Transitioning from home to the office can be an obstacle to maintaining a successful breastfeeding journey.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively (if you can) for the first six months of your baby’s life.
Since the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding are so high – building a proper regimen starts with planning and understanding your rights at work. Advocate for yourself, work, and look for your employer to create a nonjudgmental support system around you. When in doubt – remember – you have rights as a breastfeeding mother.
Breastfeeding can be challenging as a mom – but with the right support systems and workplace setup – you can continue your breastfeeding journey with great success. Success starts with understanding your rights.
What rights do you have as a working, breastfeeding mom?
The Fair Labor Standards ACT (FLSA) requires your employer to provide basic accommodations for your breastfeeding needs. You will be provided a location shielded from view and free from intrusion. That means no walking traffic and coworkers accidentally walking in.
You will also need to be provided with a “reasonable break time” to express your milk. The law protects your breastfeeding needs for 12 months after the birth of your baby. FLSA protects both hourly and salaried moms.
It’s best to ask your HR representative if federal or state laws protect you. This could be challenging if your employer “doesn’t understand” nursing requirements. The good news is that the law is in place to protect you and help them understand.
Read More: 6 Common Breastfeeding Worries for New Moms
Buy a breast pump before going back to work.
This may seem obvious, but again, mom's brain. Before returning to the office, you’ll want to choose a breast pump that works quickly and effectively. A double-electric pump is worth every cent. While the costs may be expensive – you’ll want to maximize your sessions to be as productive as possible. If you have health insurance, that provider must also cover the breast pump's partial or complete cost.
Practice using your breast pump before returning to work.
You’ll want to get your practice in as soon as possible. At a minimum, plan for about two-to-three weeks before you’re start date to get in solid nursing sessions. While nursing, it may be an excellent time to get your baby used to a bottle. This is a great time to have your partner bottle feed while you get comfortable with the pump. If it’s wearable, you’ll want to practice doing everyday things and testing comfort.
Just because you’re pumping doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in nursing sessions in the morning or evening. It’s common to worry about your baby being bottle-fed during this time. The good news is that babies around this time take well to both bottle and breast.
Nipple confusion days are over.
Early on, making sure that your baby develops a solid latch is important. The good news is that breastfeeding is a learned behavior. Once your baby understands how to latch and get mama’s milk — they won’t have confusion going back and forth with a bottle.
Know how to store your breast milk
Your milk can stay fresh in an insulated cooler for 24 hours (with ice packs). Ideally, you’d want to refrigerate the milk as soon as possible. If you can budget for it (or your employer can), get a mini fridge to store your milk. Many small fridges can be inexpensive and bring peace of mind to your work day.
Make a schedule
This is good for you and your childcare provider. Discuss who is watching your baby and when you want your baby fed. Once your baby’s schedule is set, it is time to set your own schedule for pumping.
It will be evident because your breast will start to swell from the milk, and you will know it is time (or getting close to the time) for you to pump. So, if you work 8 hours a day, you will want to pump at least three times during that 8-hour week to keep your milk flow strong.
Once you establish a pumping routine – your co-workers will also learn it. If you have a formal calendar in your work, mark yourself unavailable for the time you know you need to pump.
Pump until the last drop
Pumping until your supply runs out is SO important. When pumping in your work environment, pump until no more milk is available for both breasts. You want to keep your milk flow strong, and pumping all the milk from your breast will ensure this. This will typically take bout 15-20 minutes.
Try to relax – be one with the pump. Play your favorite music, take deep breaths, and meditate. The goal is to relax so you can have a good pump.
Don’t forget to eat and drink while at work.
Staying hydrated is crucial when breastfeeding. Always keep a big bottle of water at your desk while working and pumping. Take all the fluids in and keep healthy snacks on hand at work.
Granola bars, fruits, nuts, cheese, yogurts, and wholegrain cereals are great platforms to build meal ideas on when in the office. Snacking will also give you the energy needed to get through the day.
Clean your breast pump
If your breast pump is dishwasher friendly, place it on the top rack in the dishwasher and use hot water and a heated drying cycle.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has its recommendations for how to clean after each pump:
- Clean your hands thoroughly and place all pump parts into a basin (not the sink).
- Add liquid soap and hot water.
- Using a cleaning brush, scrub the individual parts
- Rinse the parts under running water and follow it submerged in a separate basin (with clean water).
- Allow the pump parts to air dry. Using a towel can lead to germs being transferred to the pump.
During the work day, though, you may consider bringing multiple pump parts that you can swap out during pump cycles at work. If you do not have extra pump parts, either clean your parts with a sanitized wipe or, if you have access to a microwave, stick the part in a steam bag made for breast pumps, to clean it.
Take Care of YOU while Pumping at Work
This whole adjustment of pumping at work can be overwhelming. You are balancing it all and doing well. But it can be tricky and draining.
Remember to give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can to provide for your baby. Do not feel guilt, shame, or even jealousy. You are rocking this. This new pumping schedule at the office will soon feel “normal” for you and your baby.