Breastfeeding: Returning to Work 101

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Breastfeeding is an amazing journey. For many, the connection between you and your baby is incredible and something that can make the thought of returning to work seem impossible. And yet, many US moms return to work sometime between 6-12 weeks after their baby is born.

If you find yourself wondering how you can make it work to keep breastfeeding your baby when you have to part with him for several hours each day, here are some tips to make it work. From how to talk to your employer about pumping, to postpartum meal prepping so you don’t fall behind on your nutrition, read on to feel supported as you return to work while breastfeeding.

Stay on your prenatal vitamin.

Did you know that the body requires as many nutrients while recovering from pregnancy and childbirth as it did while you were pregnant? While the body is great at making breast milk nutritious no matter what you eat, getting enough nutrients from both a healthy diet and supplements can help you feel your best. Plus, baby may get a boost of nutrition even on days when you might not get the best variety. 

The vitamins you need postpartum are similar to those needed during pregnancy so you don’t necessarily need to switch vitamins. Staying on your prenatal is a great way to ensure that you are still getting the nutrition you need as you return to work and start a new schedule. 

Postpartum Meal Prep

After you start work you’ll probably prefer to spend your evening snuggling your baby and nursing her in the rocking chair rather than in the kitchen. Set yourself up with a combination of freezer meals, premade frozen dinners and steamer vegetables, and lactation cookies. 

Freezer meals

Freezer meals can either be made before baby is born or during maternity leave. Inviting over a friend or family member to help can make this task less stressful. Choose from casserole dishes that you can fully cook before you freeze and then just pop into the oven when you get home or crockpot meals that can cook all day while you’re at work. 

Pre-made frozen dinners

It’s okay to rely on these from time to time. Pick some favorites: pizza, pasta bakes, chicken strips, etc. Then pair them with a frozen steamer bag of vegetables or a bagged salad for a quick meal on nights you either forgot to thaw your homemade freezer meals or just have a craving. 

Lactation cookies

There are so many options for lactation snacks. My favorite was always the classic lactation cookies, but there are also no-bake lactation bites that are great.  For the cookies, make up some extra dough, roll it into balls, and freeze them into baggies of 6-12 cookies so you cake bake them fresh over several weeks. These snacks come in handy at work when you need a quick snack before or during pumping.

It’s easy to forget to snack while you’re at work so having some of these on hand will help. Lactation cookies also are great middle of the night snacks when you need something to grab and munch in the dark while nursing your baby.

Drink enough water

Of course, it makes sense logically that making milk for your little will require an increased amount of fluid that you’ll need to keep up with demand. But realistically this can be tough to achieve when your time is no longer your own. Returning to work while breastfeeding will add to the challenge.

If you’re goal oriented, set an ounces goal to reach. 64 oz./day should be a minimum as you’ll likely require much more than that. But you can start with 64 oz. and gradually increase until you feel hydrated. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, cramping, dry skin, chapped lips, feeling thirsty, dark yellow or strong-smelling pee, or peeing little or fewer than 4 times/day. 

You can also try these strategies to get in more fluid: 

  • Drink herbal teas- having a variety of herbal teas around makes drinking more interesting and a race to drink it before it turns lukewarm. 
  • Drink sparkling waters. With so many options available anymore, you can certainly use these as an alternative to regular water.
  • Have a glass of water before your morning coffee. You can even use this as a reminder to continue taking your prenatal vitamin daily. 
  • Fill a large water bottle each day and make sure you finish it by a certain time each day.   

Talk to your employer about pumping

Having an open conversation with your employer on your first day back, or even before you return, can set up expectations so that you feel comfortable taking pumping breaks. You shouldn’t need to feel bad for taking these breaks so making sure that you’re supported at work makes a huge difference. 

Things you’ll want to discuss include:

  • A pumping schedule: aim to pump about the same times that your baby will take a bottle at daycare to stay synced up with her needs. Or set breaks every 3-4 hours. You’ll likely need at least 20 minutes for each break. 
  • What location you’ll need to pump in. Ideally, pumping in a calm, clean, and private environment will help you relax while you pump. 

You’ll also want to think about pumping essentials so you have everything you need at work. Here’s a quick list that you can start with:

  • Breast pump and chargers/cords
  • Boon grass
  • Bottle washer
  • Soap
  • Microwave sanitizing bowl
  • Large bag to keep all of your supplies and pump in
  • Snacks: lactation cookies, instant oatmeal, granola/nut bars, trail mix, bananas, apples, whole milk greek yogurt

Recap: breastfeeding and returning to work

As you prepare to return to work after your maternity leave, here are a few things to help you continue on your breastfeeding journey.

Stay on your prenatal vitamin to ensure you are getting all of the nutrients you need postpartum and to support your body while producing breast milk. Do some postpartum meal prep by preparing some homemade freezer meals, buying some frozen quick dinners and veggies, and baking up lactation cookies. Stay hydrated with the tips above. And, talk to your employer about setting up a pumping schedule and location to pump at work.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis. You should consult with your doctor before changing your diet or starting supplements for any health condition.

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