Breastfeeding for Working Moms
Advice on pumping and storing milk, introducing a bottle, and continuing to breastfeed after maternity leave is over
For many moms who plan to remain employed, just when they find their breastfeeding groove it’s time to return to work and rethink their routine all over again. The challenges ahead include pumping and stockpiling breast milk, introducing a bottle, negotiating a time and place to pump at work, and dealing with co-workers who may not understand your decision. On top of all that, you’ve still got to do your job. Despite these obstacles, some women do manage to continue to provide breast milk exclusively for their babies. If you’re lucky enough to work for one of the 17 percent or so of large companies with on-site or very close-by childcare, that task is a whole lot easier. If you’re not, take a cue from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared.
1. Get pumped. The first step is to rent or buy a good-quality electric breast pump that empties both breasts at once. They’re more expensive than other types, but the time savings will be well worth it. 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 (though many of us keep the heavy motor part of the electric pump at work Monday through Friday, and tote only the bottles back and forth).
Now a few words about learning to pump: This, too, can seem overwhelming when coupled with everything else you’re going through. Paradoxically, the more relaxed you can be about pumping, the easier it will be to get the milk flowing. So the last thing you want to do is attempt to master it just a few days before you’re due to return to work and under pressure. Instead, give yourself about two weeks before you go back to practice and begin storing your breast milk. Consider tapping into your husband’s inner mechanic, that guy gene that enables him to interpret how-to manuals in his sleep. (He’ll probably jump at the chance to assist you in any way possible with your breasts, desperate as he is for attention at this point.) Or, if your partner’s the type that breaks more things than he fixes, ask a girlfriend who knows her way around a breast pump to come over and give you a demo. These contraptions seem like they require a course in advanced physics at first, but unlike actually breastfeeding, you can usually get the hang of them quickly and painlessly.
2. Stock up. Once you know how to hook up, you’re ready to start your freezer stash of pumped breast milk that a caregiver can use to feed your baby while you’re at work. Start pumping after each morning feeding, when your supply is at its peak. Expect to pump between fifteen to twenty- five minutes with a double electric pump that allows you to empty both breasts at once. How much milk you will be able to pump depends on the age of your baby, the time of day, and how well you’re able to maintain your milk supply. During your first at-home morning pumping sessions, it may be an effort to get as little as two ounces of milk from both breasts, since your baby has drained them already. But once you are away from your baby, you may find that you can produce from five to eight ounces at a time, assuming you are able to pump about three times during the workday. (Again, this amount is an average from the total of both breasts, but be aware that output can vary widely from mom to mom.) Seasoned pumpers report that the first pumping session of the day is often the most productive, with less milk being produced the second and third times they flip the switch. As your baby gets older and solids are added to his diet, you may find that the amount you can pump decreases, since your baby is relying less on breast milk.
You can store breast milk in resealable plastic bags with ounce markings in single-serving portions. These handy items are generally available wherever you can buy infant feeding supplies (bottles, nipples, breast pads, and the like). Be sure to label the bag with the date you pumped the milk. It’s also okay 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 forty-eight to seventy-two hours, or frozen for much longer periods. 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 twelve months. Keep in mind, however, that all of these guidelines are just that. If you find a bag buried in the back of your freezer that’s a week past the ideal time frame, it’s probably still fine to use. Like any spoiled milk, breast milk will smell bad if it is, so you’ll be able to tell after you thaw the serving if it’s okay or not.
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 immune properties of the milk, which defeats all your efforts. Plus, there is the issue of hot spots in the baby bottle (due to microwaves’ tendency to heat unevenly) that can burn your baby’s mouth.