Breastfeeding and returning to work

Breastfeeding has been going well: your baby is thriving and happy. But now you are returning to work and feel sad at the prospect of weaning your baby. Take heart, returning to paid work doesn’t mean you have to stop breastfeeding. Your baby can enjoy the health, immunity and nutritional benefits and you will still have that unique connection through the one thing that only you can do for your baby  – snuggling him close as he drinks your milk.

As well as keeping your baby healthy – so you won’t be using your sick leave to care for her –one very important factor for choosing to breastfeed when you return to work is the special connection you will have with your little one: However competent her carers are, breastfeeding is the one thing only you can do for your baby,

Choosing a carer

To make breastfeeding and working possible from a practical perspective, it is important to choose a carer who is breastfeeding friendly: your carer will need to be motivated to implicitly follow your instructions to store and thaw (if necessary) and feed your milk to your baby. Also, there is nothing worse than arriving with full breasts to pick up your baby, only to find she has just been fed, so do request that your carer considers this. She can either help your baby wait (as long as he isn’t upset) or offer a small amount of milk to ‘tide him over’ (rather than a full feed) if you are on your way home. This will also require close communication on your part – perhaps a call as you leave work with an estimated arrival time.

Expressing and returning to work

It is wise to start expressing about two weeks before you return to work. This will allow you to become efficient at expressing and store some milk in case you have some ‘low supply’ days when you are back at work. However, please don’t worry if this happens, breastfeeding according to your baby’s cues on your days off will boost your supply again.

What equipment do I need?

To maintain your milk supply, a good quality electric pump is an investment, especially if you buy or hire a pump which expresses both breasts at once as this will shorten the time required to express and also stimulates milk production more effectively.  To make double pumping easier – or possible at all – check out the Arden bra, a fabulously functional bra that doubles as a pumping bra: the design allows you to simply unclasp the bra cups in front and attach your pump flanges into a discreet second layer that holds your pump securely so you can pump ‘hands free’

You will need a private space to express and a fridge or eski with ice packs as well as milk storage bags or containers to store your milk while you are at work. It can also be helpful to pack nutritious snacks in your bag to munch on during expressing breaks – Pinky’s Boobie Bikkies  are individually wrapped so you can just toss some into your bag and grab to give you a healthy energy boost during your work day.

How much milk does my baby need?

The research shows that from one to six months, breastfed babies take in an average of 750 – 800mls per day (intake doesn’t increase with age or size). This will vary between individual babies but a typical range of breast milk intake is from about 570 mils to 900 mls a day.

So, to estimate how much milk your baby will need each feed, work out about how many feeds your baby has in 24 hours then divide 800 mls by that number. For instance, if your baby has 6 feeds a day, you would make up feeds of 150 mls.

It would also be wise to leave some smaller amounts with your carer – say, about 30 to 50 mls, to offer as a top-up if your baby is thirsty or it is almost time for you to pick her up. Then she will still feed when you arrive and also, your carers won’t waste precious expressed milk by starting another full bottle if your baby is a bit hungrier than usual.


Practically speaking…

At work, it can help to look at a picture of your baby or smell an article of his clothing as you express. Besides expressing at work, other options to maintain a good milk supply include asking for some flexibility so that perhaps you work from home one day mid- week ( and breastfeed as your baby needs) or either go to your baby or have him brought to you by his carer for a feed during your lunch break if this is practical. You will also need to take care that after a weekend of more frequent feeding, you express for comfort to avoid engorgement and the possibility of developing mastitis.

Gaining support at work

Although legally in Australia, your right to breastfeed (or express at work) is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, an understanding employer and co workers will make things a lot easier.  If you feel less than assertive about requesting support at work, you can tell your employer that your paediatrician has prescribed breastfeeding for health reasons or to prevent allergic reactions (this isn’t necessarily untrue – your baby may develop health problems or allergies if he is fed formula).  If your co-workers object to human milk in the office fridge (it has happened), store your milk inside a lunch box with your name on – they will be none the wiser!

For information about increasing your milk supply, download Pinky’s free ebook ‘Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally’ and for a nutritional boost, grab a free sample of Boobie Bikkies (or why not save by buying in bulk and ordering a subscription’).

  1. Jacqui says

    Thank you so much for this article, I am due to go back to work soon and my bub will only be six months old when starting childcare and is still fed by demand. This article has been helpful for me work out how much to express as I really didn’t want to impose my own routine on him just yet, instead I will take notes on times he chooses to feed as they are generally around the same times daily.

  2. Kylie Lyon says

    Thanks a lot for this. It’s a nice reminder , for the second bub, that babies can be fed by other means while us bf mummas can go back to work. Plus I think I underestimated how smart our 8m old is… When I’m not around, she can use a bottle from a friend in my friend’s house ..! Frustrating for dad tho!

  3. Rose says

    Can you share some advice on gentle ways to help a breastfed baby take a bottle? Our daughter is not keen on taking her EBM from the bottle but I don’t want to let her cry over it, she gets very upset. I still have a 3-4 months before I go back to work, but want to gently introduce it now (she is 11 weeks).

    1. Chris says

      Probably too late for you given date of your post but for other mamas having the same issue try giving some ebm after a breast feed. That way bub won’t be too hungry and is more relaxed. Slow flow teats are important too. Some bubs get used to faster flow with the bottle then start refusing the boob. This happened with my first who got used to the the formula bottle while still in hospital as she was having probs latching. Then started refusing booby altogether as bottle was easier and faster. My second was better with latching but I was giving him ebm after a feed as recommended by pediatrician for about a month or so because he was tiny. So he got used to a bottle early on went on to exclusively breast feed for about 6 months and didn’t seem to have a problem with interchanging between boob and bottle. About a month before he started daycare I started giving him bottles of ebm once a day so he would get used to the bottle again. Now he is almost 1 and has bottles of ebm at daycare and boob at other times. A friend’s baby also breast fed and also had some bottles of formula when newborn then went on to exclusive breast feeding and at 10 months refused the bottle when they started daycare. It all depends on the bub too what works for one might not work for the other!

      1. Pinky says

        Thankyou for your tips , it’s always good to hear from mums how they managed in similar situations.

  4. Chris says

    Pumping at work takes a lot of dedication. I’ve been doing it for 2 months for my now almost 1 year old. 3 times a day (every 3 hours while at work) 4 days per week. A double pump (mine is a spectra which is rechargeable so dont need to be near a power outlet) is essential to save on time. Also a good tip I read somewhere is to pump into the same 2 larger bottles for all pumping sessions rather than using different smaller ones for each session. This cuts on time with handling and cleaning the bottles during the day. The morning pump I do 15 mins as my supply is more at that time. Bottles and flanges then into the fridge. The lunch and afternoon pumps I use the same bottles and do 10 to 12 mins. I get about 3 to 4 let downs per pump (i.e milk doesn’t come out constantly it starts and stops over the duration of the pump) Then after the afternoon pump I rinse the flanges and bring them home to wash properly and sterilize. In total I get about 160mls from each boob over the 3 pumping sessions. Then bub has these the following day he goes to daycare. One bottle around 1030 and the second at 230. When he is with me he breast feeds every 3 or so hours during the day. I have tried cutting the pumping sessions down to 2 (every 4 hours while at work) but don’t get as much than I do with 3. I also found that the amount of milk has increased over time. At first I was getting about 120 ml per boob over the day and now I am up to 160ml per boob or more.

    1. Pinky says

      Love these practical tips – Im sure they will help other mums too. Thankyou.

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Pinky McKay's Weaning With Love eBook

Welcome to ‘Weaning with love’. Whether you are choosing to wean from breast to bottle or you are happy to breastfeed until your nursing baby becomes a walking, talking toddler and initiates weaning by him or herself, or something in between, you will find tips to make this process as easy on you and your little one as possible.