Breastfeeding and going back to work? You got this.

Rachel Nicks, a certified doula and fitness expert, is an In The Know by Yahoo parenting contributor. Check out her site, Birth Queen, and follow her on Instagram for more.

Hello Mama,

As a mother, doula and lactation counselor, I am passionate about encouraging and supporting women and families on their breastfeeding journey. And while August is National Breastfeeding Month and Black Breastfeeding Week is August 25-31, moms can use this information all year long.

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Picture this: You have your baby and begin to breastfeed. You have success but immediately start to wonder, OMG, how will I be able to keep this up when I go back to work?

Honestly, the first question I asked myself is, Will I ever do anything alone again? I was overwhelmed with the idea of ever leaving my baby once I had him, and yet I knew how important it was to just go outside to take a walk, let alone leave for a whole day of work.

I am here to offer tangible solutions to lighten your load about your transition and equip you with the tools to advocate for yourself in the workplace to continue your breastfeeding journey with as little stress as possible.

Photo credit: Kate Moore Photography
Photo credit: Kate Moore Photography

1. Don’t worry about pumping as soon as you have your baby.

Many of us want to immediately start building our frozen supply but are too exhausted from healing and feeding to add pumping to the mix. It’s also too much for your nipples straight out of the gate, and oftentimes we can tap out from it all.

I suggest purchasing a silicone pump to catch your milk letdown or to use if you feel engorged and need some relief. The products I love are made by Elvie. The Catch is a product you can use on the opposite breast when you’re feeding to catch letdown. The Curve is great when you’re ready to start building a frozen supply. These are great because you can just pop them in your bra.

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When you’re ready to begin pumping, I encourage the wireless experience with the Elvie pump. I had great luck as well with the Spectra for a normal pump and hand pump. With my first, I used a wireless pump, the Curve and Catch, and a Medela hand pump with my second. I had success with the hand pump when my supply dipped or I just needed something on the go. Sometimes switching up your pumps is the perfect way to relax your brain into having a more fruitful pumping session.

2. Find ways to reduce stress.

Let’s be honest, milking yourself isn’t the most enticing activity. However, stress impacts milk production so please try not to create a negative relationship with pumping. It’s a wonderful option to allow mama to have freedom and flexibility. Delete “I hate pumping” from your vocabulary, and ask that others not share their negative breastfeeding stories because it isn’t helping you achieve your breastfeeding. Also, ask your partner and support people who offer to wash your pump parts and bottles. It’s a huge help!

3. Frequency over duration

The most important (but not exactly intuitive) rule for breastfeeding is that frequency over duration builds supply. If your baby is at the breast a lot, your body will say, “Oh, I need to make more milk.”

Little ones are also incredibly efficient feeders — but they’re not all the same. They can feed for a couple of minutes and get what they need, or they can take their time at the breast and eat for 20 to 30 minutes. Sometimes they need both breasts, and sometimes they just need one. Babies are different types of eaters, just like you and I. Some of us take our time, and others scarf it down. This simple fact helped ease my mind about the rules and schedules of feeding. Also remember when you begin to pump that the content of your milk varies during the day. In the morning you will have more volume, and in the evening you will have less volume, in part due to higher fat content that keeps baby sleeping longer and gives you time to “refill.”

Burn in your brain that a baby is way more effective and efficient than a pump. A pump can never yield as much from you as a baby can. I know many moms prefer to pump and then feed so they can measure what their baby is getting, but your baby will tell you when they are satiated. It is too much work to pump, measure and then feed. I suggest pumping to have a supply when you are not present to feed.

4. Look for ‘rooting signs.’

Structure to feeding is helpful, but schedules can cause us to miss hunger signs. A more successful way is to look for what we refer to as rooting signs. Babies move their heads from side to side and usually have tight fists and start moving their mouth as if they are feeding. Rooting signs can often start while they are still sleeping.

If we miss these signs, baby can get extremely frustrated, which oftentimes interferes with a successful latch and, therefore, causes a stress-filled feed for everyone involved. When they are full and on the breast, they come off the breast, (you can’t force-feed a baby at the breast), possibly fall asleep or look milk drunk, and their hands are open and relax.

My suggestion is to wait to introduce a pacifier or bottle until your baby has a good latch and breastfeeding is going well. A minimum of three weeks before the introduction of other nipples is recommended, but I prefer six weeks. Other nipples can cause nipple confusion, which can cause mom pain and lead to inefficient feeding. It’s easier for babies to get milk out of a bottle than the breast, so they guzzle a bottle much faster.

When you begin to pump and freeze your milk to build a supply, keep the following rules in mind.

Storage rules for expressed or pumped milk:

  • Store at room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to four hours.

  • Store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

  • Storing in the freezer for up to about six months is best, but up to 12 months is acceptable.

Before you go back to work, inform your employer that you are a breastfeeding mom and need a quiet and clean space to pump. You’ll also need a refrigerator to store your milk. Inform them of your pumping schedule as well.

I deliberately chose the word “inform.” Do not ask permission. Many times a workplace is simply unaware of your needs, which is unfortunate, but please do not hesitate to educate them and be set up for success. Do not let work or others’ opinions dictate your feeding journey. Educate yourself, get support, and advocate for yourself.

If you have the ability to keep an extra hand pump and milk bags on site, I would suggest doing so just in case you forget something. That’s the worst!

Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

  • Pump

  • Charger (for wireless)

  • Bottles

  • Milk storage bags

  • Soap

  • Ice pack

  • Insulated milk bag

  • Brush to clean pump and bottles

  • Picture of baby or outfit (can help stimulate milk to look at your baby)

I wish you the very best of luck. I am here if you need support.


P.S. Please share and help spread the word about Black Breastfeeding Week! If you would like to learn more or donate please click here.

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