Are you pumped up to return to work?

Author: Hadley Kelly

Note: The shaming that goes on between breastfeeding and formula feeding is just that…a shame. We’re not here to pass judgment on the mamas who can’t or don’t breastfeed.

Like most mamas, when I returned to work after maternity leave with my first child, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But when the alarm rang at 7 am Monday morning I was certain I’d just go through the motions and figure it out. I walked into the office on my first day back eager to jump right back in like I hadn’t missed a beat. I thought to myself, as long as I set aside a few times in the day to pump and listen to my body’s cues, I’ll be all set. The reality? I’m sitting in a meeting that has bled into my planned pumping session engorged, uncomfortable, and all of a sudden that all too familiar feeling of the letdown slaps me with the reminder that I’ve waited too long. I find myself trying to hide the fact that my shirt is soaked and my face red with embarrassment. 

The thing is, I returned to work thinking I could just jump into the person and employee I once was. The truth? Motherhood has changed me and my needs as an employee. With a little preparation and a lot of communication, the transition back to work can be a whole lot less overwhelming. 

I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned to hopefully make your transition back to work as a pumping mama a breeze:

Tip 1: Prepare you and baby first!

  • Introduce a bottle about 4 weeks before your return to work date.
  • Give your someone else the opportunity to feed your baby without mom around.
  • Get your baby used to taking a bottle from someone other than you! You will thank me later!

Tip 2: Start building a stash.

  • If you can, don’t start regularly pumping until your baby is 4-6 weeks old. Naturally your milk supply increases from birth until around 6 weeks. As milk production is based on a supply and demand process, if you pump sooner than 4-6 weeks this can lead to milk oversupply! Sounds great, but it can actually be tough to maintain when returning to work. 
  • It’s ideal to start pumping 2-3 weeks before you start working to establish your supply.
  • Try pumping after your baby’s morning nursing session. Your breasts are naturally fuller earlier in the day, so the morning is a good time to pump and store it away in the freezer.  

Tip 3: Pack your bags!

It always feels good to be prepared so pack your bags the night before your first day back to work to include:

  • All the parts you will need to express (clean bottles + lids, a power supply such as an adaptor or batteries, and bring a manual hand pump as a backup if your primary pump is electric!).
  • Cooler with icepacks ready for transport, and consider bringing a cute picture/video of your precious little one to help you feel connected while you’re away! This may also help with your let down!  
  • Extra clothing for you (extra blouse, nursing friendly bra, breast pads in case of leaks).

Tip 4: Communicate and communicate some more!

It’s important to speak with your employer before your first day back. You’ll want to be on the same page about what your needs are as a breastfeeding mama. Express your needs (pun intended) for the following:

  • A clean and private place with electricity (legally this cannot be a bathroom) in which to pump.
  • Most nursing mamas need to pump milk at least 2-3 times throughout an 8-hour workday (typically every 2-3 hours). The goal is to mirror the number of times your baby would nurse throughout the day while you’re working to maintain your milk supply. You can also ask your little one’s caregiver to message you every time your sweet one takes a bottle so you can gauge when you should go pump!
    • A friendly reminder: delaying pumping can lead to breast engorgement and potential for further complications.
  • Know your rights. Most employers are required by law to provide both these things so don’t be afraid to ask! 

Arm yourself with knowledge by checking out the link below to understand what you are entitled to as a breastfeeding employee: Your Rights as a Breastfeeding Employee.

Returning to work can be hard but preparing for the transition will make it easier for both you and your little one. For many new mamas, leaving your little one for an extended period of time, breastfeeding, and returning to work can be a bit overwhelming all at once. That’s okay! Just take things one day at a time and before you know it, it will all be just part of your normal routine. It will get easier I promise! Now go get em, Mama! 

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