Working while providing breastmilk for your baby

Maternity leave has come to an end, and it’s time to go back to work. What do breastfeeding moms need to know about preparing for this transition, workplace laws, pumping and storing milk while away from home? Le Bonheur Registered Lactation Consultant Ruth Munday BSN, RN-BC, IBCLC, answers all these questions and more.

First of all, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee all have laws to protect your right to breastfeed and/or provide breastmilk for your baby. Know your state's laws about this topic.

Talk with your employer before returning to work to arrange where and when you will be able to express milk at your workplace. You need a safe, clean place to pump that is not a toilet stall or bathroom. If you do not have a private office, check into the use of a vacant office, break room or conference room. Initially you should plan on 30 minute breaks, about every three hours to express milk. Adjust the schedule to your individual needs.

Guide to storing fresh breast milk for use with healthy full-term infants:

  • Countertop table at room temp (60-85°F) for up to 3-4 hours is best.
  • Refrigerator 39°F or colder for up to 72 hours is best. Store milk in the back of the main body of the refrigerator.
  • Freezer 0°F or colder for up to 6 months is best; up to 12 months is OK. Store milk toward the back of the freezer where temperature is most constant.

Before returning to work:

  • Take as long of a maternity leave as you can. The early weeks are important for bonding with your baby and building your milk supply.
  • Establish a good milk supply by breastfeeding or pumping often. A full milk supply would be producing 24-30 ounces a day.
  • Introduce a bottle to your baby a few weeks before you return to work. If the baby has been latching well, it is helpful to have someone other than mom give the bottle. Continue breastfeeding as long as possible with occasional bottle.
  • Choose a childcare provider that supports breastfeeding moms.
  • Start storing expressed milk at least two weeks prior to going back to work. You can start earlier if you like. Store milk in small amounts, 2-3 ounces per bottle. Label bottles with the date collected and the baby’s name.Confirm plans with your employer on when and where you will be able to express your milk at work. Read here for suggestions on how to talk to your employer and ideas for setting up a pumping space.
  • Take a day to practice and see what returning to work will be like. For example, get baby and yourself ready for the day, nurse, drop baby off at day care, go to work, pump during the day, pick baby up from day care, nurse and spend your evening as usual.
  • If possible, go back to work slowly, part time, then ¾ time and then gradually go full time. If going back full time immediately, make your first day back a Thursday so you only have a two day work week to ease into rather than a full week.

When back to work:

  • Bring a small cooler and freezer gel pack to keep your milk in as you pump throughout the day. Breast milk can be safely stored in a shared refrigerator with other food and beverages. Under certain work conditions, or because of your personal preference, you might instead choose to store your milk in a personal cooler with ice packs.
  • Bring plenty of snacks and water to stay fueled and hydrated.ring supplies to wash your pump parts or bring an extra set of pump parts to save time.
  • Carry a picture of your baby to look at while you pump.
  • Contact a lactation consultant for support and further ideas on how to plan your work day or if you notice a decrease in your milk supply.
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