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Balancing Breastfeeding and Work

Going back to work and continuing to breastfeed offers many unique and rewarding challenges to the new mother. Your baby will be healthier when she continues to receive the milk that you pump during your workday. Many women experience a special sense of satisfaction, knowing that they are still providing their baby with the best nutrition possible, even though they may be separated.

Getting Started

We recommend generally waiting about three weeks before introducing a bottle. Around week two to three, you can start pumping to store some extra milk. The best pumps for moms who are working full-time are the double electric pumps. Try to pump in the early morning hours after baby nurses. Sit down and try to pump for 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry if you just get a teaspoon or two. Your breasts make what the baby takes. If you pump additional milk several times a day, it may take several days to see an increase in how much you pump. Massage your breasts before and during pumping, and you may get more milk. Have something warm to eat or drink and try to relax while pumping. Having your baby close may also help. Remember that a pump is not as efficient as a baby and it may take you time to get used to the pump. You may store your milk in the refrigerator or freezer.

Have your baby’s dad, a family member or friend offer the baby a bottle so that baby will become familiar with getting her milk from someone besides you. At three weeks of age, new babies take about 2 - 4 oz. of milk with the first bottle. Try to burp your baby after every ½ oz. taken.

Continue to offer your baby a bottle every few days, so they will stay familiar with it when you return to work.

Getting Ready

Some moms will practice a workday or two before they actually return to work. Awaken at the time you would for work and either nurse baby (if it is close to feeding time) or pump your breasts for 15–20 minutes. Go about your morning routine as if you were really going to work. We generally recommend you pump mid-morning, over your lunch break and mid-afternoon if you are working daytime hours.

Your baby can be offered bottles during those pumping times. You should continue to breastfeed during your regular times at home. These practice sessions will help you learn how to operate your pump efficiently and smooth out any wrinkles before your first day back. It is also recommended you return to work mid-to-late in the week for one or two days to reduce the stress of facing a full week.

Employer Support

It is helpful to plan when and where you will pump. If you don’t have a lactation room at work, think about a spare office or space that you could use for 15-20 minute periods. Having a clean, private space to express your milk is essential.

If your employer does not seem knowledgeable or supportive, an excellent reference is available from the Healthy Polk Breastfeeding Work Group. Mothers who pump at work have less absenteeism because their babies are sick less often, thus providing financial benefits to your employer.

Going to Work

It is recommended that you pump three times during your workday. Ask your employer if you can be flexible with your work schedule to fit in these important times. The Medela Pump In Style or Symphony double electric pumps are designed to help you maintain your milk supply when you are working outside the home. They are available for rent (Symphony) or purchase (Pump in Style) at the Little Miracles Lactation Boutique. It is not recommended that you use a pre-owned pump from another mother because of the possibility that bacteria and viruses could enter the milk from the pump’s internal diaphragm. The internal diaphragm cannot be removed, replaced or sterilized. Buying a new kit or tubing for another user’s pump does not rule out the possibility of potential contamination.

The ideal place to pump at work is private, warm and comfortable. If you use a lounge or break room, hang a “do not disturb” sign on the door. Try to relax, eat or drink something warm before pumping. Gently massaging your breasts and thinking of your baby or looking at their picture is also helpful to help with your milk ejection reflex. Try to pump 15-20 minutes at each session.

Milk Storage

Proper storage of your breast milk is essential. Follow the guidelines below for optimal storage:

  • Mark the date, time and baby’s name on each bag/container if you’ll be taking the milk to your day care provider.
  • Freeze your milk in two- to four-ounce portions. Smaller amounts thaw quicker and you will waste less milk.
  • You may continue to add small amounts of breast milk to the same container throughout the day. Chill in the refrigerator until evening and then freeze the container.
  • If you are going to freeze your breast milk, leave some space at the top of the container, as the breast milk will expand as it freezes.

Defrosting Frozen Milk

  • Place milk in the refrigerator the night before you are going to use it. Refrigerator defrosting takes 12 hours. Or to quickly defrost frozen milk, place the milk container under warm water or in a pan of warm water. Never microwave breast milk. This can destroy some of the milk’s immunological components and possibly burn your baby.
  • Fat in breast milk will separate and rise to the top. Gently shake the container to mix the milk.
  • Never refreeze thawed breast milk.
  • The color, consistency and odor of your breast milk may vary depending on your diet.
  • Discard any unused breast milk after a feeding.


Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

Room Temperature Cooler with Three Frozen Ice Packs Refrigerator Self-contained Refrigerator Freezer Unit Deep Freeze
Freshly expressed milk 4 hours at
24 hours
at 59°F
5-7 days at 32-39°F
3-4 months 6-12 months at 0°F (-19°C)
Thawed breast milk (previously frozen) Do not store Do not store 24 hours Never refreeze thawed breast milk Never refreeze thawed breast milk


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