Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Back To Work After Baby

Katie Kennedy, RN, IBCLC
May 16, 2019 05:00PM

Breastfeeding a baby is a full time job in and of itself! When we return to our professional job, the balance between parenting and working can get tricky. For those who wish to provide bottles of breastmilk when away and to maintain an established milk supply, a breastfeeding mom needs to pump on a regular schedule at work. If it’s not challenging enough to leave your baby for 8-12 hours per day, now you need to figure out how to incorporate pumping into the job schedule.


The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, and continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant. Even though medicine preaches the benefits of breastmilk, workplaces and jobs do not necessarily prioritize maternal or infant health. Lucky for us, federal law has mandated ways to protect the breastfeeding employee. Don’t get too excited though because guaranteed paid maternity leave has not been extended in the U.S. yet. But since 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor’s wage and Hour Division enforces “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law which applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Standards Act. Employers are required to provide a place to pump that is not a bathroom and “reasonable” time to pump.


As reassuring as it is to know that medicine and the law have our backs when it comes to breastfeeding and pumping, it doesn’t necessarily alleviate all the storm of intense emotions that comes with maternity leave ending and return to work commencing. It is normal to feel the spectrum of emotions: worry, sadness, stress, resentment, relief, excitement and or guilt. When I think back 13 years ago and going back to work after my first son was born, I clearly remember the flood of feelings. I was a mess! I also remember my wonderful coworkers. The nurses I worked with encouraged me to take my pumping breaks on time and smothered me with questions about my son (I gladly answered their questions in great detail).


My experience is in line with the research that shows the significant impact of supportive colleagues on breastfeeding continuation.  Data collected by Michigan State University and Texas Christian University found that positive reinforcement from coworkers, specifically female coworkers, increases a mom’s perception that she can be successful with breastfeeding and pumping at work. Surprisingly, coworkers have a greater impact on empowering women to reach their breastfeeding goals after return to work than family and friend support. In addition to a workplace with a mother-friendly climate, there are other ways to help ease the transition back to work after baby.


1. Prior to taking maternity leave, talk with your employer about pumping accommodations. Decide on a private space. It is helpful to plan ahead of time and figure out pumping schedule logistics. Keep in mind that “reasonable” pumping time varies from mom to mom so anticipate that you will need at least 20-30 minutes per pumping session plus time to set up your pump and wash parts.

2. Contact your insurance early about pump benefits. A double electric pump is most efficient at draining milk. If financially feasible, invest in spare pump parts and a hands free bra.

3. Stockpile some milk in the freezer for return to work. You don’t need gallons and gallons (seriously)! Most moms feel reassured with 3 workdays worth of saved milk. The easiest time to pump for stash-building is either immediately after the first morning feeding or while baby is sleeping (once he/she is sleeping longer through the night).

4. Do a work “dress rehearsal” that will give you a chance to practice preparing and packing baby and work supplies. It is easy to forget pumping supplies as a sleep-deprived new mom!

5. In addition to all the pump parts, it’s also beneficial to have photos/videos of baby and something (clothing/blanket) with his/her scent. By watching and smelling baby, you elicit a hormone response that will aid in let-down (milk flow).

6. It should go without saying, but stay nourished and hydrated. Take the opportunity to eat a healthy snack while you pump.

7. Ideally, you should pump to replace missed feedings. So, if your baby eats approximately every 3 hours, you should be aiming to pump 3 times spaced out in an 8-9 hour shift.

8. After pumping, high five yourself instead of worrying about your volumes. Remember that the pump is not an accurate gauge of milk supply because your baby will drain your milk better than a pump.

9. In terms of cleaning pump parts, there are a lot of options. Soap and water work well, but you can also purchase sanitizing wipes or microwave sanitizing bags that could save on time. If you have an extra set of parts, this really cuts down on cleaning time.

10. When reunited with your baby in the evening and on the weekends, nurse a lot! This will help to maintain your established supply.


Above all though, be easy on yourself during this transition back to work after baby. It may take time to find your rhythm and balance between parenting and career. Doing what is best for you and your baby looks different for everyone. My hope is that we normalize pumping at work, but also that we do not shame those mamas who struggle with or choose not to breastfeed or pump. Universally, we should support each other with our parenting choices and efforts! If you have questions about pumping and the transition back to work, our certified lactation consultants are here for you. Contact our office for an appointment or to speak over the phone.