Breastfeeding and returning to work
Top 10 tips for success
3 April 2023
Many new parents will agree that parental leave flies by. One minute you’re packing your hospital bag and planning for the imminent arrival of your newest family member and then, before you know it, you’re thinking about your return to work. Many mothers choose to continue their breastfeeding journey at this point, so how can you give yourself the best chance of success?
Ternity Group’s Nourish Baby Health Writer, Jane Barry explains some of the factors to consider and her top 10 tips for success.
What to think about
It’s not a case of choosing one or the other when it comes to breastfeeding and a return to paid work, with many women successfully managing the two. Success often comes down to three things – planning, motivation and practice. So what factors do you need to consider?
Your baby’s age
If your baby is still fully breastfed and too young for solid foods, they’ll need breast milk for all feeds while you’re apart. From around six months of age, babies are ready for solid food, but milk is still an important part of their diet.
Work and childcare options
Balancing full-time employment, caring for a baby and breastfeeding can be a challenge. Look at the options available to you – is part-time work, working from home, flexible or hybrid working arrangements a possibility? And when it comes to childcare, are you considering long day care, family day care, a nanny or family member? There are a number of options available, think about what’s available to you and works best for your needs.
Your baby’s tummy
Babies are not known for their patience (!) and yours will likely need some form of milk while you’re away. Plan to breastfeed your baby just before you leave for work and then again when you’ve finished and, depending on your work and childcare locations, you might be able to breastfeed your baby during one of your breaks.
Your expressing options
There are a range of pumps for sale and rent. Manual, electric, battery operated, dual pumps or single – the choice is yours depending on your needs and budget. The important thing is to give yourself time to practice and get the hang of how your pump works. And remember, don’t expect your expressed breast milk (EBM) to look like cow’s milk or formula. Human breast milk can look very watery with a blue or even greenish tinge and if it’s left to sit for a while, the fat rises to the surface.
It’s normal for a mother’s milk supply to drop with the changes involved with going back to work but with regular expressing and breastfeeding when home, the supply will often increase. If you don’t have enough EBM for all feeds, you can combine EBM and formula in the same bottle (but if you think your baby isn’t going to drink all the milk in their bottle, offer the EBM first and then formula separately).
Do you have time to build up a bank of EBM? It’s a good idea to start expressing and storing breast milk early (not the week before you head back to work). Will your baby accept a bottle? While some breastfed babies are quite happy suck on either the breast or bottle, others are a bit fussier so it’s important to give your baby time to transition.
And remember, every baby is different!
Every baby is an individual and has their own feeding needs but a general guide for milk volume is:
From day 5 to 3 months of age
150 ml/kg per day. Some babies, especially if born premature need up to 180-200 ml/kg/day
From 3-6 months
From 6-12 months
100 ml/kg/day. Some babies may drop to 90 ml/kg/day
Top 10 tips for success
1. Be prepared
Start planning early for your return to work and build up a supply of frozen EBM. Your breasts may take a few weeks to adjust to the new breastfeeding and expressing pattern so expect changes in the volume of milk you’re producing.
2. Chat to your childcare provider
It’s important to speak with your child’s carer about your intention to keep breastfeeding so you can work out a flexible plan together for managing feeds whilst you’re at work.
3. Ease in gently
Buy a breast pump and start practicing before you go back to work. Expressing can be a challenge for some women but an item of your baby’s clothing, a photo or even a video link-up with their carer so you can see your baby when you’re expressing at work, can help to start a let-down.
4. Give your baby time to adapt
In the weeks before you return to work, start offering your baby a bottle with EBM when they’re due for a breastfeed, are hungry and are calm. Try substituting a couple of breastfeeds each day with EBM. If your baby refuses the bottle, ask your partner to try feeding them or offer EBM in a cup. Remember don’t be disappointed if your baby doesn’t accept a bottle straight away!
5. Look after yourself
Don’t skip meal breaks when you’re at work. Drink plenty of water and take the breaks you’re entitled to. Caring for yourself is important in maintaining your breast milk supply.
6. Think about the practicalities!
Like, what will you wear for work? Remember leaking breast milk is completely normal especially when breasts are full, but make sure you’ve got breast pads and a spare bra to avoid any embarrassment, just in case! Also think about options for a quiet, private place to express when you’re at work and fridge/storage arrangements. Over an average eight-hour workday, most breastfeeding mothers find they need to express at least once to maintain their supply and avoid engorgement. You might not need to express at work if your baby is older or you’re only working a few hours a day.
7. Enjoy time with your baby
If possible, make some time at the end of your working day just to sit and enjoy your baby. Remember you can keep breastfeeding when you and your baby are together but just be careful that your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed too often when you’re reunited. Follow their lead and do what feels right for both of you.
8. Get your partner on board
It’s important that you and your partner are on the same page. Having their support will help build your confidence and boost your chances of success!
9. Have a positive attitude
Making up your mind and being determined to continue breastfeeding will really help. Be patient and calm and try not to stress. Returning to work is a change for you and your baby so give both of you time to adjust.
10. There’s no right way!
Most importantly, there’s no one right way when it comes to juggling breastfeeding and returning to paid work. You may need to be imaginative about how you can make it work if it’s the right option for you and your baby.
The chances are you know someone who has juggled breastfeeding and returning to work. Whether it’s a colleague, friend or family member, getting practical tips from other women who’ve “been there” can be really useful.
For more information head to:
Ternity Group supports Teachers Health members through the New Families Program.
Nourish Baby Health Writer Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 35 years specialist experience in child health nursing.