(artwork by: https://www.instagram.com/brittengland/ )
Written by Robin Kaplan, M.Ed., IBCLC, Owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Center
How can I protect my milk supply when I return to work? I would say this is the most common question brought up in all of my conversations with breastfeeding/pumping parents about to return to work. You’ve worked so hard to establish your milk supply while breastfeeding, pumping, and bottle feeding and now a huge fear is that work is going to sabotage all you have achieved! Well, guess what? With a little planning, you can protect your supply and your nursing relationship while protecting your career! Here are a few of my favorite preparation tips and tricks!
Step 1: Start creating a freezer stash while on maternity leave
First off, stop looking at Instagram posts of freezers filled to the brim with frozen breastmilk. That’s not normal! A realistic expectation for a freezer stash is about 30oz of pumped milk before you return to work. So, start pumping a few weeks after your baby is born, immediately after a morning breastfeeding session. You won’t get a ton (I mean, your baby just breastfed!) But, you might get 1/2oz to 1oz. Doing that several times a week will build your freezer stash in no time without taking away the milk that your baby needs from you that day or creating an oversupply. And morning pumping sessions tend to be more lucrative than evening pumping sessions, as we often have more milk after that prolactin surge in the middle of the night.
Step 2: Introduce the bottle
The best time to introduce a bottle is when your baby is between 3-6 weeks old. Hopefully by this point breastfeeding is a bit easier and you are feeling more confident about the whole latching/feeding process. Ideally, you want to wait until your baby has mastered the skill of breastfeeding before introducing a new skill (i.e. bottle feeding.) This 3-6 week ‘window of opportunity’ also takes into consideration your baby’s innate sucking reflex, making it easier to introduce something other than the breast to feed from. This sucking reflex is integrated by the time your baby is 10-12 weeks, which means that if you wait until then to introduce the bottle, your kiddo might look at you like you are crazy and then just hold out until you offer the boob again. This definitely makes things more difficult if you are returning to work in the near future! Once the bottle has been introduced, you will want to keep this as part of the feeding routine, offering a bottle at least a few times a week, so that your baby is familiar and comfortable with the bottle when you return to work.
Step 3: Talk with your boss BEFORE you return to work
Whether you are the first person in your workplace asking for a pumping space or there is already an established lactation accommodation policy, chatting with your supervisor/boss prior to returning to work will make sure that there are no random surprises that first day back on the job. You will want to discuss your pumping plan, where you will pump (because you need a private space!), and whether this will be a paid break time or time you need to make up before or after work. This might feel awkward talking about this personal subject with your supervisor, but it is worth the temporary discomfort to work out all of the details so you can protect your milk supply and continue to provide breastmilk to your child. Plus, there are laws to protect you! And if your workplace doesn’t have an existing lactation accommodation policy, feel free to send them my way. Creating these policies happens to be one of my specialties!
***Covid plan for working from home:
Oh COVID, you miserable virus, wreaking havoc on everyone! For those of you who will now work at home, some of the suggestions above will no longer be pertinent. You probably won’t need to speak with your supervisor about a pumping schedule and location because you will now be in the comfort of your own home (like your own boss!) You might even have the option of just breastfeeding your baby rather than offering a bottle throughout the workday.
I would still recommend building a small freezer stash and introducing a bottle between 3-6 weeks, just in case there are times during your workday where you are unable to breastfeed your baby on demand. Plus, at some point, we have to assume that we will all be going back to in-person work, therefore you don’t want to miss your opportunity to store extra freezer milk and help your baby take a bottle. Plus, that pumped milk and bottle feeding always comes in handy when date night is reinstated!
So, are you still craving more information to prepare for your journey back to work? Good news for you… as a loyal Tula Baby follower, use this code (WBW15) for $15 off my online Breastfeeding for the Working Family course.
Wishing you all an easy, smooth, milk-filled transition back to work!
Robin Kaplan is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and founder/owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Center. Over the past 10 years, she has helped thousands of families overcome breastfeeding challenges through her virtual/live prenatal breastfeeding classes and in-person and virtual consultations. Robin is the author of Latch: A handbook for breastfeeding with confidence at every stage and an online class, Breastfeeding for the Working Parent.