Making a Sucessfull Breastfeeding Transition at Work

By Irene Zoppi

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It’s no secret that breastfeeding is a natural, rewarding experience for both baby and mom. The 19th annual World Breastfeeding Week during the first week of August reminded us of the many bonding and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding — from improved emotional and physical development for baby, to protection for mom from breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

Many new mothers strive to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to breastfeed for at least a year, but have difficulty reaching this goal once they return to work.  In fact, in a study from the National Women’s Health Resource Center and Medela found that 32 percent of new mothers give up breastfeeding less than seven weeks after returning to work.

One of the best ways to combat this problem is to create a “transition plan.”  A successful transition back to work is critical in meeting breastfeeding goals and ensuring that both you and your baby receive long-term breastfeeding benefits.

Luckily, many employers are beginning to recognize the importance of supporting nursing mothers. In fact, the recent Patient Protection and Affordability Act requires corporations to provide nursing mothers breaks to express breastmilk.

To help make the one-year milestone while balancing your career, I advise breastfeeding moms to take advantage of this increasingly accepting environment. Here are a few steps a nursing mother can take to make a smooth transition back to work:

Talk to your employer about your breastfeeding needs.

If your company doesn’t have a corporate lactation program, discuss the environment and supplies necessary for you to pump at work before you take maternity leave. This will give your employer more time to arrange for a comfortable setting.  Additionally, advise your employer and co-workers in advance how often you’ll need to pump — three times during an eight-hour work shift is recommended — so that your team is aware and can be supportive. 

Remind your employer of the work-related breastfeeding benefits. Your employer may be well aware of the positive affects nursing can have on you and your baby, but he may be less familiar with how this practice can benefit the company. Make sure your employer knows that a work environment supportive of breastfeeding not only keeps nursing employees happy, but also results in fewer sick days taken to tend to children’s illnesses. Additionally, it reduces health care and insurance costs. In fact, for every 1,000 babies not breastfed, there are an extra 2,033 physician visits, 212 days in the hospital and 609 prescriptions, according to a study by the Department of Pediatrics and Steele Memorial Children’s Research Center at the University of Arizona.

Store and freeze.

Begin to pump and store milk one to two weeks before returning to work and save it for emergencies.  Store your milk in BPA-free collection bottles or in disposable bags specifically designed for breastmilk. These containers are also useful when simply storing your milk in the office refrigerator once you’re back at work. When freezing milk, keep it between 2- to 5-ounce portions, because it cannot be refrozen once thawed. You will waste less milk this way and will avoid over-feeding. Fill each bottle so that it’s about ¾ full so the bottle or bag won’t burst as the liquid expands while freezing. When you’re ready to thaw milk, move the container to the refrigerator overnight, or heat the sealed container under warm water, making sure the water level is below the capped container. Thawed milk is safe in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Choose a fast, portable breastpump.

The pump you use can make a big difference in helping you transition easily back to work. I recommend a research-based electric pump that features technology proven to mimics babies’ nursing rhythms, allowing mom to get more milk in less time. Most moms will find it will take about 15 minutes to pump. This is key for when you’re trying to catch up at the office. 

Stick to your routine.

Once you’re back at work, it’s important to create a pumping schedule that provides enough milk for your baby, but still makes it possible for you to complete daily tasks. Most lactation consultants recommend that you plan three 15-minute pumping breaks during an eight-hour work shift — or every three hours you are away from your baby.  If your shift is longer than eight hours, try to add another short pumping session.  

A successful transition back to work is key to nurturing a positive pumping experience while at work, and it can be done.  Proper planning, informed co-workers, commitment and the right pump will go a long way to help you balance breastfeeding and your career. And down the road you’ll be happy you continued to provide the health benefits of breastmilk for your little one.

Irene Zoppi is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Medela clinical education specialist. An experienced clinician, she cares for new families in antenatal, labor and delivery, postpartum and NICU settings. She also has written many continuing educational programs for healthcare professionals in the area of breast pump function and breastfeeding support. Irene is a mother of two breastfed children, now young adults.

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