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    Breastfeeding and Your Return to Work or School: Tips for Easing Your Transition

    Returning to work or school doesn’t have to signal an end to breastfeeding. With a little advance planning and preparation, you can continue to provide your baby with breast milk even while you are apart.

    California state law protects a woman’s right to breastfeed at work. The law states that an employer “must provide a reasonable amount of break time and make a reasonable effort to provide a space, other than a toilet stall, close to the employee’s work area, to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for her baby.”

    Regardless of how well you prepare for your return to work, you should expect a period of adjustment. Feelings of excitement, nervousness, guilt and sadness are normal. With time, however, you will establish routines and your confidence will grow. During this time of transition, support and encouragement from those around you is vital. We encourage you to contact a lactation consultant if you have any concerns or questions.

    Strategies for Breastfeeding and Working

    Because breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your baby during the first year of life, we encourage you to continue providing your baby with breast milk upon your return to work or school. While each woman’s situation is different, the following are some feeding options you may want to consider. During your transition back to work or school, the most important thing to remember is to stay flexible and do what is most enjoyable for you and your baby.

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    Feeding Options

    Total Breastfeeding—Breastfeed baby during workday (an option for those with childcare nearby).

    Total Breast Milk Feeding—Breastfeed baby at home and provide pumped breast milk while you are at work. Pump two to three times during an eight-hour day if possible.

    Partial Breast Milk Feeding—Breastfeed baby at home and provide pumped breast milk and some formula at daycare. Pump as often as possible at work.

    Partial Breastfeeding—Breastfeed when at home and provide formula or solids during the day. Expressed breast milk or formula might also be given in smaller quantities which would require fewer pumping sessions. Some babies adapt to breastfeeding more often in the evening or night and require fewer feedings during the day. Remember that skipping breastfeeding will affect your milk supply. You may experience discomfort if you do not slowly decrease the number of feedings.

    Please contact a lactation consultant if you have questions about these methods.

    Note: Feeding your infant formula will affect your milk supply. Please talk to a lactation consultant if you notice a decrease in your supply.

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    Pumping Tips

    The type of pump you select depends on your work schedule. If you are working part-time, you may be able to use a manual pump. If you will be at work or school full-time, we suggest a double electric pump, such as Medela® Pump N Style or Ameda® Purely Yours.

    When you are expressing milk at work, take a minute to massage your breasts down and out toward the nipple. Think about your baby or have a picture nearby to help stimulate your let-down reflex. You may have a number of let-down reflexes, so give your body a chance to complete this cycle by pumping a few minutes beyond when you think you have expressed all your milk.

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    How Much Milk Will I Need?

    To determine how much milk you will need during the day, take your baby’s weight in pounds and multiply by 2.5. Divide this number by the average number of feedings in a 24-hour period. The result will give you an approximate amount of pumped milk necessary for each feeding.

    Baby’s weight x 2.5 / # feedings per 24 hours = ounces needed per feeding

    For example, if your baby weighs 16 pounds, multiply by 2.5 to get 40. This is the approximate amount of ounces your baby consumes in 24 hours. You typically nurse eight times a day, so divide 40 by eight. The result is five ounces of breast milk per feeding. If your baby will be fed three times while you are work, you will need to prepare three bottles with five ounces of breast milk in each.

    Remember that this is an approximation for babies age 1 month to 6 months. All babies are unique and have different needs. Talk to your pediatrician with questions or concerns.

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    Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

    Storage LocationTemperatureTime
    Countertop66-72° F (19-22° C)6 hours
    Refrigerator32-39° F (0-4° C)6 days
    Freezer compartment inside refrigeratorVaries2 weeks
    Freezer compartment with separate doorVaries3-4 months
    In separate deep freeze0° F (-19° C)6 months or longer

    If milk is to be frozen, remember to put in freezer within 48 hours of pumping.

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    Timeline for Returning to Work

    Two weeks before your scheduled return:

    • Discuss your plans with your supervisor.
    • Begin to establish a schedule for when you will pump, if you plan to pump at work.
    • If you do not plan to or are not able to pump at work, drop one feeding during the day and introduce a substitute so your milk supply has a chance to adjust. Allow three to five days before dropping another feeding, if needed.
    One week before your scheduled return:
    • Continue your pumping and breastfeeding schedule so it will be similar to what you will be doing when you return to work.
    • If you haven’t already, begin freezing a supply of pumped breast milk.
    • Prepare your pumping supplies and freeze cooler packs for chilling pumped milk.
    • Have your child become acquainted with his or her childcare provider. Have your provider care for your child for a few hours two or three times during the week.
    When you return to work:
    • Take it one day at a time.
    • Breastfeed your baby right before leaving him in childcare.
    • Pump or breastfeed according to your established routine.
    • Breastfeed your baby upon your return from work. Ask your childcare provider not to feed the baby for one to two hours before your planned return so that your child will be ready to eat.
    • Breastfeed more often in the evenings and on weekends when you and your baby are together. This will help maintain your milk supply.
    • Take care of yourself. Commit to getting enough sleep (or as much as possible!) and eating a healthy diet.
    • Give your baby at least one substitute feeding each day during any days off work (weekends, vacations, holidays).

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    Recommended Reading and Resources

    Learn more about Breastfeeding Problem Solving

    Book: “Nursing Mother, Working Mother” by Gale Pryor

    Peer Support: