The stressful and exciting transition of going back to work comes faster than expected for most parents. While the nights feel long, time seems to have flown by when you are on parental leave. There are lots of feelings warring for attention whenever you go back to work, be it after six weeks or six months. If that’s the case for you, you are in good company. Every parent struggles with when to plan this transition. For moms who have been nursing or pumping at home, it can be daunting to try and figure out how to continue this goal while they are away from their baby. The good news is that there are lots of options to support you in accomplishing this goal. You should always speak to a lactation specialist or your doula about constructing a tailored plan for pumping at work, but here are also some foundational tips to get you started:
1. Determine your goals
Take some time to determine your feeding goals for your baby while you are at work and when you get back home. What is most important to you in your desire to feed your baby? You will need a reason to keep pumping at work on days that you are exhausted and stressed. Try and figure out the why behind your desire to give your baby breastmilk. Once you have a reason and you have made a goal, manage your expectations. It will take time, commitment, and adjustments to attain this goal. This is a marathon (not a sprint), difficult days will come, and milk will not flow like a fountain the moment you turn your pump on. Give yourself grace and know you are in this because you love your baby, and you want this for both of you. When it seems overwhelming or you are not where you hoped to be, take it one pump session at a time and contact a lactation specialist for support.
2. Know your pump
Before you go back to work make sure you have a pump you like and know well. If you don’t pump much at home, this tip is really important. In the 2-3 weeks before heading back to work, use your pump a few times a week. This will give you time to practice with the pump, let your body learn how to have multiple let downs during pumping, know how much milk to bag for each bottle at daycare, and give you a bit of extra milk for the first few day at work. If you don’t like your pump or need a pump that fits in your bra, now is the time to get one and practice. Schedule a lactation consult to learn how to use your pump, be fitted, and learn how to manually express.
3. Advocate for yourself
Know your rights under Minnesota law for expressing your milk at work. Under the law, your employer is required to provide you with reasonable break times to pump in a room that is private, close to your workspace, and has an outlet. The space that they provide cannot be a bathroom. Before you go back to work, talk to your HR department and your manager about your plans to pump and discuss how to make that happen. Most companies are very supportive of pumping at work and have specified rooms set aside. If not, they will make a space available to you. By talking to your employer early on, you will set up the expectation that you will need multiple breaks each day to pump.
4. Plan ahead
In order to provide a full supply of milk for your baby, most women need to pump every 2-3 hours, or as often as their baby would normally nurse at home. The only way that you are going to have time to pump is if you schedule it beforehand. Plan out your week and add pumping times to your calendar. Each day, go over your schedule and make sure you block the needed time for pumping. Pumping can take 15-45 min depending on your supply and how often you pump. If you don’t set an alarm and guard that time while at work, it will get filled with other tasks. Most moms find it works best to nurse their baby right before they leave for work or to get to daycare early and nurse there before they go to work. At the end of that nursing session, you have 2-3 hours before you need to start pumping. Then, at the end of every pump session you need to pump or nurse again in 2-3 hours. Try to time daycare pick up for when baby is hungry so you can nurse as soon as you get home, or even right at daycare before you head out. This way you have time with baby to reconnect and you won’t have to pump because daycare gave a bottle right before you got there. Invest in a good cooler to transport your milk and make sure you know milk storage and handling guidelines to keep your milk safe and fresh. If you are having trouble getting enough pump sessions in during the day, your commute can be a great time to add one in, with hands-free options, of course. Alternatively, think about adding an in-bra pump for some sessions. Finally, make a plan for keeping your pump parts clean throughout the day. Most working moms are able to store their entire pump parts and bottles in a Ziploc bag in the staff fridge, so that you don’t have to wash everything after each pumping session. Be sure to wash all parts in hot, soapy water at the end of each shift, however, and sanitize parts at least a couple times each week.
Having an open line of communication with daycare is essential for many reasons, but one of them is making sure they are caring for and feeding your milk correctly. Every daycare has specific rules and guidelines for how they feed, want bottles prepped, and how breastmilk is stored. Know these rules and how to best make them work for you. Most daycares are well aware of how to mix formula but are less aware of how differently they need to treat bottles of breast milk, or how to properly give a bottle to a nursing baby. Talk to your daycare about how to properly pace feed and care for the milk you work so hard to make!
It may sound like a lot, but the better you plan for your return to work, the less stressful and the better your experience will be. If it all seems overwhelming, look back to when you started your journey. Take stock of what you’ve accomplished and the hurdles you’ve overcome. On days that are tough, remember your why for doing this and make a plan to reach your goal, or make a new goal. Share your wins with your loved ones and your struggles too, and take it one pump session at a time.