Going back to work can be an extremely stressful time for a new parent. Many parents fear that they will not be able to maintain their milk supply (and end up wasting money on lactogenic foods) or are concerned that they aren’t leaving enough milk for their baby. These breastfeeding tips can help you feel more confident during a stressful transition period.
Do a Trial Run
Before you need to go back to work, it can be helpful to have a practice day. You can practice pumping and offering your baby a bottle. This way you can deal with any potential problems (like bottle refusal) before you’re stuck at work. It will also give you a good idea of how much milk you pump and how much milk your baby takes in a day.
How much milk should you leave?
When it’s finally time to leave your little one with someone else, it can be challenging to know how much milk to leave! If you have been exclusively breastfeeding, you may have no idea how much milk your baby is getting each feed, so how do you know what they need? Here are some tips for breastfeeding parents to help figure out how much milk your baby might need.
- What you pump isn’t necessarily what they get. Babies are incredibly efficient feeders, for the most part. Oftentimes, they are able to get more from the breast than your pump. Despite what you may see people posting, most moms won’t pump more than 2-4 ounces in a session and that’s ok! If you find that you’re pumping less than what your baby is taking, there are strategies you can take to make sure you have enough milk, or you can supplement with formula as needed. If you find that one breast is making more milk than the other, know that it’s completely normal. (Want more information on that, check out this article I was quoted in about uneven milk supply).
- It’s very easy to overfeed a breastfed baby with a bottle. Make sure that whoever is feeding your baby is pace-feeding. Pace feeding mimics breastfeeding and will help prevent your baby from taking in more volume than they are used to. Another strategy with breastfed babies is to use a smaller nipple size. With the bigger nipples, babies can get more milk in a shorter amount of time and may end up overeating.
- As a rule of thumb, a breastfed baby takes 1-1.5 ounces/hour away. So for an 8 hour day, they may need 8-12 ounces. All babies are different, so if your baby takes a little more or less, that’s ok! If you notice that your baby is taking significantly more than that range, circle back to number 2 and make sure your caregiver is pace feeding.
- Unlike babies who are formula fed, breastfed babies take roughly the same volume once feeding is established. Caregivers who are used to formula fed babies may not realize this and try to feed your baby more than they need. Most breastfed babies will never take more than a 4-5 ounce bottle, even as they get bigger.
- Some babies will reverse cycle when mom leaves, meaning they will eat very little when you’re gone, but then want to feed all night long when you’re home. Definitely work with your caregiver to make sure that your little one is getting enough calories throughout the day.
Is it better to give older milk or fresh milk?
There’s no perfect answer to this question. In an ideal world, you are providing your baby milk from the source. Breast milk is constantly changing to be appropriate for your child. This means that freshest milk will be best. Freezing milk can also damage some of the protective factors. This does NOT mean that frozen milk or older milk is bad for your baby, but that freshest will always be best.
I generally recommend rotating in a little bit of frozen milk along with fresh milk. This gives your baby mostly fresh milk (ideal), but also lets you rotate out some of your older breast milk. You’re less likely to find milk that is past its storage time, since you’re giving older milk at least once a week.
For simplicity, let’s assume a typical Monday-Friday schedule. Before going back to work, you will need (at least) a one day supply of breast milk. You can provide that to your daycare on Monday. On Tuesday, you will provide what you pumped on Monday. Wednesday gets Tuesday’s milk, etc. Friday, you can take whatever milk you pumped and place it in the freezer. When Sunday comes, you can start defrosting your oldest milk. This strategy lets you work through a bit of your freezer stash (on Mondays) while providing mostly fresh milk for your baby. If you find that you are pumping more than baby is taking, you can freeze that little extra. If you are pumping less, then you will need to pull from your freezer stash or supplement with formula.
Pumping at Work
Your goal should be to have a pumping session every time your child needs a bottle. This will ideally be every 3 hours. Realistically, that may not be an option. Make sure that when you do pump, you are finishing your let down to get the fatty hindmilk.
Here are some general tips for when you’re not able to pump as often as you like.
- Feed baby right as you’re dropping off. Theoretically, this will decrease a bottle, since your baby won’t need to eat for several hours. Scheduling this doesn’t always work though.
- Pump in the car. Most electric pumps have a car adaptor or battery option. You can use a hands-free pumping bra and pump as you drive (this works well for road trips too). This works well if your commute is an appropriate amount of time to pump. You won’t be able to safely adjust the settings on the road, so you may notice a slightly lower than normal output. If you are concerned about exposure, you can get something like the Freemie adaptor which works with many pumps. Do note that if you use these cups, you will need to make sure you have good posture to prevent leaks. You could also drive with a breastfeeding cover as well.
- Feed baby at pick up. If possible, ask your provider to hold off feeding or just offering a small feeding near pick up time. This will allow you to bond and feed your baby at the end of the work day.
Pumping at Work Schedule
While larger companies in the US are required to offer parents time to pump for the first year, there are many exceptions to this rule. It is ideal to pump several times throughout the day, however I realize that’s not possible for everyone. I’ve provided a more traditional schedule with pumping breaks on the left and a less ideal version where the only break is at lunch.
In this situation, it would be important to utilize drive time to pull additional milk. Breastmilk is created on a supply and demand system. If there is no demand, meaning you’re not pumping or feeding frequently, you will make less milk. Your breasts are never truly empty, so even if your baby will be eating not too long after your commute, your body will already be making more milk.
Just a quick reminder for safe storage of breast milk. You may not have access to a fridge at work, but you can safely store breast milk in a cooler as well. Never refreeze breastmilk that has been defrosted.
|Storage Location||Safe Time Limit|
|Room temperature (fresh)||4 hours|
|Cooler with ice packs||24 hours|
|Refrigerator (fresh)||4 days|
|Refrigerator (defrosted)||24 hours|
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.