When I was pregnant with my son, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had no strong views on how long I wanted to breastfeed for nor any expectation for how things might evolve once I would return to work as a lawyer at Google.
While our breastfeeding journey has not been without its challenges (is anyone’s?), I have been back at work for a few months and my baby gets pumped breastmilk at nursery in addition to being breastfed (and eating solids) when we are together. So, I feel at least somewhat qualified to share some tips and tricks should you wish to continue breastfeeding (and pumping) while working and what pitfalls to avoid.
Like with many things in life (and even more so once you have a baby), preparation is key – ideally you start preparing for your pumping journey around 4-6 weeks before your return to work.
1 – Introducing a bottle to baby
Making sure your baby takes a bottle if this is not already part of your feeding routine You might have to try a few bottles before you find one your baby likes, and it might take a few weeks before your baby will actually take a bottle in the first place.
2 – Finding a pump
Find a well-fitting pump you like. There are so many options these days – manual, electric, handsfree etc. and become familiar with how it works.
3 – Milk storage
Order a bunch of milk storage bags and/or breastmilk containers. I use the disposable milk storage bags if I want to freeze milk but if I am pumping milk to take to nursery the next day, I store it in reusable breastmilk containers.
4 – Build up a supply
Build a small freezer stash of pumped milk, ideally 3-4 days worth, but 1-2 days worth is also fine. This is to ensure you have extra milk in case you suddenly have supply issues (e.g., due to stress or illness) or have to go on a business trip and need to leave more milk, or your baby is suddenly extra hungry thanks to a growth spurt.
To ease the transition when you return to work and make pumping at work as stress-free as possible, I would also recommend the following:
● Inform yourself about your breastfeeding rights at work before your return.
● Find out whether your office has a ‘parents’ room’ or similar where you can take your pumping breaks and which fridge you can use to store your milk.
● Mention to your manager that you will be taking pumping breaks and block time in your calendar. How often and for how long you’ll need these breaks for will depend on how fast and strong your letdown is, how often your baby still feeds, whether you use a manual pump or an electric pump plus how long you will be away from your baby during the day.
● Buy yourself a small cooler bag to store your pump and bottles in during the workday.
● Clean and prep everything you need the night before – you definitely don’t want to arrive at work and realize you forgot to pack a part of your pump (yup, that happened to me once and I had to express by hand – the slowest 30 mins ever!)
● Even if you are already a pro at pumping you might find your output goes down a little when pumping at work – this could be down to stress or dehydration. To help, make sure you continue to hydrate and maybe look at some cute photos or videos of your baby while you pump – this will take your mind off work and should help your milk flow.
- Wake up between 6-7am, breastfeed followed by solids
- A short feed just before 9am when we leave for nursery and work
- Baby has two bottles at nursery until we pick him up at 4.30pm
- While I am at work I pump: at 10am, 1pm and 3.30pm
- Breastfeed around 5pm followed by solids around 6pm
- Breastfeed around 7pm before bedtime
- Breastfeed overnight 1-3 times.
Lastly, even if your job is flexible, the office is nicely set up for pumping and pumping comes easily to you, you might still hate pumping at work. It may feel like one extra chore on what may already feel like a never-ending to do list and it can also be pretty disruptive to your workday (e.g. our parents room is on a different floor, a room I cannot book or lock and a few times already I have had to pump in our bathrooms or gym changing rooms when someone else was using the room). If so, using formula at nursery may be an easier option. While it does require some effort, for now I don’t mind pumping at work and am happy I am able to continue feeding my baby breastmilk while he is at nursery. How long I will continue to pump for? Only time will tell.
By Sophia Real, member of the BCT Working Mums Group, firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published in the summer 2023 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.