Going back to work or study? How’s that going to work?!

Returning to work or study and having to leave your baby with someone else can be a hard decision, and having to work out how, or if, you can continue to provide your baby with breastmilk can be an added worry, that at times can almost seem one thing too many to have to work out.

If you have time to plan for your return to work or study, then that can be helpful from both a practical and emotional point of view. After the first few weeks a mother’s milk supply is generally well established and therefore more robust and able to cope with changes to feeding routines.

So what can you do to make the transition as easy as possible?

  • Talking to your employer before you go on maternity leave is a great idea. Although you may not be certain that you are going to breastfeed at all at this stage, if you make the assumption you are going to, and plan accordingly, then you will have set the stage for a return to work/study as a breastfeeding mother. This can give both your employer and you time to think about what you would need when you return to work: breaks to express or go and feed your baby, somewhere to feed/express, and somewhere to store breastmilk are a few things you might want to consider.
  • Talk to friends who have returned to work or study while breastfeeding their baby. What did or didn’t work for them? What could you do differently that might help it work for you?
  • Think about who is going to look after your baby for you, and where that is in relation to where you are working/studying. Is the childcare facility close enough to work that you can go there to feed your baby or will you need to provide expressed milk to be given to your baby? Can your baby be brought to you during the day so that you can feed your baby at work/study?
  • If you are not going to be able to be breastfeed your baby directly during breaks, how is your baby going to be fed your expressed milk? If your baby is quite young, then you are likely to want your baby to be fed with a bottle, however if your baby is a bit older, then you may find that they are able to drink milk from a cup.   Feeding a baby from a bottle is a bit different than breastfeeding, but there are tips for bottle feeding babies in a breastfeeding friendly fashion: letting the baby have control over when they stop/start, giving them breaks, feeding them held on both the left and right sides… just as they would do when breastfeeding. More information can be found about this here: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/feeding-tools/bottle-feeding/
  • Some mothers find it useful to have a trial run. Go out for a few hours just as if you were going to be at work and let someone else feed your baby your expressed milk. This will give you the opportunity to see how your breasts cope with your expected expressing routine. Sometimes the trial can work really well, but if your baby decides that they are not going to take expressed milk without a little protest, it can end up making things feel even more difficult! Some babies will hold out for breastfeeding and will take enough expressed milk to stay hydrated and comfortable, and then feed lots and lots when they are back with their mum. Older babies can be given expressed milk mixed with food too, or frozen into little ice blocks. If your baby does seem a little reluctant to take expressed milk, it can be useful to provide expressed milk in small quantities; this enables the carer to heat just a small amount of milk each time rather than prepare a larger quantity only to throw it away!
  • It can be useful to start expressing before you return to work or study. This can help you get used to expressing – even with copious quantities of milk, it can be hard to express. It can also be useful to have some extra milk in the freezer in case your baby drinks more than you expected, and to cope with growth spurts if you are unable to express extra at work. It is common for babies to take more from a bottle than they would necessarily have when drinking from the breast. This is due to the faster and easier flow of the milk from even a slow flow teat.
  • Think about what you need to take to work with you to make expressing as easy as possible. Sometimes having a picture of your baby, or one of their small blankets can help; thinking of your baby, thinking of them feeding, thinking about milk flowing… all these things can help when you express. In the first few days back to work you may feel more engorged than usual, and you may leak breastmilk, even if you haven’t done for a while… especially if you think of your baby. Taking extra breast pads to work may be useful, or even having a spare top with you just in case! Wearing dark tops helps hide any damp patches too!
  • Aim to feed your baby as soon as you wake up (you may need to get up a bit earlier than usual), even if your baby is still sleepy. Feed again if you can before you leave home, otherwise at your baby’s daycare before you go to start your workday.   If you are able to, go to your baby to feed them at lunchtime. Feed your baby again at daycare when you collect them at the end of your day, then on demand when you are at home. This can help to maintain supply and minimize the amount of expressing you need to do during the day.
  • Make sure you continue to eat healthily and drink to thirst – there is no need to drink extra water. It can be easy to forget in the rush to get to work, express, do your work and get back to your baby.
  • Over time, you may feel that your supply is dropping. However, it is likely that when you are with your baby you will have plenty of milk to breastfeed. Effective expressing when you are away from your baby will help to minimize the risk of a drop in supply. It can help to use a combination of expressing with a pump and by hand – often, extra milk can be removed by hand after using a pump. Once your supply is well established it can be quite resilient and over time can adjust to breastfeeding more on certain days of the week than others. So even if you feel your supply has dropped, it may be that it is reduced on work/study days, but perfectly adequate at the times you are with your baby, especially if you are able to feed on demand when you are with your baby.

Keep talking to your employer once you have had your baby.  If you feel uncomfortable about starting the conversation, it can be helpful to send an email with your ideas and thoughts about how you would like things to work.  It may be that you can make the move back to work or study in stages so that you can start with shorter or less days per week, gradually working up to the hours you will be working long term.


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