Returning to work can be a huge shift in your parenting journey, with the potential to affect your hormones, mental health, breast milk supply and much more. Taking the time to consider each of the following points and coming up with a plan ahead of time will help you feel as prepared as you can be and reduce the stress unexpected challenges may bring.
Notify your employer
In Australia it is deemed as discrimination to prevent a breastfeeding parent from continuing breastfeeding in the workplace. It is suggested you inform your employer of your intentions to continue breastfeeding/expressing before your return to work. If you have colleagues who have returned to work whilst breastfeeding it can be helpful to reach out for their experience and any learnings they may have to pass on.
Your milk supply
If you are returning to work and your baby is breastfeeding exclusively or mixed feeding, and your goal is to continue with this, you will need to think about how you will maintain your supply. The best way to do this is using a double electric breast pump, and starting this 4-6 weeks before your return date. It's not that you need a huge stash of milk, a buffer can certainly help, it's more about getting familiar with pumping and what it looks like for you and your family life.
Sometimes building an extra supply is best done very gradually for parents who have an abundant supply of milk and don't want to overstimulate milk prosecution with the additional pumping. And sometimes if milk supply is just enough for what the baby needs, you are feeling very depleted or have had challenges with milk supply then extra time helps to create a stash.
I would say as a minimum you would want 2-3 days of feeds stored in advance just to give you some flexibility when returning for work, in case your pumping schedule is missed or you are unable to pump enough for whatever reason. Having ‘spare’ milk also helps reduce stress if there is bottle refusal or mishandling of milk that has been defrosted.
Generally I recommend 4 hours at room temperature, 4 days in the fridge and up to 4 months in the freezer. If you are expressing and not using that milk in the next 24 hours, it's best to transfer it straight to the freezer. I suggest storing milk in volumes of 30-60 mls so that you are not defrosting too much and wasting that precious milk and time spent pumping where possible.
Store your milk in bags, lying flat until frozen, then stack them vertically for a more space efficient approach. Each bag needs to be labeled with the volume, time and date of expressing.
When it comes to choosing a breast pump I would suggest a double eclectic wearable. I find wearable pumps work exceptionally well due to their flexibility and mobility, as a baby grows old the more on the move we become! If you are unsure of how long you want to pump for, and are hesitant to invest, or have previously purchased a pump that you know won't be that convenient at the workplace (attached to powerpoint, not battery operated, takes a long time to express what you need) then opting for a single wearing is a great choice. Not all wearable pumps are created equal, so make sure you do your research and opt for a hospital-grade or as close to a hospital-grade motor for maximum efficiency and longevity of your pump.
Under 6 months
If your baby is under 6 months then replacing all feeds is essential, as milk is their main source of nutrition at this stage. You can continue breastfeeding when you are not working, and on your days off. Often parents like to breastfeed before they go to work and as soon as they return, whilst doing 2-3 pumps during the workday - this depends on how frequently your baby likes to drink, and how much milk you can produce. As a guide, 150mls is generally the maximum volume your baby would generally consume before the 6 month mark, and depending on their age/size, they consume around 30 mls of milk per hour. Please note these are just guids and you will need to take time to work out what your baby needs, particularly if they are new to a bottle.
After 6 months
If you are returning to work After the 6-month mark, your baby will also be consuming water and some solids. With that benefit of your baby having water and solids this does give you some more flexibility in terms of the amount of milk required to get them through the day when you're at work. you may find that your baby is consuming water through a straw or sippy cup and if bottle refusal is something you're dealing with then using either of these vessels to offer milk can be helpful. Milk feeds can tend to reduce at this stage (not always), so you can experiment with the right amount of pumping when you are at work.
Returning to work can bring up many emotions and it is a time of big change for not only your little person but also for yourself and your daily routine. You not only have to adjust to your roles and responsibilities at work, you also have an increased mental load and getting used to having periods of time away from your baby can be very emotionally challenging.
It is really important to keep up your self care and nourishment during this time. I always suggest continuing your prenatal supplement and any other supplements you find particularly beneficial to your health and hormones while you've been breastfeeding. Also staying hydrated is incredibly important. This will help maintain your milk supply. I love the Franjos kitchen hydration powders and really notice a difference and the amount of water I can assume when I am adding the powders into my daily routine. Also having a protein rich nutrient dense diet is incredibly important and having snacks on hand like the lactation cookies by Franjos kitchen is also very beneficial to your milk supply and how you can stay nourished.
Get support from a Lactation Consultant
Get in touch with a local IBCLC to support your return to work plan if you're feeling overwhelmed or just need some guidance around this. A lactation consultant can help with bottle refusal, maintain your milk supply pumping Hex and routines and also guide you with weaning your breast milk supply if that is your goal for the season.
Written by: Joelleen Winduss Paye is a Holistic Lactation Consultant, Midwife, Naturopath & Educator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the founder of JWP, a holistic breastfeeding service that is both in-person and online. Joelleen can be found at www.jwp.care and also at @jwp.ibclc where she shares holistic and supportive content for breastfeeding parents.