Breastfeeding is good for you and your baby. It protects your baby against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition. Ideally, babies should be breastfed (given only breast milk) for at least the first 6 months of life. If possible, continue to feed them some or only breast milk until they are at least 1 year old.
The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work. These accommodations include time for women to express milk and a private space that is not a bathroom each time they need to pump. Learn more about what is required of employers and what employees need to know.
Path to improved health
It is possible to keep giving your child breast milk when you return to work. The easiest way to do this is to make a breastfeeding plan in advance. Take as much maternity leave as you can. This allows your milk supply to become strong before you return to work. Talk to your employer about your plan to breastfeed. You can do this before you go on maternity leave or before you go back to work.
Ask your employer the following questions in order to make a breast-pumping schedule.
- How often can you step away from work to pump breast milk? At what times?
- What changes might have to be made to your workload to allow time for pumping?
- Where can you pump?
A pumping room, or lactation room, can be created in any area that provides privacy. You should not have to use this space at the same time as someone else. The room should contain a chair and working electrical outlets. A sink is helpful for cleaning up after you pump your breasts.
Plan to have the following items on hand for when you breast pump at work.
- Breast pump, plus electrical adapter if needed. Keep extra batteries if you have a battery-powered pump.
- Enough milk storage containers to get you through your workday.
- A small cooler, plus ice, to store your milk at work. This is only if your employer does not have a refrigerator. If you forget a cooler, you can store breast milk at room temperature for up to 6 hours.
- An extra shirt or sweater to wear in case your breasts leak. Try wearing shirts with patterns on them. It is harder to see milk on patterned material.
- Clothing that makes it easy to get to your breasts. Your clothing should pull up or open in the front.
- A water bottle and healthy snacks. Women who breastfeed need extra calories.
- A pillow to support your arm while you pump. This can make pumping more comfortable.
- A “do not disturb” sign, if you pump in a shared space.
- A shawl or small blanket for privacy if you have to pump in a common space.
Optional items include:
- A book or magazine to read, or music to listen to. If you are relaxed, your breasts will release milk more easily and you will be able to pump your breasts better.
- A picture of your baby. Thinking about your baby can stimulate milk flow through the let-down reflex.
Things to consider
You should still breastfeed whenever you are with your baby. On-site (at your workplace) daycare might be an option. If possible, find a caregiver who is close to your workplace. This allows you to provide at least 1 feeding for your baby during your workday. Your caregiver may be within driving distance over lunch. Or your caregiver might bring your baby to you for 1 or more feedings.
It is okay if you cannot provide feedings during the day. Your caregiver should use a bottle to feed your baby the breast milk you pumped. Be careful not to start feeding your baby from a bottle too early. If you use a bottle too early, your baby may not breastfeed as well. This problem is called “nipple confusion.” It is best to avoid bottles and pacifiers until your baby is at least 4 to 6 weeks of age and has learned how to breastfeed well.
Some women can’t breastfeed during the day or pump at work. In this case, have your caregiver feed your baby formula when breast milk is not available. Keep in mind, the less you pump, the less breast milk you have. Over time, your breasts will stop making milk during the day. For the first few days, your breasts may become extra full and leak. You can use nursing pads in your bra to catch leaking milk. Crossing your arms over your breast and applying firm pressure can stop the leaking. If your breasts become painful, you can go the bathroom and let out enough milk to feel better. You can do this with your hands or with a breast pump.
Talk to your doctor, a friend, or family member who has breastfed while working outside the home. Local breastfeeding support groups or websites also are good sources of information.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What is the best breast pump to use?
- How early after birth can I start pumping breast milk?
- How many times a day should I pump?
- How soon can I return back to work?
- What should I do if my baby starts to prefer bottle-feeding to breastfeeding?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.