Successful breastfeeding after a return to work
By Jennifer Steffen, Nurse Practitioner, InterMed Women’s Health
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness month. One of the common questions we hear from new mothers is, “How do I continue to breastfeeding after I return to work?” Because of the many health benefits for mom and baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for six months and then continuation with the addition of other food until the baby is a year old. Yet most working mothers return to work between 6-12 weeks postpartum. This time can pose unexpected hurdles and ultimately result in premature discontinuation of breastfeeding. Here are some helpful hints to support breastfeeding as you return to work after baby.
The state of Maine Department of Labor has a law protecting breastfeeding in the workplace. The law states the employer must:
- Provide adequate break time to pump or express breastmilk. Breaks may be paid or unpaid.
- Provide a clean room, other than a bathroom, to allow privacy to pump or express.
The Maine Department of Labor website has more information on your workplace breastfeeding right.
Planning with Employer
Discuss benefits of breastfeeding for the employer:
- Breastfed babies are sick less, therefore generating fewer health insurance claims. This results in average annual savings of $400 per breastfed baby.
- Lower rates of employee absenteeism.
- Improved productivity.
- Increased morale and loyalty; decreased turnover.
Create a “back to work plan” before your baby is born:
- Discuss scheduling flexible breaks and determine support needs. Typically, this means three pump breaks in an eight-hour day, each 20-30 minutes.
- Do a workplace walk-through. Identify a clean, private space where you will pump or express. Be sure this space has electric outlets and a chair.
Discuss where you will store your expressed breast milk. Ideally, this can be a designated refrigerator. You can also store the breastmilk in a bag with ice packs.
Visit WomensHealth.gov for creative ideas on supporting workplace pumping and expression.
Choose a pump
Working mothers who are away from their baby more than 10 hours per week best maintain their supply with a high quality, electric breast pump.
- Pump cost is generally the average cost of 2-3 months of formula
- Many insurance companies pay for pumps. Ask your doctor to provide you with a prescription.
Building a supply
- Start two weeks prior to work return
- Add one pumping session per day…really, just one is enough!
- Don’t overpump. This can lead to clogged ducts and engorgement
- On average, pump for 15 minutes per side, or for 2-3 minutes after the last drop
Storing breast milk
- Room temperature (66-72 degrees) – up to 8-10 hours
- Refrigerator (in back not on door) – up to 8 days
- Freezer – 3-4 months
- Deep freeze – 6+ months
- Thawed in refrigerator – up to 24 hours; do not re-freeze
For more great information to support breastfeeding and return to work, visit these websites: