So it’s getting to be that time: returning to work after your maternity leave – but you’re breastfeeding. You’re not alone. Almost two-thirds of women work during their pregnancy, and 70% take leave after giving birth. On average, the leave is approximately 10 weeks, but 16% of women only take 1-4 weeks off. (The state of maternity leave in this country is a whole other post…). In order to make both work and breastfeeding happen, then you will likely end up needing to pump.

Before you go on maternity leave, you should be familiar with your rights as a nursing mother. The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law went into effect in 2010. Under this law, workplaces are required to provide women with enough time to breastfeed, and a clean, private space that is not a bathroom for them to pump in until the baby turns 1. Though the law has been around for several years, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has boosted awareness and visibility. If you work for a company that compensates for break times, they are also required to compensate you for the time spent breastfeeding or pumping.

Before You Go Back
Your milk supply isn’t fully established until about four weeks after birth, so pumping before then isn’t recommended. The important things in the early weeks include bonding with your baby, recovering from childbirth, resting as much as you can, and getting your bearings in this new life as a parent. Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. It’s a skill, and like anything, can take practice. It’s especially important to feed on demand the first few weeks, because your body responds to the demands of your baby. When the consistent demand is established, your body will produce.

If you’re planning to pump when you go back to work, after those first four weeks, it’s recommended that you start pumping once a day, and ease into it. Pumping is different from the baby’s latching and stimulates your body in a different way, so your body will need to adjust. This also lets you build up an emergency supply of frozen breast milk, which is always a good thing. Store the milk in 2oz bags – resist the temptation to get bigger bags, because once milk is thawed, you can’t reuse it because bacteria can grow in it. If you have small bags, there will be less waste, and it’s easier to measure out. This way, you can use more of your milk and you’re not stuck throwing away hard-earned liquid gold!

You’re not the only one who needs to adjust to pumping, though. Getting used to a bottle is a task the baby needs to adjust to. Fear not, there are some things you can do to help bottle feeding resemble breast feeding a bit more. It’s recommended that initially, when starting the bottle, if possible, have someone else feed the baby instead of mom. This signals to the baby that they’re not going to be nursed, and they won’t be confused when no breast is being offered.

There are also specific bottles and nipples tested and formulated for breastfed babies, to minimize nipple confusion. (Although, to be honest, my son was never “confused,” and I used regular bottles/nipples). Find what works for your baby, and go with it – one size does not fit all in this case!

Back at Work and Breastfeeding
Make sure you have all of your equipment – the pump, storage containers, a cooler bag (or small cooler), ice packs, and extra breast pads. Insurance should cover the rental of a breast pump, but if you can afford it, you might want to think about buying a second pump, to keep at work – especially if your pump is especially heavy and/or unwieldy. If you haven’t already, get a hands-free pumping bra, so you can pump both breasts at the same time and still be able to type, write, etc.
An insider tip: cut two holes in a sports bra to make your own hands-free pumping bra!

Even though you may not be breastfeeding during the workday, you still need to stay hydrated. Keep bottles of water on hand, and drink throughout the day – if you only drink when thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

At work, your pumping schedule should mimic (as close as possible) your normal feeding routine at home. Don’t be alarmed if the amount of milk you pump seems sparse – the amount from pumping can be different than when you nurse, so don’t worry! You can always add an extra pumping session before or after work to get more milk. To help keep up your supply, nurse, nurse, nurse when you are with your baby.

Remember, it’s not all-or-nothing: you can supplement with formula or donor milk. This does not make you a “bad” mother or a “failure.” Your child is still getting those important nutrients and antibodies from your frozen milk, or when you nurse. If you’re stressed about whether your child is eating enough, the stress can adversely affect your milk output, which benefits no one.