Written by Ashley Treadwell, IBCLC
Going back to work can be a very stressful time for many new moms. It’s difficult to leave your baby for the first time. You may feel nervous about returning to a job you’ve been away from for months. Your schedule/routine may have changed due to child-care arrangements. Plus, if you’re anything like me, none of your work pre-pregnancy work clothes fit yet! A concern that often adds to this stress is the fear that you may not be able to pump enough for your baby’s bottles while you’re at work. Some moms find that they are constantly playing a game of catch-up, trying to keep up with their baby’s intake while with the caregiver. Below are some things you can do to improve your ability to keep up with your baby’s needs.
Do some research before returning to work.
Most importantly, know your rights! There is a federal law that protects your right to express milk for your baby while at work, in a private location, that is not a bathroom. Speak to your Human Resources Department or direct supervisor (before you return to work) to find out where you will be able to pump. Take note of where it is, how far it is from your work-space, and what equipment you’ll need to bring with you. Check to see if there are other breastfeeding moms using the space to express milk… that way you’ll know if you need to reserve the room or if you are free to use it as you please. Take a look at your general work hours and responsibilities and create a plan for when you will be able to pump.
Be sure your caregiver isn’t over-feeding baby!
Often, the issue isn’t the amount that mom is pumping (or not pumping), but the amount that baby is taking while in the care of someone else. Many caregivers unintentionally offer too much breastmilk to babies, therefore “sabotaging” mom’s supply. There are a number of reasons this may happen - your caregiver may allow the baby to finish the bottle too quickly and babies will take in more than they need when they eat too fast. It’s similar for us when we sit down to a big meal. If we eat very quickly, we often end up eating past capacity as our brain doesn’t have the chance to catch up with our stomach and tell us to stop eating. A baby may finish a bottle and still show hunger signs, and the caregiver, wanting to soothe baby, will offer more milk when if given just a bit of time, the baby would have calmed on his/her own.
Sometimes a caregiver may not understand the proper handling and storage of breastmilk and will treat it like formula, throwing any left in the bottle, when the milk could be placed back into the refrigerator for the next feeding. Be sure to talk to your caregiver before returning to work to help them understand how to best bottle feed your breastfed baby. Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, wrote a wonderful article addressed to the caregivers of breast-fed babies that you can forward to your nanny/sitter/daycare worker to help them.
Lastly, make sure your caregiver knows what time you will pick your child up and ask him/her to not feed the baby for the hour or so prior, so that baby will want to breastfeed when you are reunited.
Create a calm and relaxing space/routine for yourself while you express milk at work.
Trying to pump in a stressful environment can negatively impact the amount that you are able to express. Take a good look at where you pump milk for your baby - is it a convenient, quiet, private space? Are you able to lock the door so that you’re not worried about a co-worker unintentionally walking in on you?
Here are some of our top tips for expressing milk at work:
- Bring articles of clothing that your baby has worn, or a blanket he/she has used.
- Have a picture nearby of your baby, or even better, a video of him/her - perhaps of your baby showing hunger cues. These items can help to get your hormones moving which will help your milk to let down and flow more quickly and fully.
- Use a hands-free pumping bra so that you can do other things while you express - check your email, eat a snack, play scrabble on your smartphone!
- Bring a blanket or towel and cover the flanges while you pump, so that you can’t see the amount that is coming out. Hyper-focusing on how much milk you’re expressing can inhibit your body’s response to the pump.
- Listen to calming music, or a podcast you enjoy.
- Watch funny videos on YouTube - we have a few that are oxytocin inducing on our San Diego Breastfeeding Center YouTube Channel.
- Bring water and snacks to stay hydrated and satiated. Moms often see a dip in their milk supply when they are dehydrated or are not eating enough calories. (Breastfeeding women need about 2000 calories a day to sustain a robust milk supply.)
Engaging in activities that bring you joy or peace can help you relax and may increase the amount that you are able to pump. You may find that you start to look forward to your pumping sessions!
Techniques that can help increase your output
There are a number of tips/tricks that can help you maximize your output when pumping.
- Be sure that all of your pump parts are in working order - that there are no damaged pieces.
- Hands-on-pumping has been shown to help increase the amount of milk a woman expresses.
- Learn a combination of breast massage, hand expression, and electric pumping and practice it whenever possible.
- Apply a bit of organic olive oil to the inside of your flanges to help reduce any friction or discomfort.
- Play around with the amount of time that you pump, but remember that stronger and longer doesn’t always mean more milk!
- If you find that you are absolutely not able to express the amount of milk that your baby needs in a day, you can add an extra pumping session in at night before going to bed and on your days off.
Here are a few more tips from our Facebook friends: Help a Mama Out: Getting the Most Milk Out while Pumping
And MOST IMPORTANTLY, feel proud of the hard work you’re doing to provide your baby breastmilk while you’re at work! Remember that breastfeeding is never an all or nothing endeavor. Some women are not able to pump enough, some because of work situation or how they respond to the pump, but are still able to provide their baby as much breastmilk as possible, as well as breastfeed their baby while home with them. Know that every drop of your breastmilk that your baby gets, whether it’s 1% or 100% of their total needs, is an amazing gift that only you can provide!
What are your favorite tips for pumping enough milk while at work?