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For many nursing moms, returning to work after a cozy maternity leave can bring on major angst: How will I ever fit pumping into my already hectic workday? What if my baby won't take a bottle? Aren't breast pumps too complicated to deal with? The emotional transition from round-the-clock breastfeeding and bonding to pumping 9-to-5 can be tough, but with a little planning and this back-to-work primer, you'll be prepared to tackle the logistics of continued breastfeeding--and your baby will reap the rewards for years to come.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life are less likely to suffer ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections and childhood obesity. But your baby isn't the only one who will benefit from continued breastfeeding: The longer you nurse your child, the more you reduce your lifetime risk of developing ovarian or breast cancer.
Many breastfeeding moms make the mistake of not introducing their baby to a bottle before they return to work, only to find that the baby won't take the bottle. To head off this disaster, you need to get your child accustomed to a bottle fairly early--most experts recommend introducing one filled with pumped milk at about 3 weeks of age, when breastfeeding is established. (Remember: Breast milk alone is recommended for the first six months, which means no formula.) For most women, the best time to pump is right after the first nursing session of the morning, when their milk supply is at its highest.
When you're finished pumping, store your milk in either the refrigerator or the freezer--it will stay fresh for eight days in the fridge and three to four months in the freezer. Be sure you use storage bags made especially for breast milk; they are sanitized, freezer-safe and leakproof, according to Katy Lebbing, an international board-certified lactation consultant and manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League International. Store your milk in 2- or 4-ounce servings to avoid wasting any of your "liquid gold" (this is likely how much milk your baby will take in a feeding).
In addition to targeting the right age at which to give that first bottle, it's also important to choose the right moment. "We recommend that the baby be calm and not too hungry when the bottle is introduced," says Lebbing. "Otherwise, she may be so frantic, she won't take it."
If you're like many women, you may be wondering how often you need to pump--and how frequently you should give a bottle--before you return to work. Experts recommend trying to pump several days per week to build up your supply for when you go back to work; they also advise giving your baby a few bottles a week. This way, she will stay familiar with the bottle and you won't use up your precious milk supply. (If you pump five days a week and give your baby three bottles, that leaves two bags per week.) Since she may not take a bottle from you--and why would she, when the real thing is right there?--your husband will probably need to offer it.