How to Successfully Integrate Breastfeeding Into Your Work Life

How to Successfully Integrate Breastfeeding into Your Work Life
••• Getty Images/ Ruth Jenkinson

Employment is possibly the biggest obstacle for a long-term breastfeeding relationship between a new mom and her baby. But many working moms before you have done it, and you can, too.

Most new working moms who want to breastfeed aim to do so for as long as they can. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year of your baby's life. So if you want to keep breastfeeding after you return to work, you will have to figure out how to integrate pumping into your workday.

Choose the Right Pump

The first step is to find a breast milk pump that works for you. Before you purchase a pump:

  1. Check whether your health insurance will cover the cost: According to the federal Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in 2010, insurance companies are required to cover the cost of a breast pump and related supplies. Contact your health insurance company to find out the specific brands or types that are covered.
  2. Determine how you would like to power your pump: There are three different ways to do so: manually (by hand), battery, and electric. A manual pump obviously requires more work on your part than the other two options.
  3. Decide whether you want a pump that works on both breasts at the same time or one breast at a time: A double, electrically powered breast pump is your best bet for pumping efficiently. Two popular ones are the Medela Pump In Style and the Ameda Purely Yours. The most powerful type is a hospital-grade pump that can drain your breasts in just a few minutes. You can also opt for a hands-free pumping bra that lets you type on a computer or hold a book while pumping.

Make a Stockpile of Breast Milk

Start pumping as soon as you can after you recover from childbirth. Many moms find they're ready to start pumping at around four to six weeks postpartum. That's also a good time to introduce your baby to a bottle. 

When pouring your milk into a breast milk storage bag, hold on to that bag tightly. It's very easy to cry over your spilled milk because you're working hard to produce it.

Store two to three ounces per bag when you're starting out. You wouldn't want to defrost six or eight ounces when your baby ends up drinking only two.

When you store bags in your freezer, lay them flat. That makes them easier to stack and also easier to defrost because there's no milk caught in the creases of the plastic. Gerber, Lansinoh, and Playtex make breast milk storage bags that will hold up to eight ounces. Medela makes bags that can attach directly to your pump.

Write the date and the amount you pumped on the storage bag. This is important because breast milk can be used three to six months after it's been frozen.

Start keeping track of how much your baby drinks in one sitting and be prepared for the amount to increase suddenly if they're having a growth spurt. This way, you'll eventually be able to gauge how much milk you will need to cover a workday.

Determine When to Fit In Pumping Sessions

It can be hard to slate in a pumping session between rounds of nursing a hungry newborn. If your baby predictably sleeps for five or six hours at night, you can pump a couple of hours after their bedtime. If they take a long afternoon nap, pump as soon as they fall asleep. You can also try pumping right after their first morning feeding.

Don't worry if your baby seems unsatisfied with their feedings after you start pumping. In a few days, your body will adjust and start making more milk for both feedings and pumpings.

You could also try pumping right after you've fed your baby throughout the day. Your body will recognize you're empty, and you will produce plenty more milk for the next feeding.

Use your new-mother intuition to continue fitting in pumping sessions. There will be some days when you can and other days when you can't.

Breastfeed During the Workday if Possible

Once you return to work, breastfeeding is the best way to keep stimulating your breasts to produce milk. If you can negotiate flexible hours or work from home with a babysitter for one or two days a week, you're in luck.

If your childcare is close to your office, stop by on your lunch break to nurse your baby. Make sure your child's caregivers understand not to feed your baby in the late morning so he'll be hungry when you arrive. Even better, ask them to call you when your baby seems ready to feed, and you can go for a nursing session.

Figure Out an At-Work Pumping Schedule

Lactation consultants recommend that you pump once for every feeding your baby has while you're apart. For most moms, that means three or four times during a workday. Remember that this is just a recommendation; all bodies are different and respond differently to breast pumping.

The Affordable Care Act also requires employers to give you reasonable break times to pump. Before you talk to your manager about your breaks, figure out how long they'll need to be. Time how long it takes for you to get to your pumping location, pump, clean up, and return to your desk. You might want to factor in a bathroom break before or after your pumping session. This could all add up to 15–20 minutes.

If you can take three or four breaks during the day, start with that to see how much milk you get. If you can take only one or two breaks, that will have to be good enough. Remember, as time progresses, your milk supply will start to dwindle, so these pumping sessions won't affect your schedule for long.

Find a Private Place to Pump

Where you pump depends largely on your office setup. Check your state laws regarding expressing breast milk. Many states require employers to provide break times and a private location for pumping. Talk to your human resources representative or manager about logistics.

If your employer has a lactation room, you'll feel comfortable because no one can bother you and you'll have everything you need, including an electric outlet and a sink to wash out your pump equipment. 

If you have a private office, you can simply close the door to pump. This is the easiest scenario for fitting in three or four sessions in a day.

Tricks to Increase Milk Supply

For many moms, pumping is simply not as efficient as nursing your baby to increase milk supply. So don't stress out if you pump less than your baby is drinking during the day. Feeling stressed can affect your milk supply. If your milk supply starts to dwindle, you can dip into the freezer stash you made before your maternity leave ended.

Just because your milk supply is less one day doesn't mean it will stay like that. There are things you can try to boost your levels back up so you feel confident and less stressed.

Try to be patient. It may take your body a few days to respond to these tricks.

  1. Look at pictures of your baby: Store a few baby pictures in your pump bag or take pictures of your baby every morning so you can look at them on your phone while you pump. The imagery may stimulate your breasts to let down more quickly. 
  2. Pump a bit longer than normal: If you've been pumping for 15 minutes at a time, try 30 minutes. You may see two or even three separate letdowns and, overall, you will increase your milk supply.
  3. Try a power pump method: Pump for 10 minutes, wait a few minutes, pump another 10 minutes, wait a few minutes, and then pump another 10 minutes. You should experience three or more separate letdowns and produce more milk overall. Because this power pump will probably take longer than your scheduled break, try this method during the weekend.
  4. While pumping, massage your breasts in the direction of the nipple: Start on the top right of your breast, and using your middle, ring, and pointer fingers, push down slightly and move toward your nipple. It will feel like you are pushing the milk out of your breast. 
  5. See if you can add an extra pumping session to your day: First thing in the morning may be best because it's the longest time you've gone without pumping. You could also try one last session before bed. 
  6. Try to get more rest: It may be easier said than done, but getting more sleep is likely to result in an uptick in milk production. When you're exhausted, your body definitely won't make as much milk.
  7. Last but not least, stay hydrated: Buy an extra large water bottle and always keep it with you. The more you drink, the better you will feel, and the easier your milk will let down. Speaking of drinking, stay away from alcohol. Some people claim that beer helps, but it actually dehydrates you.

Streamline Cleaning and Packing

You'll get more rest if you spend less time washing dirty bottles and pump pieces. Buy duplicate pumping sets so you can clean in batches at the end of the workday. Or if you have access to a microwave, try the steam-cleaning bags sold by Medela.

Before you go to bed, put out your pumping bra and pack your breast pump, clean pump pieces, and bottles. Try packing each set in a large ziplock bag so you can easily take them out at work.

Don't Judge Yourself

The most disappointing thing you could do in your quest to extend breastfeeding is to obsess about your milk supply. Give yourself a break! Supplementing with formula is a perfectly healthy way to feed your child. Any amount of breast milk you're able to make is better than nothing and will give your baby wonderful nutrition and immunity protections.

In the end, how much milk you pump doesn't determine your worth as a mother. Your child will be better off with you as a happy, responsive, loving mother than the world's most productive wet nurse.