Maybe you're looking forward to returning to working outside the home maybe you're dreading it, or perhaps you have mixed feelings. Most parents experience some level of anxiety when thinking about this inevitable change. You may be stressing out over not having a freezer stash. Maybe you have yet to even open your brand spanking new pump from your insurance company. You might be asking yourself well how my supposed to know how much to leave for this kid my first day back? What kind of bottles should I choose? How in the heck am I going to add this activity into my workday? How many times a day should I even pump while I am away from my baby? These thoughts can be so overwhelming regardless of whether you are a fledgling parent or a veteran 3 kids in.
No need to worry! You can find the answers to your most basic questions right here.
First things first. Please DO NOT gush over freezer stash pics! You are with your baby most of the time, right? If you are nursing your baby on demand and your baby is programming your body to make just the right amount for her, why would it then go ahead and make a whole bunch of extra milk? That would just cause inflammation in the breast tissue, setting you up for plugged ducts and mastitis. If you are making more than a few extra ounces per day... this is called oversupply.
So how can you collect milk in anticipation of future separations if you are giving baby all you've got? Since prolactin levels spike at night, that's your main milk making hormone, production generally increases at night and most people find that they tend to have a bit leftover after that first morning feeding. Starting 3-4 weeks before you need to go back to work, fire up that pump and start a routine of pumping within one hour of the first am feeding. After 8-10 minutes, store what you have collected in the refrigerator. Once you have 3 oz. collected, combine the milk (all the milk should be chilled first), label with the date collected, and transfer to the freezer. When you have another 1-1.5 oz. store that in the freezer as well. Start over collecting milk and storing in 3 oz./1.5 oz. increments and continue this process every day until your first day back at work. Check out my resource page for safe milk handling and storage guidelines.
So, do you NEED a deep freezer jammed with little bags of liquid gold to head back into the workforce with confidence that your baby won't starve in your absence? Take it from a board certified lactation consultant and working mom, the answer is NO! You only need enough milk stored for your first day back. This number will vary slightly. If you are working, say... an 8 HR shift with a 30 min commute in each direction, the amount you would want to leave for baby's caregiver would be somewhere between 10-14 oz. That's it! Infants need 1-1.5 oz per hour. Most kids take 3-4 oz every 2-3 hours. So if you work a 12 hour shift w an hour commute each way you would obviously need to leave more (14-21 oz) but as you can see this is simple math. It sounds like a lot of milk (because it is), but remember when you are at work, what you pump will be what baby will take the following day. You will always be replenishing what baby consumes in your absence.
I find parents are most confident if they are able to store around 30 oz. in anticipation for their first day. Its twice what a child would need for the average work day, but having a bit extra can give you peace of mind in case you get stuck in traffic, end up working late, or dare I say.. spill your pumped milk.
You might be wondering what the deal is with the larger and smaller storage amounts I'm suggesting. Why not store in 4 oz. increments to save space and containers? Because sometimes baby only needs/wants 3 oz. sometimes more. If she only wants 3 oz. and your caregiver cracks open a 4 oz. bottle that's 1 oz. of precious mommy milk down the drain! If baby is satisfied with 3, perfect. If baby wants a little more your caregiver can offer the extra 'top off' of 1-1.5 oz.. The smaller amounts also come in handy if baby is getting a little hungry but you are almost home. She can have a snack until you can plop down on the couch with her. If she drinks a full 3 oz. or 4 oz bottle just before you arrive you will be stuck pumping when you walk through the door instead of snuggling.
So now. How do you pump at work? Ideally you will want to pump every three hours counting from the start of your last nursing session. So if you wake and feed at 6am, you would want to pump around 8:30-9 again around 12, and 3 and hopefully you can walk in the door and nurse your babe by 6pm. Baby should be talking her bottles around these same times. A recent study found that most mothers get the majority of what they can at a pump session within the first 8 minutes. You will have to find what works best for you but double pumping for somewhere between 8-15 minutes can typically drain the breast. I would suggest investing in a hands free pumping bra so that you are still able to either do some work or use your hands to massage the breasts during your pump session. Hands on pumping can yield up to 40% more milk. So if you're struggling with pumping, Compressions while pumping could prove helpful with output. A little massage and hand expression for even one minute before attaching pump flanges and for one minute after has been shown to increase not only output but fat content of the milk expressed.
If you feel that your pump is intimidating or simply not working well for you, if you are still unsure about how much to milk to leave or how to weave pumping into an already busy day, if you need someone to walk you through it, answer questions as they come up, and cheer you on as you transition back to work, schedule a pump consult! The ideal time to schedule a would be 3-4 weeks before your official start date. This would allow you ample time to collect enough milk for your return and to iron out any kinks in your plan, with plenty of wiggle room.