Returning to work when breastfeeding - Evidence Based Babies
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Returning to work when breastfeeding

Before going back to work, it’s important to think about your options, discussing it with your partner and/or your employer. There are many different options that may work for you and your family.

Different options for employment:

– Not going back

Say what? I know, for a lot of people this may not be a choice, or it may not be something they want to do and that’s perfectly fine. But for some, their priorities, dreams and plans may have changed, and they may not want or need to return to work. If this is you, always remember that you can decide to stay at home with your baby. Being a full-time mom is also a job, a very hard one. Don’t feel guilty if that’s the choice you want to make. Remember, you’re easily replaceable at work, but not as a mother.

– Part time work or flexible hours

If staying at home is not going to work for you, part time work or flexible hours may be an option, at least for a few months while you and your baby settle into these big new changes. You can discuss with your employer to reduce your work hours from full time to part time so you only do half days or only certain days a week or you may discuss flexible hours with them for example only working school hours, mornings, afternoons or evenings. Whatever suits you and your family best.

– Changing careers

If neither staying at home or changing or reducing your work hours is an option for you, changing your career completely may be. This is insane to suggest, isn’t it? But the truth is, priorities, dreams and plans change and that’s okay too. If you have a hectic job with a lot of hours you may feel it’s not what you want or need or that it may not suit you and your family’s needs, so you may want to change to a job with fewer hours or more flexibility. It can be the same career or it can be a completely different one too. Many mothers and even fathers have changed both jobs and careers to better suit their new lifestyle, and you can too if you want or need to.

– Work from home or become self employed

When Covid happened, a lot changed. Including the working sector. Working from home or becoming self-employed quickly became a very popular option and even now, a few years later, a lot of companies offer their employees the option to work from home. So, if you feel this may be the better option for you and your family, discuss it with your current employer or change to a job that offers work from home opportunities.

On the other hand, you may choose to work for yourself. Starting up your own business depending on your skills and interests may be the perfect option for you. Don’t be afraid to try if this is a possibility for you. The best part is you can either keep your baby with you at home or choose your own hours to suit your best.

That’s a lot of options, and hopefully one of them may suit your needs, but more often than not, neither of them may be an option for you. In this case you will probably return to whatever job and hours you had before you had your baby. But don’t be discouraged, many mothers return and still breastfeed successfully while they express milk at work for their babies to continue breastfeeding.

Expressing at work:

– Type of pump

Chances are you will probably have to invest in some type of pump depending on your needs and finances. Don’t be afraid to splurge if that’s an option for you. No one has ever regretted a good quality pump.

If you’ll only have to pump occasionally or a few hours a day, or you have very limited finances available, a manual pump may work well for you.

If you’ll be working occasionally or half time, a single or double electric pump may be a better choice for you.

If you’ll be going back to work for quite a lot of hours or even full time, or even if you’re only going to pump occasionally but have the finances available to you, a double electric (and wearable pumps) will always be a fantastic option. If hospital grade is an option, that will be the top choice to ensure success in expressing and maintaining your supply. Hospital grade pumps are by far the superior choice. So, if possible, please do invest in one, regardless of your pumping goals.

As a very last resort for those who may not be able to afford any type of pump, hand expression will always be an option, but only as a last resort as studies have shown that although effective, double electric (hospital grade) pumps more efficient in removing milk. It is of utmost importance to use the right technique and to follow all the same basics as other types of pumps.

– Flange sizing

Flange sizing is an extremely important factor when it comes to pumping. If you use the wrong size flanges, it won’t only cause damage to your nipples and breast tissue, it will affect the amount of milk you express and eventually lower your entire milk supply.

It’s important to measure your nipples correctly or to have a lactation consultant assess and determine the right flange sizes for you. Do remember to measure both nipples as they’re often different sizes from each other.

– Replacing pump parts

Pump parts like the valves, duct bills, tubing, backflow protectors and flanges/breast shields will need to be replaced every few weeks or months depending on how often you’ll be pumping. Even if they don’t look damaged, micro tears and wearing and tearing does happen, and it does affect the pump’s efficiency.

– Amount of milk and milk storage

It’s important to remember that babies don’t need liters and liters of milk when they’re away from you. They need no more than 30-40ml per hour away from you. Store the breastmilk in smaller quantities so you won’t have to waste a lot of milk. Remember to store it safely and discard as needed.

– Types of bottles, teats, pace feeding, bottle refusal, alternative feeding methods and reverse cycling

All of these are extremely important factors in the success of continuing breastfeeding when you return to work. This is often the most stressful part of everything for most mothers. It’s so important that we have an entire separate article dedicated to it. Please do have a read at our bottle feeding and bottle refusal article.

Always remember, if you need any help in regard to breastfeeding or pumping, you can always contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to educate and support you.

Additional information and resources:

Flange sizing

Types of pumps

Pump part replacements

Global media hand expression video

The marmet hand expression technique


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Online information will never be a substitute for individual support by a qualified healthcare professional.

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