Sure, it can be uncomfortable to pump at work. But the benefits of continued breastfeeding will last your baby a lifetime.
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.
Preparation counts 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.
Location, Location, Location In addition to the breast pump itself (see "Which Pump Is Best for You?" below), perhaps the most important aspect of pumping at work is finding a place to do it. In a perfect world, you'd have your own office with a door that locked, a mini-fridge and a comfy chair, but even without these perks, you can find a place to pump. You just might have to be a little creative.
If possible, take a tour through your workplace before you go on maternity leave to find a suitable space; if you've already had your baby, pay a visit before you return to work. If the only private spot is the bathroom, see if you can bring in a comfortable chair so you don't have to sit on a toilet. Also make sure the area is as hygienic as possible (antibacterial wipes come in handy here), and check that your pump has a battery converter, since you probably won't have access to an electrical outlet, advises Kirsten Berggren, a certified lactation counselor and the author of Working Without Weaning: A Working Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding (Hale Publishing). Other ideas:
Create a space Are there folding screens or cornered-off cubicles you can use? What about a storage closet? If you play music to disguise the hum of the pump, no one will know what you're up to.
Use your jalopy You can easily pump in your car by parking in a private spot and taking advantage of a few well-placed sun shades.
Ask around Did any of your co-workers face the same pumping-at-work conundrum? Be sure to ask for their tips.
And, perhaps most important, don't be afraid to ask your employer for help in finding--or creating--a space. "Be upfront and tell your boss what you'll be doing," advises Jennifer Bowen Hicks, editor of Hirkani's Daughters: Women Who Scale Modern Mountains to Combine Breastfeeding and Working (La Leche League International). "This gives him a chance to be on board and support the employees." Companies that support breastfeeding help improve their image, Hicks adds; pro-breastfeeding plans and family-friendly policies make great PR, which can in turn bring new business and attract high-quality employees.
The first days back For many working moms, the first week back is the hardest emotionally--you've never had to leave your baby before! Speak with your employer about ways to make the transition smoother. Maybe day 1 can be on a Thursday, or see if you can work a few half days starting back.
For a typical eight-hour workday, La Leche League suggests that you nurse right before you leave for work; pump in the morning, at lunch and at midafternoon; and breastfeed your baby when you get home (the morning and after-work nursing sessions are in addition to any others your baby might want). Breast milk remains fresh at room temperature for 10 hours, but experts nevertheless recommend storing it in a refrigerator or a small cooler with ice packs.
Be sure to bring these items with you when you head back to the office:
Your trusty pump, preferably one with a carrying bag to make transport easy.
Bottles or bags for storing your milk.
Nursing pads to hide embarrassing leaks.
An extra shirt to change into in case you make a mess when pumping.
A "hands free" helper Easy Expression makes a bustier that fits over your bra and enables you to pump sans hands. Visit easyexpressionproducts.com.
Breast pump wipes Medela Quick Clean Wipes let you clean both pump and parts on the spot. (Otherwise, rinsing well after each use and washing with soap and hot water at the end of the day is fine.) Visit medela.com.
Photos of your baby to encourage your body to release oxytocin, the "hormone of love" that helps you relax and also stimulates milk letdown.
And, of course, bring your positive attitude. "Going back to work and continuing to breastfeed takes some organization and planning," Hicks says. "Yes, it's going to feel tedious sometimes, but it really doesn't take that much time out of your life, and the benefits to your baby will last her a lifetime."