The longer you can spend with your baby after giving birth and before returning to work, the better it is for mom and baby. However, for many mothers returning to work at 12 weeks is a necessity. Reasons include her workplace being unable to offer more leave or for financial reasons. The good news is that, at this stage, mom’s milk supply is well established and with good organization, mom can continue breastfeeding her baby while back at work. I will talk about what each mother needs to think about before going back to work and what she can do while at work.
Breastfeeding and going back to work at 12 weeks can be successfully managed if mom expresses approximately three times during a full working day. It is also important to offer a feed just before leaving and shortly after coming home. This will minimize the amount expressed, and the number of supplements baby will receive.
Going back to work at 12 weeks can be a stressful time for mom as her baby is still young and is still getting to know her baby. However, with the necessary planning and preparation, continuing to breastfeed alongside working can be managed successfully. I will go through a few of the challenges involved along with a guide to a typical workday for a mom who is also breastfeeding her baby.
Preparing For Returning to Work
At 12 weeks, breastfeeding moms have usually resolved any issues or concerns related to breastfeeding. It is now a much easier time for mom and baby. Your infant is now suckling much faster and efficiently at the breast. This can vary a lot but feeding times usually last somewhere between five to fifteen minutes. Parents will often find that feeds get shorter and your baby starts to settle more quickly. Your breast pumping routine will also have become more comfortable as you have been preparing for weeks before this.
At first, it can take some time getting used to expressing milk. A baby suckling at the breast releases oxytocin which in turn stimulates the milk ejection reflex. When using a pump, many of the physical cues from your baby nursing are not present. This, in turn, will not trigger the milk ejection reflex as swiftly as a nursing session will.
I would advise each mother to begin expressing three or four weeks before you start work. This preparation will give you time to find the method of expressing that suits your needs. It will also get you familiar with expressing milk and building up an adequate supply of milk for when you return to work.
Morning and evening routine
As soon as your wake, offer your baby a breastfeed which will keep her satisfied while you get ready. Just before you set off for work, provide another feed for baby. Two feeds before leaving will try to keep expressing down to a minimum and keep baby full for longer.
When you arrive home from work, also offer a breastfeed to the baby first thing. Leave other chores until after the feed or let other family members help with meal preparations.
Creating the right environment
Creating the right setting at your workplace for expressing your milk is essential to enable you to pump when you need to. It’s vital that you feel relaxed, warm and comfortable. Every workplace is different, but there should be at least a private room where you know there will be no interruptions. Try to have a set routine at each pumping session that will stimulate the milk ejection reflex. Applying a warm compress, breast massage and thinking of your baby are some ways that can help. Keep distractions to a minimum such as turning off your phone and locking the door to ensure no interruptions.
Full-time or part-time
A mother away from her baby between four and six hours may need to express at least once while she is away from her baby. Expressing will help prevent engorgement and maintain her milk supply. A manual breast pump, a small electric pump or hand expression may be a suitable choice if you work these hours two to three days a week. If a mother is away from her baby for fewer than four hours, she may not have to pump at all.
A mother may be away from her baby for at least 8-10 hours if working full-time. You may have to express approximately every three hours to give relief and maintain milk supply. If your baby is getting formula while you are at work pumping will not need to occur as frequently. You just need to express when your breasts feel full.
In some cases, if your baby is being cared for a short distance away from your work, you may be able to feed your baby on her break. This visit would reduce the need to pump as often during your working hours. An electric double breast pump would be considered the best choice for a mother working full-time as they are faster and more efficient. You can adjust speed and suction to your comfort.
Storage of milk
At the workplace, you can store expressed milk along with other items in the refrigerator until you bring it home. Transporting your milk in a cooler bag will ensure it will stay at the right temperature.
Keeping Your Milk Supply Up
Many mothers intend to continue to exclusively breastfeed their babies when they go back to work. If working full-time, expressing at least three times, i.e., morning, lunch and afternoon would be required. When mom is away during the day, studies show that some babies feed more in the evening. They also feed more frequently at night and early morning to make up for the feeds not received during their time apart. Try to maintain night feeds if possible. But also ask your partner if he can help out some nights with some expressed breast milk or baby formula if not enough milk has been expressed. During moms time off from work, the baby will nurse full time at the breast. You will probably experience your breasts feeling fuller when going back to work which will help maintain a regular milk supply.
As mentioned earlier if you are away from your baby for less than four hours it would not be necessary to express. At 12 weeks old most babies nurse approximately every 3-4 hours so will not interfere with nursing.
Nursing Mom Work Clothes
Although more common in the early stages some moms may find that they may leak when they are away from their babies. It may be a good idea to wear nursing pads to catch any milk in the first few weeks. Dark-colored clothes may also disguise any minor leakages.
Also, keep in mind to wear clothes that make expressing milk easy. Workwear such as a two-piece outfit or tops or blouses that have a zip or button at the front will make expressing easier.
What Type Of Pump Or Method Of Expression Should I Use
There are some options for moms who need to express their milk to maintain their milk supply and relieve discomfort. A popular choice is the electric breast pump. There are many types with different features and can range from a small electric to a more faster and efficient hospital grade pump. An electric pump has the advantage of adjustable cycle settings and suction settings. Therefore, each mother will be able to pump milk much quicker.
Some moms prefer to use a hand manual pump. These are small and convenient and suitable if mom needs to pump occasionally. However, they do take more effort to use. They also take longer to get the desired amount of milk, but they are lighter, less noisy and can fit into a small bag.
Hand expression is another method that some mothers may prefer. The feel of skin to skin may be more effective in stimulating the let-down reflex. This type of expression can take some time to practice and get familiar. However, once you have mastered the technique, the advantages are that it’s free, convenient and you don’t need any equipment.
How Much Breastmilk Should I Store Before Going Back To Work
It is a good idea to have at least a couple of weeks of breastmilk stored in your freezer. This will ensure you have enough and extra supplies for when you get back to work.
Each baby is different but on average most breastfed babies at 12 weeks will take somewhere between 2 to 4 ounces approximately 8-12 times a day. Try to store milk in these quantities to avoid any waste and the frozen milk will also thaw quicker.
How Long Can You Breastfeed After Going Back To Work
Assuming that your workplace is supportive and facilitates your needs, there is no reason why you cannot continue breastfeeding either exclusively or partially while working. There is no doubt that this is hard work but with the right supports breastfeeding can continue. If regularly pumping as mentioned above, your milk supply should not be affected. You will find as the baby gets older, the breastfeeding journey will get easier. When your baby starts on solids, they will require less milk so, in turn, less pumping may be necessary.