There can be a lot of emotions and stressors surrounding returning to work after maternity leave, and continuing your lactation journey is one of them. Yes, you can continue to breastfeed when you return to working outside the home, but creating a pumping schedule is an important part of that to help maintain your milk supply.
First I want to cover the laws and rights of lactation in the workplace. Ontario and BC are the only provinces in Canada where breastfeeding and lactation are covered as a protected right under the Provincial Human Rights Commission. This means that employers must accommodate pregnant and lactating people within the workplace as long as the accommodation doesn’t cause undue hardship on the employer. Accommodations for lactation can mean providing a private place to express and store breastmilk and allowing for more frequent breaks for pumping sessions during the workday.The US Department of Labour has a similar law, stating that breaks must be provided until a child reaches the age of 1 to allow the parent to pump, and a location must be provided. There are certain exemptions that apply to this law. Become informed on your rights and speak to your employer before you return about making adjustments to your workday for pumping.
When returning to work, you first need to make sure you’re ready to pump. A good quality double electric pump will be important since it will make your pumping sessions more efficient. Medela, Ameda, and Willow are some brands you may want to look into if you don’t already have a pump. Make sure you’re familiar with the pump before you return to work, so get in some practice sessions if you’re new to pumping. Also, think about what you will be wearing to work and if it will give you easy access to pumping. You will need access to a refrigerator, or plan to bring a cooler back with frozen packs to help keep your milk cool during the day. Breastmilk is good for 72 hours in the fridge and 24 hours in a cooler with freezer packs (if the freezer packs are still frozen). Lastly will need a space to pump at work. Pumping in a bathroom, even if it’s private, is not appropriate no matter what you’re employer says. You should be provided a room or office that gives you privacy and you can be undisturbed during these pumping sessions. Before your return to work, speak to your employer about these accommodations if needed.
You can also help your baby get ready and start introducing a bottle before you return to work. You don’t want to stress about your baby not eating on your first day back! Start introducing a bottle before you return to work, and if you need tips, there’s another great article here.
Next, you need to create a schedule and figure out when to pump and this can depend on a few things.
The best way is to look at how many times you’re feeding your baby during the day when you’re home. You want to aim for a similar schedule for when you return to work to help maintain your supply, and the number of sessions will depend on the age of your baby. A lot of mamas continue to breastfeed their baby first thing in the morning, and in the evening before bedtime. You can plan a pumping session 30 min after your baby feeds first thing in the morning since your milk volume is highest in the early morning. Continue pumping for 2 – 5 minutes after you see the last drop and use breast compression to make sure your breast is completely empty.
Getting enough milk for your baby can be stressful, so here are some tips.
Create a relaxing environment if possible – lower the lights, play some music, and scroll through some baby pictures. This can get your mama-hormones going when you’re away from your babe and help you get a good volume of milk. Also covering the milk bottle with a baby sock so you don’t focus on the volume you’re getting can be helpful.
It’s typical to notice a slight drop in supply when you return to work. You’re away from your baby and even the best pumps can’t beat a baby when it comes to emptying your breasts. If you notice a drop, add in a power pumping session in the evening or on your days off, and get in your regular effective breastfeeding sessions when you’re not working. Make sure you’re eating and drinking well, and you can add in a galactagogue if you feel you need the extra boost in supply.
As always, if you need help with any lactation concern or if you feel it is time to wean, your local Mama Coach is here to help.