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 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

Before you purchase a pump check if your health insurance will cover the cost. 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 find out what type of pump you can get, if there's a specific brand they cover, and if you were could you get a reimbursement for a pump you received as a gift.

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

Next, decide how you will need the pump to work. You can get a pump to only pump one breast at a time 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 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.

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 welcomed excuse for you to relax which helps increase your milk supply.  More about that in a bit!

Make a Stock Pile of Breast Milk

Start pumping as soon as you can after you recover from childbirth. Many moms find that around four to six weeks postpartum is when they're ready to start pumping. That's also a good time to introduce a bottle to your baby. 

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 then the baby only drinks 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! they have a growth spurt and they are always thirsty for more!  So try using the pumped breast milk immediately to have a night out with your husband or lunch with the girls to test how well your baby does with the bottle and how much they ate while you were away.  Keep running this test to gauge how large your stockpile should be to cover a work day.

When you store the milk 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 been frozen.

When to 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 they take a long afternoon nap, pump as soon as they fall asleep.

Or, try pumping right after their first-morning feeding. Please don't worry if your baby seems unsatisfied with their feedings after you start pumping. 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 during the day.  This way you body recognizes you're empty and there will be plenty more milk made for the next feeding. Use your new mother intuition to continue sneaking in pumping sessions. There will be some days when you can and other days when you won't.

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory

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 one or two days a week, you're in luck. Make the work-from-home day be a Wednesday, if possible, to give your milk production a mid-week boost. Working from home gives you more flexibility to fit in more pumping sessions without having to leave your desk.

It's such a big time saver!

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 your baby in the late morning so they'll be hungry when you arrive. Even better, ask them to call you when your baby seems ready to feed, and you can go 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 to 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, so these pumping sessions won't affect your schedule for long.

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.

Find a Private Place 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 because no one can bother you and you'll have everything you need from an electric outlet to a sink to wash out your pump equipment.  

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. 

Updated by Elizabeth McGrory

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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 produce milk overall. Because this power pump will take longer than your scheduled break try this method during the weekend.
  1. 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 will feel like you are pushing the milk out of your breast.  
  2. 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.  
  1. Try to rent a Hospital-Grade pump for a month or two. It's the most powerful pump.  It can help bridge the gap until your baby starts solids and begins to taper off of their milk consumption.
  2. 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 or naps on the weekend.
  3. This may be an old wives' tale but try eating oatmeal.  Some oatmeal cookies never hurt anyone! Plus starting your day off with a bowl of oatmeal makes you feel full and this is great if nursing makes you hungry!
  4. Last, but not least, stay hydrated.  Buy an extra large water bottle and always keep it with you. The more you drink, the better you feel and the easier your milk will let down.  Speaking of drinking, stay away from alcohol.  Some people say that beer helps but it dehydrates you.

Streamline Cleaning and Packing

You'll get more rest if you spend less time washing the dirty bottles and pump pieces. Buy duplicate pumping sets so you can clean in batches at the end of the workday. Or, if you have access to a microwave, try the steam-cleaning bags sold by Medela. What a timesaver!

Before you go to bed put out your pumping bra and pack your breast pump, clean pump pieces, and bottles.

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 your quest to extend breastfeeding is obsessing about your milk supply. Give yourself a break! Supplementing with formula is 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