As a breastfeeding mama who returned to work at about six months postpartum, I’m not going to lie—the transition is not always easy! Leaving your baby for possibly the first time and balancing work life and family life can be challenging for many. However, my goal as a lactation consultant is to educate you so you know some tips that can help you maintain your milk supply while also being a working mama!
Tips for Maintaining Milk Supply
1. Do a Dry Run
My first recommendation is to do a dry run of your first day back at work. Perhaps have someone come and watch the baby or have your partner stay with the baby. Practice getting out of the house, packing what you’ll need, and even pumping a couple of times to ensure that everything is in working order. This way, you won’t be adding stress to your day on the “big day” back to work!
2. Practice Using Your Pump
Practicing pumping is so important. You’ll want to ensure that you have the correct pump, the pump parts, and the pieces! My first step is making sure that you have the correct flange sizes that fit your breast. Using the incorrect flange sizes may not only be uncomfortable, but they also may not be able to properly empty your breasts, which will be important to maintain supply when you are away from your baby!
Take some time to check that all your pump parts are present and in working order. Then practice how to use your pump. I always recommend taking some time to watch a YouTube video or read through the pump manual so you are aware of different settings and options.
3. Set Your Schedule
The next important piece to maintaining milk supply is replicating your pumping schedule at work to your feeding schedule at home. This means that if your baby typically feeds at 8:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 3:00 pm, then you’ll want to try to pump as close to those times as possible while you’re away from your baby at work. This will ensure that you are emptying your breasts frequently enough to maintain your supply.
4. Get a Little Handsy
Learning how to be “hands-on” while pumping is also important. Breastmilk supply is based on demand. The more we empty our breasts, the more we fill at the next feeding. Breast massage and breast compressions have been shown to yield ⅓ more milk!
You have breast milk ducts throughout your breasts. Massaging all around your breasts will be important for fully emptying them to ensure they will then fill back up. I recommend practicing this when pumping so that you become more comfortable with this technique. By the time you return to work, you’ll be a “hands-on pumping pro!”
5. Breastfeed as Often as You Can
I am always reminding my private lactation consulting clients that your baby will empty you better than any breast pump ever will. Whenever you can, try to breastfeed your baby.
For example, trying to squeeze in a breastfeeding session or two before or after work is a great way to ensure that your baby is fully emptying you instead of relying on your pump to do the hard work for an entire day. However, for some people whose shifts may be long, that may not be possible. That’s okay! Use your days off to have a “babymoon.” Spend your days skin-to-skin with your baby, feeding as often and as long as they would like. This will help boost your supply back up.
If you find your supply is dropping, then perhaps just take a day where you only feed your baby from the breast instead of pumping. Or mix in a pumping session after 1 or 2 feeds of the day. In addition to this, perhaps (don’t hate me) you let your baby nurse at night or even add in a pumping session throughout the night to keep your supply up.
6. Communicate With Caretakers
I also recommend having a conversation with those caring for your child while you are at work. Talk about your baby’s feeding schedule and what your goals are with feeding. For example, if you know that you want to try and feed your baby as soon as you pick them up from daycare, then say, “He/she will take their last bottle at 12:00 pm, and my goal is to be here to feed him/her for their 3:00 pm feeding.”
7. Don’t Stress About Volume
Another reminder I provide often is don’t worry if your supply starts to drift off a bit as the day goes on! Earlier researchers observed that milk volume is typically greater in the morning hours (a good time to pump if you need to store milk). Supply falls gradually as the day progresses (Hurgoiu V, 1985).
Some mamas report that they have “pumping anxiety” and get stressed out and stare into the bottom of the bottle as they’re pumping to see what they’re collecting. If you find yourself anxious about your pumping output, I recommend putting socks over the bottom of the bottles so you can’t see what’s coming out. Keep yourself occupied with something else during your pumping sessions.
8. Talk to Your Employer Before Returning to Work
Finding a comfortable and private place to pump will allow you to relax fully and yield more breastmilk output while pumping. I always recommend my private clients talk about their breastfeeding goals with their employer before returning to work. You can ensure that you will have the time to pump and a private and comfortable place to pump once you do return to work. There is nothing worse than trying to navigate this on your first day back at work just to find out there is nowhere to pump!
I also recommend bringing your phone with you and watching videos of your baby or looking at pictures of them while you’re pumping. This has been shown to help you relax, release those feel-good hormones, and yield more milk output!
9. Take Care of Yourself
Maintaining an abundant milk supply is a lot of work and takes up a lot of energy. Make sure you’re drinking an adequate amount of water, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting plenty of rest.
I also think it’s important to keep an eye on your stress levels as this can play a huge role in milk supply. If you know that adding a 10-minute walk on your lunch break or a 30-minute gym session after work helps your sanity, then take the time and do that for yourself! These little actions will pay dividends!
10. Prepare for Storage
Storing your liquid gold is just as important as pumping that liquid gold! Make sure you’re up to date on breastmilk storage guidelines. Confirm that there is also a fridge available to store your milk (breastmilk can be stored in the refrigerator for four days). Or if not, then bring a cooler with ice packs (breastmilk can be safely stored in a cooler with ice packs for 18 hours.)
I recommend storing your milk in increments that your baby is taking per feeding. For example, if your baby takes 3-4 ounces per feeding, store about 3-4 ounces of breastmilk per breast milk storage bag before freezing it. Don’t forget to label the bag with the amount and the date it was stored. For storage-saving purposes, lay your bags flat to freeze instead of keeping them sitting up because that will take up much more room in your freezer.
11. Get Ready the Night Before
Lastly, after your dry run of returning to work, make a list of everything you may need during your workday. Things like your pump and pump parts to an extra shirt just in case you have a little milk mishap! Practice packing your pump bag and perhaps do it the night before so that you’re not scrambling to ensure that you have everything you need. Remember that this may take some time to get used to, and the first few days may be challenging for mom and baby.
Above all, give yourself some grace and a pat on the back. Being a working and breastfeeding/pumping mama is no easy feat. Your milk supply will go through some adjustments, but it will be nothing to worry about if you are consistent with these tips. You are amazing!