already sleeping well. Or you can add in an extra nursing session when you get home and before bedtime if there is enough of a break. 

You can also try power-pumping, or adding in a pump before work or before bed. If you want to get more details on what to do about boosting supply, check out five tips to boost your milk supply, fast. 

Related: 5 tips to boost your milk supply, fast

All this was a TON of work, and there were so many days I didn’t think I’d make it the full year. Looking back I’m so glad I did. Hopefully, some of the tips above will help you too. Let me know what you did to make the transition back to work while continuing to breastfeed in the comments!

How to continue breastfeeding when you return to work

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  1. Hello Carly! After becoming mom, when I went to my office and I would continue breastfeeding while working, so it’s was ve difficult for me. Today, I read the awesome article and I got the best tips for breastfeeding while working. I definitely use these tips and also with other working moms.

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