Just when you've hit your breastfeeding groove, you may be facing a whole new set of challenges if you return to work: pumping and stockpiling breast milk at home, introducing a bottle, negotiating a time and place to pump at work, and dealing with coworkers who may not understand your decision. On top of all that, you'll still need to do your job while missing your baby.
Even with these obstacles, women do continue providing breast milk for their babies, but it's not easy. Only 8 percent of new and expectant mothers report being extremely satisfied with their ability to manage the multiple demands of their lives, according to a survey by Bravado Designs, maker of intimate apparel for pregnant and nursing moms.
The first step is to rent or buy a good-quality electric breast pump that empties both breasts at once. Sure, they can be expensive, but the time you save will be well worth it. Check with your health insurance provider. Some will cover the cost of renting a high-power pump.
You may also want to keep a lower-cost, but efficient, manual pump at home so you don't have to haul the machine around. Some moms say they keep the heavy, motorized pump at work Monday through Friday, and tote only the bottles back and forth.
Learn how to use your pump before you return to work. Going back to work is overwhelming enough; you don't want to spend your first day back at work trying to figure out how to operate your pump. About two weeks before you go back to work, practice using the pump and start storing your breast milk.
Now that you know how to use your pump, it's time to start building a stash of milk in the freezer that a caregiver can thaw and use to feed your baby while you're at work. Start by pumping after each morning feeding, when your supply is usually at its peak. In the beginning, it may be an effort to get as little as 2 ounces of milk from both breasts, since your baby just ate. But once you're away from your baby, you may find that you can produce 5 to 8 ounces at a time, assuming you are able to pump about three times during the workday.
Output can vary widely from mom to mom and depends on a number of factors: the age of your baby, the time of day and how well you're able to maintain your milk supply. Expect to pump for 15-25 minutes with a double electric pump. It could take longer if you're not using a double pump.
You can freeze your breast milk in resealable plastic bags designed for single-serving portions. Pick up these bags and other supplies, such as bottles, nipples, and breast pads, where you find infant feeding items.
Before you freeze your milk, label the bag with the date you pumped the milk. It's also OK to "layer" milk from different pumping sessions in the same bag as long as you have expressed it on the same day and chill it before adding it to the frozen milk. Breast milk can be refrigerated and used within 48 to 72 hours. It will keep in a freezer compartment inside the refrigerator for two to three weeks, in a separate freezer unit of a refrigerator for three to six months, or in a stand-alone deep freezer for six to 12 months. Keep in mind, however, that all of these guidelines are just that. Use your best judgment. Like any spoiled milk, breast milk will smell bad, so you'll be able to tell after you thaw the serving whether it's OK to use.
Introduce a bottle
At least two weeks before your maternity leave ends, have someone else, such as Dad, Grandma or the new caregiver, give the baby a bottle. Practice this new feeding technique—once a day to start—so your baby gets used to it before you actually have to be separated for a long period of time. When you return to work, you may want your partner to give your baby a bottle during the night so that you can have at least one solid block of sleep.
Thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator or place the bag in a bowl of warm water. It's never a good idea to thaw or heat breast milk in a microwave. It will destroy some of the immunity-building properties of the milk, which thwarts all your efforts. Plus, a microwave can produce hot spots in the milk that can burn your baby's mouth.
Create a plan with your boss
Twenty-five percent of working mothers report that they are not able to discuss back-to-work breastfeeding plans with their employer prior to going on maternity leave.
"Contact your employer several weeks before returning to work," says Nancy Holtzman, a maternal, infant, and lactation specialist. "Let them know you'll need to express milk two or three times each day once you return. Find out what policies may already be in place, or research the legislation in your area. Present your employer with a positive attitude and practical suggestions to make your pumping plan work for everyone."
Get to work
Expressed breast milk should be kept chilled, so if you're pumping at work, you'll need a refrigerator or cooler to store it in until you go home. You'll also need an insulated bag and cold pack to transport it during your commute.
Try to dress in clothing that eases pumping, such as blouses that unbutton in the front or sweaters that pull up easily. You may find that your favorite one-piece dress isn't worth the trouble of having to disrobe entirely to pump. It's also a good idea to keep an extra neutral-colored blouse or sweater at work for those days when you can't get to your pump fast enough and you start to leak. Wearing a good set of breast pads at all times will cut down on such accidents. It's a good idea to keep some spares in your desk or locker.
You may not master the art of being a breastfeeding working mom the first day back at the office. A mere 7 percent of women find pumping at work extremely easy, according to Bravado's research.
Through this whole process, the best advice might just be to exercise patience and give it time, says Staci Starr, senior brand manager at Bravado Designs.
"Confidence and comfort come with time and with help," Starr says.