Breastfeeding and Back to Work-striking a balance

October 13, 2016


Mary Unangst, IBCLC

Women in our country account for nearly half (47%) of the total workforce. This means that a lot of our working women are also moms. The thought of returning to work outside the home after the birth of a child is daunting, but the thought of returning to work as a breastfeeding mom can be downright scary. How in the world can a mom manage it all? From the sleep deprivation to pumping to maintaining some semblance of your identity, being a working mom is a big challenge. Many of the women we work with at Sweet Songs Breastfeeding are planning to return to work at some point in the first year postpartum. We believe these women can strike a work-life balance with a little planning and a new outlook.

Sleep Deprivation

Newborns feed a lot and around the clock. They are up, day and night with an innate need to suckle. They nurse for comfort and they nurse for food. You are their habitat and they rely heavily on you for their every need. Those early weeks and even months can be exhausting. Now throw in an intention to return to work with sleep deprivation and you have a recipe for anxiety and heartache. One strategy that we have seen work is to maximize the sleep you are getting. Use night lights when feeding your little one so you don’t wake fully. Consider the sleeping arrangements. Could you move your baby closer to you during the night to facilitate easier night feedings? Could you split the responsibility some nights so Dad can help? Consider meditation or breathing exercises to help you get back to sleep after each night feeding. Avoid the TV and smart phones. The unnatural light sources from these can affect your ability to drift back to sleep during the night. Your baby may continue to wake frequently at night-this is biologically normal and necessary. As we can’t change their behavior, we encourage you to get the most out of each night’s sleep.

Pumping and Maintaining a Robust Breastmilk Supply

One of the number one concerns we hear from our breastfeeding moms who plan to return to work outside the home is how they will provide enough milk to meet their baby’s needs. To answer this question we need to first look back at the establishment of the breastmilk supply. We encourage moms to get off to a great start with breastfeeding by creating a peaceful postpartum period. Research on lactation tells us that what we do in the early weeks is crucial to maintaining a breastmilk supply for months and even years. If lactation is well established, then there is a greater chance for maintaining and increasing your supply. Continued at-breast feeding during non-work hours also allows for a continued robust milk supply. The take away: feed early and often even if you intend to return to work.

There is a commonly held myth that moms need a large breastmilk “stash”, but as Tipper Gallagher, IBCLC of the Boob Geek explains there are many compelling reasons to step away from the pressures of building this stash. We generally encourage moms to create one to two days of a stash prior to returning to work. For two 8 hour work days plus travel this might look like about 15-20 ounces. For babies 1-6 months old, the average intake is about 3-5 ounces per feed depending on the frequency of feeds. We encourage double pumping every 3 hours at work (or even pumping on the way into work if your commute allows) using hands-on and even music or meditation techniques. The big key to increasing your pumping yield is frequency of removal. If you need to make a bit more to meet your baby’s needs, you might consider adding a pumping session during your day or doing some power pumping over the weekend. And lastly, we encourage you to speak with your baby’s care provider about paced bottle feeding. This method of bottle feeding mimics the breast in flow rate and is recommended for otherwise breastfed babies.

Finding Order in the day to day

Your return to work might not be smooth. There might be tears (yours and theirs). Take each day as it comes. Isn’t that the motto for everything in life? It is so true here too. Some weeks will feel harder than others and some weeks you will be a rockstar mom managing your schedule like a boss! Lower your expectations and create order in your life. Try to think about what things you can say no to so you can say yes to the things that really matter.

Recharging You and Your Relationships

Your health and well-being matter. I’ll say it again. Momma, your interests and your sanity matter and they matter a lot. Part of finding a work life balance as a working and breastfeeding mom is finding time for you. We all need to recharge. Exercise is one way to boost endorphins and is healthy way to focus on yourself. Spend time doing the things you love to do, even if only for a few minutes a day. If you are giving yourself 100% at work and 100% at home, you will have nothing left for yourself. Healthy, happy babies have healthy, happy mommas.

Find time to work on the other relationships in your life. Current research shows that our personal relationships are strained when we have a new baby. Creating a work home life balance means tending to all the important parts of your home life. Spending quality time with your partner can reduce stress and allow for you to be fully present when you are at work. Carving out time to spend with a good friend can go a long way to creating a balance between work and play.

Reach out

The IBCLC is the national standard in clinical support. We are here for you along your breastfeeding journey. At Sweet Songs Breastfeeding we host a monthly breastfeeding support group as well as return to work consultations. If you need support and/or hands-on help finding a plan to achieve your breastfeeding goals, we are here for you. We have also recently teamed up with Dr. Paula Nelson, LCSW to provide breastfeeding back to work education during her upcoming new parent workshop.

You can do this. You can work and be a breastfeeding pumping mom. It takes patience, a new outlook and some pre-planning. If you are currently a working mom, please let us know what has worked for you. We’d love to hear from you.