Returning to work after having a baby is difficult on any mom. Settling into a new routine and constantly thinking about the littlest love you left for the day is emotionally and mentally tough. And as difficult as it is, when it comes to moms who are breastfeeding, a whole new layer of challenges arise.
For weeks, months, maybe even a year or more, you’ve been providing your baby with nutrition and comfort from your breast. Now, with returning to work, the physical breast is removed but the milk remains. So, what’s a working momma to do? Brides spoke with lactation consultant Kristin Cavuto, MSW, LCSW, IBCLC, RLC of Smart Mama Lactation Consulting for her expert advice how to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
On the surface, the challenge seems simple enough: You’ll be away from your baby, so you need to pump. But it’s much more complicated than that, as Cavuto explains that the challenges include both “the practical challenge of pumping, and the emotional one of being away from baby,” along with the “roadblocks and ‘boobytraps’ that many workplaces put up that sabotage a new parent's best efforts.”
The Prep Work
To best prepare, “Spend your maternity leave nursing on demand and solving any breastfeeding issues, so that when you are ready to go back, you have a robust milk supply and a solid nursing relationship with the baby," Cavuto advises. To ensure you’re in tip-top shape prior to heading back, she recommends obtaining any help that you might need from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), “as early as you can.”
It’s also important to be familiar with your pump and the pumping process before you make tour return, too. “Learn how to use your pump and practice pumping once a day from about two weeks postpartum until you go back," recommends Cavuto. This way, you will both feel comfortable with the process while having built up a freezer stash of milk. This tends to “make most new parents feel good,” says Cavuto.
The Pumping Process
Successfully pumping requires timing, routine, and communication. First things first, it’s important to coordinate with your HR department ahead of time to determine where can pump and when. If at all possible, Cavuto recommends you be proactive while still pregnant if you already know that you want to breastfeed. “Smooth out any management problems while you are still pregnant if possible, so that your return can be seamless from the work perspective,” she says. “Don't be afraid to advocate for your needs—you are fighting for your baby as well as yourself.”
Prior to this conversation, it will be extremely helpful to be aware of your rights and laws specific to your state. (The Department of Labor outlines Break Time for Nursing Moms, with additional resources available here.)
Having a routine is also key. "Do the same thing in the same order every session, if possible,” Cavuto recommends. Doing this will train your body to respond best to the pump. She also recommends to practice a little self-care during pumping sessions. "Do something that relaxes you rather than watching every drop!”
Thankfully, there are lots of products available that nursing and working moms find to be helpful. As far as basics go, moms will need a reliable standard pump, a carrying case (unless they can leave the spare pump at work), a cooler bag to transport expressed milk, and products to wash their pump parts to maintain safe, sanitary, and optimal conditions. All moms are urged to contact their health insurance providers prior to giving birth, as they are required by law to cover costs related to a pump.
Some moms might opt to select products that are more tailored to their lifestyle and needs, as well. These may include hands-free, wireless pumps such as the wearable Elvie pump which operates silently, connects to your smartphone, and fits in your bra. (Pumping while taking calls? Talk about a multitasking momma!)
Clothes especially designed for breastfeeding and nursing can come in handy, too. Clothing lines such as Latched Mama and Milk Nursingwear offer easily accessible tops and bras to make the process more streamlined while being fashionable, too.
Keep In Mind...
Cavuto stresses that all new families need to go easy on themselves while adjusting to the process. “Learning to be parents is hard, and it’s okay to be overwhelmed,” says Cavuto, especially when it comes to big transitions—like returning to work. She adds, “When in doubt, or if you encounter any problem, don't hesitate to call your local IBCLC for help. You can do this!”