Breastfeeding and working
Returning to work or study
If you are returning to work in a few weeks or about to start studying or going back to study, you may wonder whether breastfeeding can continue.
A lot of breastfeeding mothers in these circumstances come along to our breastfeeding drop-ins, asking me how they can stop breastfeeding because they are returning to work.
Many feel upset about quitting breastfeeding, but expect there is no other option.
The good news is that breastfeeding doesn’t have to stop. If you wish, you can continue with that close bond that you’ve kept with your baby even while you’re back at work.
There are also enormous health benefits to your baby due to the ongoing antibody protection from illness too.
Many breastfeeding mothers find it comforting to reconnect with their baby at the end of the day and unwind together through breastfeeding.
There are some really practical things that you can do to help you prepare for going back to work. The first one is to get your milk supply well established first.
That usually takes a few weeks. The reason I mention that is because some women, especially those who, for instance, have their own business, tend to go back to work quite early.
So it’s essential to do lots of exclusive breastfeeding to get your supply established, if possible before you go back.
The second thing to think about is where your childcare facility will be.
It can be a good idea if you can, to have your childcare arrangements nearest to your workplace or your place of study, to enable you to have more time with your baby.
You can feed your baby just before you go into work and just after. It may be that you even have an opportunity to feed your baby in the break time.
So that can be useful, but I know it’s not always possible to do this and is dependant upon your circumstances.
There are also different options with how you feed your baby when he is away from you.
Some mothers solely breastfeed when they are at home with their baby, and provide expressed milk so that the baby’s carer can give the expressed milk. Many women also offer formula as an option too, so there is flexibility.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Your body will make as much milk as the amount of demand that is going on at the breast.
When you contact your employer that you are returning to work, it’s important to mention that you are a breastfeeding mother.
Let them know about the requirements that you may have for expressing your milk at work if that’s what you choose to do.
I have met breastfeeding mothers who have relentlessly expressed and stockpiled their milk months and months before they go back to work.
They have filled their freezers full of expressed milk! I understand the rationale completely, but this is not necessary!
Just one month before you go back is a good time to start expressing, and your baby can be given this milk by a bottle if under six months old.
After six months of age, you may consider the use of an open lidded cup.
A lot of mothers find that their baby is reluctant to take milk from a bottle or a cup, and it can be a bit of trial and error, trying to find something that the baby will take milk from.
Be assured that with time and patience, you will find something that will work.
You may need to ask somebody else to give the milk to your baby while you’re practicing, as some babies are very reluctant to take the milk from their mother.
Usually, when the carer gives the milk, it can be a lot easier.
I think it’s also important to mention that many babies will not take as much milk as you may expect from the carer who is looking after them, often causing worry for mothers.
Babies tend to do reverse cycling, where they make up their supply when they see you again. Sometimes this will mean that they wake more at night to get the milk that they need.
It can be useful to express just two or three ounces of milk (30, 60, or 90 mils) to leave with the carer because babies often only take about that much at the breast.
Rather than filling a whole bottle and potentially wasting milk, it can be useful to put it in these smaller amounts – you can leave a few of these with the carer if needed.
You will be able to work out whether your baby is getting enough milk by looking at the weight gain and the wet and dirty nappies. Look at the information on this, which will help to boost your confidence in this new situation.
If you are expressing your milk and finding it challenging to keep up with the supply, spend a lot more time feeding your baby at home.
These extra feeding sessions at home and additional pumping sessions at work can help.
Another tip for going back to work is to try to make the first week back at work a short one, and perhaps go back towards the end of the week, Thursday or Friday, to ease you and your baby in very gradually and slowly and to make it easier for you both.
Very soon, things will settle down.
Also, prepare ahead – the day before, get the nappy bag organized, and the clothes for you and your baby arranged.
Prepare in advance to make things as easy as possible for yourself. Very soon, you and your baby will settle down into this new routine.
I find that most breastfeeding mothers will tell you that the worst time for them was BEFORE they went back to work. It is common to try to imagine how it will work out, or even if it will!
It is normal to feel this anxiety, but very soon, things will fall into place, and there IS flexibility. Nothing is ever set in stone.
Whatever you have arranged may change over time – and be willing to adjust some of those things if needed.
Review dates, references & further resources
Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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