How to Successfully Integrate Breastfeeding Into Your Work Life

The secret to pumping, creating a milk supply, and sneaking in pumping sessions

How to Successfully Integrate Breastfeeding into Your Work Life
Getty Images/ Ruth Jenkinson

Employment is possibly the biggest obstacle for a long-term breastfeeding relationship between a new mom and her baby. But many of working moms before you have done it and you can, too.

Most new workings moms who want to breastfeed aim to do so for as long as they can.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year of your baby's life. So if you want to keep breastfeeding after you return to work let's figure out how to integrate pumping into your work day.

Find the Right Pump for You

According to the Affordable Care Act signed in 2010, insurance companies are required to cover the cost of a breast pump and supplies.  You should contact your health insurance company to confirm they do indeed cover it and if there are any guidelines.  Ask what type of pump you can get, if there's a specific brand, and if you were given a pump as a gift could you get a reimbursement.

There are three different ways to power a breast pump.  There is one that you need to manually pump the milk by hand, and then there's battery operated and electric.  You can get a pump to only pump one breast or get a double pump to pump both at the same time.

A double-electric breast pump is your best bet for pumping efficiently. Two popular ones are the Medela Pump In Style and the Ameda Purely Yours Breast Pump. The most powerful type is a hospital-grade pump which can drain your breasts in just a few minutes.drain your breasts in just a few minutes.

A hands-free pumping bra lets you type on a computer or hold a book while pumping. Don't feel obligated to work, though. Pumping can be a welcome excuse for you to relax which helps with keeping up your milk supply.  More about that in a bit!

Make a Stock Pile of Breast Milk

The best advice for new working moms who want to succeed at breastfeeding is to start pumping as soon as you can after you recover from childbirth.

Many moms find that around four to six postpartum is when they're ready. That's also a good time to introduce a bottle to a nursing baby. Around this time you're breastfeeding well and soon enough the baby will be receptive to a bottle.

When pouring your milk into a breast milk storage bag hold on to that bag tightly!  It's very easy to cry over spilled milk because you're working hard to produce it!  Store two to three ounces per bag when you're starting out.  You wouldn't want to defrost six or eight ounces and the baby only drink two!

When you store them in your freezer lay the bags flat.  This makes for easy stacking when you store them.  They are also easier to defrost because there's no milk caught in the creases of the plastic. Gerber, Lansinoh, and Playtex make breast milk storage bags that will hold between six to eight ounces. Medela makes bags that can attach directly to your pump!

It can be hard to decipher exactly how much your baby will eat in one feeding. At first, they may not need much and then POOF! there's a growth spurt and they are always thirsty for more!  Try using the pumped breast milk immediately to have a night out with your husband or lunch with the girls.

View this as a test run on how well your baby does with the bottle and how much they ate while you were away.  Keep running this test run to gauge how large your stockpile should be for when you leave them for eight hours.

When you store the milk do not forget to write the date and the amount you pumped into the bottle.  The date is important because frozen breast milk can be used three to six months after it's frozen.

Sneak In Pumping Sessions

It can be hard to fit a pumping session between rounds of nursing a hungry newborn. If your baby predictably sleeps for five or six hours at night, you can pump a couple of hours after bedtime. If he takes a long afternoon nap, pump as soon as he falls asleep.

Or, try pumping just before the baby wakes up. You may find that nursing after pumping leaves the baby a bit unsatisfied.

Please don't worry, in a few days your body will adjust and start making more milk for the early-morning pump as well as your baby's first feeding.

You could also try pumping right after you've fed your baby.  This way you body recognizes you're empty and there will be plenty more milk made for the next feeding.

Learn how to pump breastmilk after you return to work on the following page.

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory

The previous page covered how to start pumping breastmilk and how to prepare you and your baby for your return to work. Now, let's cover how to successfully pump breastmilk at work.

Find Ways to Breastfeed During the Work Day

Once you return to work, pumping is the best way to keep stimulating your breasts to produce milk.

If you can negotiate flexible hours or work from home with a babysitter for even one or two days a week you're in luck.

Make the work-from-home day a Wednesday, if possible, to give your milk production a mid-week boost. Just don't tell your colleagues you were nursing when you wrote them an email.

If your child care is close to your office, stop by on your lunch break to nurse your baby. Make sure your child's caregivers understand not to feed her in the late morning so she'll be hungry when you arrive. Even better, ask them to call you when she seems ready to feed, and you can rush over for a nursing session.

Experiment to Find the Best Pumping Schedule

Lactation consultants recommend that you pump once for every feeding your baby has while you're apart. For most moms, that means three or four times during a workday.  Before you panic, remember, this is just a recommendation.  All of our bodies are different and respond differently to breast pumping.

