By: Mirine Dye, MPH, IBCLC
Going back to work and breastfeeding is very much a normal part of a woman’s life, but careful planning still needs to be done. Although pregnancy is a time to plan for birth and think about how your new family is going to work, it is also the time to start planning on how you will transition back to work.
Ideally, you have a supportive work environment and start envisioning your plan before you even take leave. Find out what your employers policy is on breastfeeding or pumping and use this to start your plan. For instance, do they have a private lactation room or does one need to be identified? How does the flow of your day fit in to the need to spend 2-3 breaks pumping, each break being 20-30 minutes long. How and where will you store your milk? How will you clean your hands before pumping and how will you clean your pump parts after pumping?
If none of this is obvious before you take leave consider writing down exactly what you think you will need and start speaking to your supervisor or human resource office. Thankfully there are legal protections in place should you need them, but if you are a valued employee you should be able to explore solutions with conversation and maybe a little education.
Also, the Affordable Care Act says you should have a private space, not a bathroom, where you can pump milk for your baby. A chair, an outlet, a door for privacy and a sink nearby provides for the bare minimum. A fridge for storage would be great, or take your own cooler with cooler packs if needed. Milk ejection or “let-down” happens best when mom is comfortable and not distracted! Carry a picture or video of your baby and watch the video during pumping. Don’t rush, take this time to think about how much working women can accomplish and how amazing you are for taking on this effort!
It may also be helpful to have a letter of support from your pediatrician, obstetrician, midwife or lactation consultant. What would it say? Here are some bullet points for some of the wording:
- Part of the mother’s care plan is to continue to provide only breastmilk for her baby until at least 6 months of age.
- In order to provide her infant with the correct amount of milk for the infant’s growth and brain development, she must feed the baby when together, and use breast pump when separated, mimicking the eating pattern of the infant. This means that mother must pump no less than every 2-3 hours while separated from her baby.
- Please allow the mother to stay on the recommended pumping schedule for her breast health and the nutrition of her baby.
So what will it look like when you return? You may have some options depending on your workplace and your baby! When returning to work mothers may:
- Have infant brought to worksite, these are very lucky babies and mothers!
- Pump exclusively during the week and breastfeed on days off
- Pump at work and feed baby bottles while away
- Reverse cycle ( some babies prefer no bottles, and will only breastfeed and wait all day for mom to return and make up for their milk needs all evening and night!) Mom should still express milk when separated from baby to keep comfortable and to keep up supply
Mothers should try to simulate their schedule at home before returning to work, 2 weeks before returning to work is a good time to start.