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Returning to Work While Breastfeeding

Returning to work while breastfeeding your baby can appear daunting. Here are some hints to help you make the transition back to work while you continue to breastfeed your baby.

This information is part of Virtua’s Breastfeeding resources collection. Please see our Breastfeeding Support Resources page to view the entire series.

Planning for your return to work can help ease the transition. Learn as much as possible and talk with your employer about your options. This can help you continue to enjoy breastfeeding your baby long after you return to work.

During pregnancy

  • Join a breastfeeding support group to talk with other mothers about breastfeeding while working.
  • Talk with your supervisor about your plans to breastfeed.
  • Discuss different types of schedules, such as starting back part-time at first or taking split shifts.
  • Find out if your company provides a lactation support program for employees. If not, ask about private areas where you can comfortably and safely express milk.

After your baby is born

  • Set up a breastfeeding routine that works for you and your baby.
  • Ask for help from a lactation consultant or your OB provider.

During your maternity leave

  • Take as many weeks off as you can. Six to 12 weeks of leave can help you recover from childbirth and develop a good breastfeeding routine.
  • Practice expressing your milk by hand or with a quality electric breast pump. Freeze 2 to 4 ounces at a time to save for your baby after you return to work.
  • Help your baby adjust to taking breastmilk from a bottle (or cup for infants 3 to 4 months old) shortly before you return to work. Babies are used to nursing with mom, so they usually drink from a bottle or cup when given by somebody else.
  • See if there’s a childcare option close to work so that you can visit and breastfeed your baby, if possible. Ask if the facility staff will feed your child your pumped breast milk.
  • Talk with your family and childcare provider about your desire to breastfeed. Let them know you will need their support.

Back at work

  • Keep talking with your supervisor about your schedule and what is or isn't working for you. Remember that a gradual return to work gives you more time to adjust.
  • If your childcare is nearby, ask if you can visit at lunch to breastfeed your baby.
  • When you arrive to pick up your baby from childcare, take time to breastfeed first. This will give you time to reconnect before traveling home and returning to other family responsibilities.
  • If you have difficulty getting support, talk to your human resources department. You also can ask a lactation consultant for tips.

Pumping at Work

Work with your supervisor to find a private place to express your milk. If your company doesn’t provide a private lactation room, find another private area. You may be able to use the following:

  • An office with a door
  • A conference room
  • A little-used closet or storage area

The room should be private and secure from interruption and have an outlet for an electric breast pump.

It’s best not to express milk in a restroom. It’s unsanitary, it may not have an electrical outlet, and it may be challenging to manage an electric breast pump in a bathroom stall.

In-office pumping tips

It may take time to adjust to pumping breastmilk in a work environment. For easier pumping, try these tips that help with your milk letdown:

  • Relax and take a deep breath
  • Massage your breasts
  • Gently rub your nipples
  • Visualize the milk flowing down
  • Think about your baby—bring a photo, blanket, or clothing item that smells like your baby

When to express milk

When you’re working, you’ll need to express and store milk at times you usually feed your baby. In the first few months of life, babies breastfeed 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. This turns out to be about 2 to 3 times during a typical 8-hour work period.

Pumping at these intervals will help you make enough milk for your childcare provider to feed your baby while you’re at work. Expressing milk usually takes about 10 - 15 minutes.

As your baby gets older, the frequency of their feedings may decrease. Many women take their regular breaks and lunch breaks to pump. Talk with your supervisor about accommodations that will allow you to pump and work your normal hours.

Storing your milk

Breast milk is food, so keeping it in an employee refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs is safe. Talk to your supervisor about the best place to store your milk. Be sure to label the milk container with your name and the date you expressed the milk.

If you work in a medical department, don’t store milk in the same refrigerators where medical specimens are kept.