Another thing the Affordable Care Act 2010 declared was that employers need to give you reasonable break times to pump.

 Before you talk to your manager about your breaks figure out how long they'll be.  Time how long it takes for you to get to where you'll pump, setup time, how many minutes you'll pump, clean-up time, and then returning to your desk.  You might want to factor in a bathroom break before or after your pumping session.

This could all add up to 15-20 minutes.

If you can take three or four breaks during the day, start with that. See how much milk you get. If you can take only one or two breaks, that'll have to be good enough. Remember as time progresses your milk supply will start to dwindle.

Believe it or not, some moms who commute by car actually pump behind the wheel. If you try this please by careful.  Be sure your seat belt is on and use a hands-free pumping bra.

Figure Out Where to Pump

When and where you pump depends largely on your office setup. Check your state laws regarding expressing breast milk. Many states require employers to provide break time and a private location for pumping. Talk to your human resources representative or manager about logistics.

If your employer has a lactation room, you'll feel comfortable there because no one should bother you and you'll need everything you need from an electric outlet, a quiet place, and a sink to wash out your pump equipment.  You could store a few pictures in your pump bag or take pictures of your baby every morning so you can look at them while you pump. The imagery may stimulate your breasts to let down more quickly. 

If you have a private office, you can simply close the door to pump.

This is the easiest scenario for fitting in three or four sessions in a day. 

The next page describes specific techniques for boosting your milk production. Read on!

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory

On page one we covered the basics of pumping breast milk and on page two we addressed pumping at work. Now, learn specific techniques to increase milk supply.

For many moms, pumping is simply not as efficient as a baby nursing to increase milk supply. So don't stress out if you pump less than your baby is drinking during the day. Feeling stressed can affect your milk supply.  If your milk supply starts to dwindle you can dip into the freezer stash you made before your maternity leave ended.

Just because your milk supply is less one day it doesn't mean it'll stay like that.  There are things you can try to boost your levels back up so you feel confident and less stressed.

Tricks to Increase Milk Supply

If you want to increase your milk supply be patient. It may take your body a few days to respond to these tricks.

Try pumping a bit longer than normal.  If you've been pumping for 15 minutes at a time, try 30 minutes. You may see two or even three separate letdowns and overall you will increase your milk supply.

There is a power pump method you could try where you pump for 10 minutes, wait a few minutes, pump another 10 minutes, wait a few minutes, and then pump another 10 minutes. You should experience three or more separate letdowns and more milk overall. Because this power pump will take longer than your scheduled break try this on the weekend.

While pumping, massage your breasts in the direction of the nipple.

Start on the top right of your breast and using your middle, ring and pointy fingers, push down slightly and move toward your nipple.  It fees like you are pushing the milk out of your breast.  

See if you can add an extra pumping session to your day. First thing in the morning may be best because it's the longest time you've gone without pumping.

 You could also try one last session before bed.  

Try to rent a Hospital-Grade Pump.   If your milk supply drops dramatically, you might want to explore renting a hospital-grade pump for a month or two. This type of pump is the most powerful pump.  It can bridge the gap until your baby starts solids and begins to taper milk consumption.

It may be easier said than done but try to get more rest.  When you're exhausted, you will see that your body won't make as much milk. This may mean skipping some housework, spending time with your husband, or naps on the weekend.

This may be an old wives' tale but eat more oatmeal.  Some oatmeal cookies never hurt anyone! Plus starting your day off with a bowl of oatmeal feels your belly, especially if nursing makes you hungry!

Last, but not least stay hydrated.  Buy an extra large water bottle and keep it with you always.  The more you drink, the better you feel and the easier your milk will let down.  Speaking of drinking, stay away from alcohol.  Some may say that beer helps but in fact it doesn't.

Streamline Cleaning and Packing Pump Pieces and Bottles

You'll get more rest if you spend less time washing the dirty bottles and pump pieces left after every pumping session.

You might want to buy duplicate pumping sets so you can clean in batches at the end of the workday. Or, look for a clean sink and place to dry the pieces at work.

If you have access to a microwave, try the steam-cleaning bags sold by Medela. What a timesaver!

Make sure you have your pumping bra, breast pump, clean pump pieces and bottles packed before you go to bed. Try packing each set in a large ziplock bag so you can easily take them out at work.

Don't Exhaust Yourself

The saddest thing you could do in a quest to extend breastfeeding would be to become obsessed with your milk supply and miserable. Give yourself a break.

Maybe you end up supplementing with formula. It's a perfectly healthy way to feed your child. Any amount of breast milk you're able to make is better than nothing and will give your baby wonderful nutrition and immunity protections.

In the end, how much milk you pump doesn't determine your worth as a mother. Your child will be better off with you as a happy, responsive, loving mother than the world's most productive wet nurse.

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory