If you are a working woman in the US, odds are you don’t have much time off with your baby before you must pack up your industrial-strength breast pump and head back to the office. According to data from the US Census Bureau, 6 out of every 10 new mothers are in the workforce. And with the percentage of children being breastfed (for any length of time) at a little over 80%, breastfeeding and returning to work is a common occurrence.
While breastfeeding itself can garner warm and fuzzy feelings, pumping in a cubicle just doesn’t have the same effect. Although some workplaces have programs for new nursing moms in place, for others, it can feel overwhelming. Yet, there are small steps you can take to reduce your stress and feel your best as you make the transition back to work.
In this article, we share seven essential tips for breastfeeding and returning to work.
1. Ask for accommodations at work.
Many women don’t realize that they can ask human resources, their supervisor, or other managers about options if they are breastfeeding and returning to work.
Accommodations could include:
- Being able to bring your baby to work some days, or for part of a day. This could involve setting up a small portable crib in your office and/or wearing your baby.
- Leaving work at lunch or on breaks to go visit and nurse your baby. The baby could also be brought to you at work. This is a more realistic option if you live near where your child is being watched while you are at work.
- Setting up a comfortable nursing mother’s room (if one doesn’t exist already). This room would have a:
- Private space (not a bathroom) with a comfortable chair with good back support
- Small table to hold a breast pump and other supplies
- Refrigerator for placing milk so that you don’t need to rely on a cooler bag to keep milk at appropriate temperature all day.
- The US Office of Women’s Health has resources to help both employees and employers make breastfeeding and returning to work the norm.
2. Get yourself a good breast pump.
If you are breastfeeding and returning to work, you will obviously need a good breast pump. Double electric breast pumps are the most efficient for frequent, long-term pumping. But, they can be expensive.
Check with your health insurance provider on whether they cover the cost of a pump or other breastfeeding supplies. Hospitals also rent out breast pumps.
3. Focus on your health.
Breastfeeding and returning to work can take its toll on your sleep and energy levels. It is crucial to rest and sleep whenever you can when you have a new baby. In addition to sleeping whenever possible, breastfeeding moms need to make sure they keep their bodies healthy as well.
- Eating a balanced diet rich in calorically-dense and nutritious foods. Meals and snacks should be protein-based to make energy last (eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, etc.). Keep individual-sized portions (i.e. cheese sticks) in the refrigerator at work.
- Talk with your health care provider about dietary supplements that could help you and baby. Examples include vitamin D and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
- Keep a water bottle filled and by your side as you pump or nurse. Drinking water can help ensure you meet fluid needs for both you and baby.
4. Bring baby to mind.
It’s hard to imagine forgetting your new bundle of joy. But, having photos, a small blanket, or piece of baby’s clothes with you at work, can help you with being separated. These reminders can also start up the release of the needed hormones to help your body make breastmilk.
The more you pump (or nurse), the more milk you make. It can be hard to relax at work, so having music or a favorite podcast on while you pump, can help too.
5. Plan and practice your new “breastfeeding and returning to work” routine.
A few weeks before going back to work, start pumping at home (if you haven’t already). Also, have your spouse or other family member give baby a bottle.
Stock up on nursing bras, pump sanitizing wipes (for quick cleans – although soap and water work best), and milk collection bottles and bags. Check out nursing bras that allow for hands-free pumping. They can help with a mom’s favorite activity – multi-tasking!
Pack all of these in a lightweight comfortable bag or backpack. Keep extra supplies at work in case you forget something at home.
6. Ask for help often.
Whether it is your spouse, mom, or another family member, your health care provider, co-workers or your mom friends, ask for help often. Having the support you need is essential to successfully working and breastfeeding.
Your workplace may have a mom’s group that meets, or you can connect virtually with moms’ groups online. Lactation consultants can be great resources for planning and troubleshooting problems. Your insurance may cover that service as well.
7. Know you are giving your baby your best.
Our final tip for moms breastfeeding and returning to work or providing infant formula, is to know you are always giving your baby your best. It can be challenging to juggle breastfeeding and returning to work, but there are many breastfeeding resources to help.
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