Working and Breastfeeding


Leaving your baby to return to work is hard, regardless of the feeding method chosen.  Breastfeeding mothers who are able to pump for their babies have the special satisfaction of knowing that they are providing their priceless milk for their new baby even when they are separated.  These are a few tips for making the adjustment easier.


Plan Ahead

  • Start planning before your baby is born. Gather ideas from any co-workers who have breastfed their babies. Think about what your work schedule will be.  Studies show that the longer you wait before returning to work, the easier the transition will be for both you and your baby.  

  • Attend La Leche League meetings to find other mothers in your area who are breastfeeding or who have combined breastfeeding with working outside the home. You can offer each other vital support and empathetic listening for times when breastfeeding, mothering, or working becomes challenging.

  • Let your employer know of your pumping needs in advance. This will give you a chance to develop a plan that will work for both of you. Educating your employer about the important health choice you have made and the relatively minor physical accommodations required in the workplace will encourage cooperation. Of course, there are significant employer advantages to continuing breastfeeding once you are back to work. Breastfed babies are half as likely to get sick in the first year of life as those receiving artificial baby milks. If your baby doesn’t get sick as often, you will miss less time from work.  Click here for additional information.

  • Shorter workdays may be easier to manage, since they mean less pumping for you and fewer feedings away from the breast for your baby. Some mothers prefer longer workdays with fewer days per week, so they have more full days at home with their babies.

  • Make your return to work easier by starting on a Thursday or Friday as your first day back. Do as much as possible the night before such as:
    • Prepare the diaper bag so you only need to add the milk
    • Lay out everyone's clothes
    • Set the breakfast table
    • Plan and begin the preparation for the next day's dinner

  • You will have the weekend to rest and prepare for any challenges you weren’t able to anticipate. Whatever you decide, remember that you can adjust later if your first strategy doesn’t suit you or your baby. 

  • Practice pumping or hand-expressing your milk while you are still at home, so you will learn what works for you. You can freeze the milk you collect to use for your first few days back at work. After the first few days, your baby can take fresh milk from the previous workday because fresh milk retains more nutrients and immune factors. Frozen milk can provide a back-up supply and peace of mind.  Contact a LLL Leader any time pumping is painful or uncomfortable, or if you need additional pumping information.  

  • Wait to introduce a bottle until just before you start back to work (ideally 4-6 weeks after baby is born). Breastfeeding exclusively while you are at home establishes your milk supply and teaches your baby to latch on well.  Contact your LLL Leader for ideas about introducing a bottle or other feeding methods for a newborn.  

Mother Care

  • Getting enough rest is vital.  The biggest problem working mothers face (whether breastfeeding or not) is emotional and physical fatigue.  Establish priorities for household work and get as much help as possible, starting with help from your spouse or older children.  

  • Drink to thirst and eat nutritious, wholesome foods. If you drink beverages that contain caffeine (coffee, tea, cola), limit yourself to two or three drinks daily. Excessive caffeine can make it hard for you to sleep and may upset some babies.

  • Try setting your alarm for one last nursing just before you have to get up. Your baby can nurse (even if he’s still half asleep) so that he’s content while you dress and prepare for the day. Then nurse him again just before you leave.

  • Breastfed babies need on average about 25 to 30 oz. (750 to 900 mL) per day. The more milk baby gets directly from mother, the less pumped milk is needed, so any time you can nurse your baby, the better. 

  • Plan on sitting or lying down and nursing or playing with your baby for the first 30 minutes after you arrive home. Everyone will be more relaxed if you and your baby are more relaxed. Perhaps someone else can begin making dinner.

  • When you are home during the week, be prepared for more evening, nighttime, and early morning nursings. Consider co-sleeping for at least part of the night, if not for the entire night. Pumping consistently and breastfeeding frequently while you are at home will keep your milk supply plentiful. If your supply drops, take a “milk day” or two with your baby. Spend the day(s) resting and breastfeeding frequently. Your supply will quickly rebound to meet your baby’s needs.

Baby’s Care

  • Choosing a caregiver near your workplace can facilitate breastfeeding. It minimizes the hours you are away from your baby, and may allow you to go to your baby during your lunch hour to breastfeed him. A caregiver may be able to bring your baby to you at lunchtime. This is especially common when a baby’s caregiver is his father or another relative.

  • Talk with a prospective caregiver about your expectations for your baby’s care. Your baby’s caregiver needs to know that you plan to leave your own milk for your baby and that you prefer he not receive supplemental formula or other foods without your consent. You need to provide any caregiver with information on handling human milk. It helps to find a caregiver who has experience caring for breastfed babies.  

  • A baby who refuses to take a bottle can be fed your milk with a cup, small spoon, eyedropper, or finger- feeding device as a temporary measure. Contact a LLL Leader for more information about alternative feeding methods.  

  • Make sure your caregiver knows breastfeeding norms. Most breastfed babies take smaller feedings and feed more often than babies fed formula. At an average feeding, a breastfed baby older than 1 month takes 3 to 4 ounces (90 to 120 mL) of milk.

  • Feed when baby shows signs of hunger rather than on a schedule. Cues such as rooting and hand-to-mouth mean it’s time to feed. It is common for breastfed babies to feed more often during some parts of the day than others.

  • Feed slowly using paced bottle feeding. When fed slowly, baby feels full with less milk, reducing mother's need to pump. If baby is older than 6 to 7 months, she may be fed by cup. If bottle fed, expect feedings to take about 15 to 30 minutes. This video shows how to paced-bottle feed.

On The Job

  • It’s usually best to express milk at least every three hours you are away from your baby. If your baby is very young or has been nursing more often, you may need to pump or express your milk more frequently at first so you don’t feel uncomfortably full or start to leak. Be sure to include commuting time when deciding how often to pump.  Since time is in such short supply, using a pump that allows access to both breasts at the same time is a real help. By double pumping, mothers keep their prolactin (an important lactation hormone) level up, and they may be able to pump in 10-15 minutes rather than 20 to 30 minutes. Many mothers find that double pumping, three times a day during the first few months, gives them enough milk to leave for their caregiver for the next day. As the baby gets older and begins eating solids they may not need to pump as frequently.

  • It is not unusual to need to pump 2-3 times to get enough milk for one feeding for baby. Remember, that the pump cannot get as much milk as a baby who nurses effectively. It is typical for a mother who is breastfeeding full-time to be able to pump around 1/2 to 2 ounces total (for both breasts) per pumping session. Many mothers think that they should be able to pump 4-8 ounces per pumping session, but even 4 ounces is a rather large pumping output for a mom who is breastfeeding full-time.  Babies need on average about 25 to 30 oz. (750 to 900 mL) in a 24-hour period.  

  • You may be able to express milk in your personal work area, even if you work in a cubicle. Create a private zone for yourself with a privacy screen and a “Do not disturb” sign. Face away from the entrance to your area and play soft music to help you relax or help cover any pump sounds. A nursing cover or a large shirt can cover your breasts and any parts from the pump. Pumping with limited privacy won’t work for everyone, but it’s something to consider.

  • It’s also possible to pump milk in your car, using an adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter or power supply to power your pump. Mothers who choose this option park in a quiet spot in their company parking lot. Reading a newspaper or wearing a large shirt can provide extra privacy in this situation.

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Flourish Baby is committed to diversity and inclusion. Amanda Dean supports all birthing, breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and human milk feeding families, inclusive of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin, creed, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family structure, primary language, ability, or socio-economic status.

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