Breastfeeding: Returning to Work
Breastfeeding is good for you and your baby. It protects your baby against many illnesses and is your baby’s best source of nutrition. Babies should be breastfed (given only breast milk) for at least the first 6 months of life, and they should continue to be fed some breast milk until they are at least 1 year old.
Can I continue to breastfeed when I return to work?
Yes, it is possible to continue giving your child breast milk while you work. The easiest way to do this is to make a breastfeeding plan before you return to work.
Before you go on maternity leave, or before you return to work after your baby is born, talk to your employer about your plan to breastfeed.
Also, take as much maternity leave as you can. This will allow your milk supply to become strong before you return to work.
How can I continue to breastfeed my baby when I’m at work?
If possible, find a caregiver who is close enough to your workplace that you can provide at least 1 feeding for your baby during your workday. On-site (at your workplace) daycare might be available to you, or the baby’s caregiver might bring your baby to you for 1 or more feedings.
What if I decide to pump my breasts?
If having your baby nearby during your workday is not possible, you may decide to pump your breasts. You will need to make a breast-pumping schedule. Talk to your employer and answer the following questions:
- How often can you pump your breasts? At what times?
- Where can you pump? Will this area have electricity and privacy?
- What changes might have to be
A checklist (see the box below) can help you be sure that you have everything you need for pumping your breasts at work.
Whenever you are with your baby, you can still breastfeed. When you’re at work, your baby’s caregiver can use a bottle to feed your baby the breast milk you pump. However, be careful not to feed 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 4 to 6 weeks of age and has learned how to breastfeed well.
What you need to pump your breasts at work
- Breast pump, plus electrical adapter if needed. Extra batteries if you are using a battery-powered pump.
- A small cooler, plus ice, if a refrigerator is not available for storing your milk at work. If you forget the cooler, you can store breast milk at room temperature for up to 6 hours.
- Enough milk storage containers for the number of pumping sessions you will need during your workday.
- An extra shirt, sweater or vest to wear in case your breasts leak. It is a good idea to wear shirts with patterns on them because milk is harder to see on patterned material.
- Clothing that makes it easy to get to your breasts. Your clothing should open in the front.
- A shawl or small blanket for privacy if you need to pump in a common area.
- A water bottle and healthy snacks. Women who are breastfeeding need extra calories.
- A pillow for supporting your arm while you pump your breasts. This may make pumping more comfortable.
- A “do not disturb” sign if you are pumping in a shared space.
- A portable radio or tape or CD player (plus your favorite music), an entertaining book or a magazine. If you are relaxed, your breasts will release milk more easily (the “let-down reflex”) and you will be able to pump your breasts better.
- A picture of your baby or an item of your baby’s clothing. Thinking about your baby can stimulate the let-down reflex.
Where can I pump when I’m at work?
A “pumping room” (also called a “lactation room”) can be created in any area that provides privacy. The area should contain a chair and working electrical outlets. A sink is helpful for cleaning up after you pump your breasts.
What if I can’t pump at work and I can’t go home to breastfeed?
If you cannot pump at work, you can still breastfeed whenever you are with your baby. The caregiver can feed your baby formula when not enough of your breast milk is available.
If you don’t pump, your breasts will stop making milk during your workday. For the first few days, your breasts may become overly full and leak. You can use nursing pads (breast shells) 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 very uncomfortable, you can go the bathroom and pump (either with your hands or with a breast pump) just enough milk to feel better.
Who can I talk to when I have questions about breastfeeding and working?
Talk to your doctor, a friend or family member who has breastfed while working outside the home.
Local breastfeeding support groups or breastfeeding-related websites are also good sources of information.
- Returning to Work While Breastfeeding by Frances Biagioli, M.D.(American Family Physician 12/01/03)
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.