Returning to work after being on your “babymoon” can come with some mixed emotions. Some moms are excited to return to their careers, while other moms are… not. One thing is for sure — we all miss our little ones while we are away. One of the best ways to help stay connected and ease the transition for you and baby is to continue to provide breast milk by pumping.
Moms who have already gone back to work know some of the challenges: It takes time to pump and clean the parts, there may not be a private place to pump, co-workers may think it’s weird or think it’s time to wean, the pump is loud/ cold/ awkward/ painful… But, let’s not forget why we started doing this breastfeeding business in the first place: That sweet baby needs our milk.
This is especially important as we enter cold and flu season. (Note: If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine, it is safe to get while breastfeeding and is a great way to protect your family from the flu! Click here for the facts on other flu vaccine myths.) Your baby is surrounded by the germs of other babies, kids and babysitters. Breast milk can provide lots of immune benefits that can protect from and fight infections. That is good news for our employers, too. Less time off for employees means more work getting done.
There are things we can do to make pumping easier at work, and help make sure we continue to make plenty of milk. Here are some tips to help you get started right.
- Make sure you and your employer know your rights. For most hourly, non-exempt employees covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, your employer must provide you with a private place to pump and provide you with adequate break time for you to pump as needed, for up to one year after your baby is born. This is the law. Your employer is not required to pay you for this time, and there are a few employers who may be exempt. Your Human Resources department can help you figure out if you are covered. Make sure to give your employer plenty of notice to set up a space for you to pump, if they don’t already have one. For more information on the breast pumping laws, the Department of Labor website is very helpful.
- Make sure you have a good, working pump that is new for you. Old pumps or borrowed pumps can grow mold and bacteria. The Affordable Care Act has helped many pumping moms save big money by covering breast pumps that we would have paid for out of pocket. Check with your insurance provider to see what coverage is available for you, and what paperwork you need to obtain your pump. You will want a double electric breast pump to make best use of your time, but if you aren’t sure what pump to choose, your Lactation Consultant can help you decide what would be best.
- Make sure you have the right size flanges. The flange is the part of the pump that goes over your breast. If the flange is too big or too small, it can be painful to pump, and can lead to a low milk supply. It is very common for women to be using the wrong size. Most of the time the size that is standard with the pump is too small, but sometimes we see women using a too large size, which causes the same problems. Follow the link here to see how to tell if your flange is fitting properly.
- Connect with the baby while pumping. Sometimes, this pumping business is a bit of a mind game. Stress at work, or your discomfort in your pumping environment can make it hard for your body to have your milk let down. This means it takes a long time to get the milk out. Plan on using a bit of your pumping time to connect with the baby. If it isn’t possible to call and check in, you may want to consider bringing a picture of the baby, or a small item that reminds you of him, or smells like him. Some pumps even have a feature that can record the sound of the baby to play while pumping. This may not last forever. As you get used to pumping at work and to the pump itself, many moms are able to multi-task and work while pumping.
- Be Flexible. Sometimes, you can’t pump when you want or need to. Many jobs require us to put other’s needs before our own, and pumping sometimes has to go on the back burner. Some moms decide not to pump, or quit breastfeeding altogether because of this reason. If you are starting out with a good milk supply when you go back to work, that will help. If you aren’t able to pump as many times as you would like to, or need to today, then tomorrow, pump more times to make up for it. Some moms find that if they can’t get enough pumping in at work, they have to pump more at home on evenings or on weekends.
- Stock up. Because we are moms, and we worry, most moms begin stockpiling milk before going back to work — enough to feed an army in some cases. While you don’t need a freezer full, having a few bottles saved up can give you peace of mind, especially on those days when you just can’t pump as much as you’d like. Don’t start pumping until your milk supply has regulated, usually 3-4 weeks after the baby is born is a good time to start.
- Have support. This is so important, especially for those days when you aren’t sure you want to keep pumping. Hopefully, you have supportive co-workers that help you get your pump breaks, but if not, family, friends, and your lactation consultant are great for pep talks.
There are a number of products available that can make pumping easier, too. Hands free bras and steam clean bags for the microwave can help you multitask and save you time. You and your baby have had a great start, and with some advanced planning, breastfeeding can continue as long as you’d both like.
Angie Bauman has been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parent Instructor for ProMedica for the past 6 years. Angie’s blog, Let’s Spill the Milk! publishes on HealthConnect each month.