There is a perception that breastfeeding is always “on demand,” but how can that work when you’re a Working Mom? In 2013, 62% of mothers giving birth in the U. S. went back into the workforce, most within three to six months of the birth of their baby. Simple questions like “How often do I need to pump?” and “How much will my baby drink while I’m gone?” are typical but sometimes hard to answer questions when you’re a new mom and overwhelmed with trying to balance work and breastfeeding.

Lactation consultant Melanie Venuti helps us understand how we can continue to have a successful breastfeeding relationship while headed back into the workforce.

When should I start working on my breastfeeding schedule?

I use the word ‘schedule’ very lightly with the breastfeeding mothers I am working with. After 6-8 weeks, babies are typically a bit more predictable and as parents we are able to recognize their needs much more clearly. Around this time, we can also start to predict their feedings, for example, if they feed around 7 am, we may be able to predict that 2-3 hours from that time, baby will be hungry again. When you start to see a general patterns in your baby’s feeding needs, you can start to instill a ‘schedule.’

How do I know how often to pump during the day when I’m away from my baby??

When returning to work with a baby at home who is younger than 6 months, Mom is encouraged to express milk approximately every 3 hours. For example, if you are separated from baby for 10 hours, it is recommended that you pump at least three times. Pumping often while away from baby will ensure that your body continues to be stimulated and will keep production up.

How much will my baby drink throughout the day? It can be tough to measure how much my baby’s drinking when I’m breastfeeding, but I want to pump and prep accordingly!

Breastfed babies are typically eating every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day, some more, some less. On average, they may consume 1 to 1.5 ounces of breastmilk for every hour they are separated from Mom, in increments of 2 to 4 ounces offered in a bottle. So for example, if baby is separated from mom for 10 hours, baby will likely be consuming between 10 to 15 ounces of milk. The first week or 2 back to work can be trial and error. Communicate with your care provider about your babies typical hunger cues so that milk is not offered with every cry. Ask them to offer feedback so that you can plan to leave the amount that works best for your baby.

How do I juggle nursing and pumping when I’m at home?

Most of the mothers I am working with are hoping to continue to nurse their baby while they are home (in the morning, evening and on the weekends). While continuing to nurse your baby during the hours that you are home, mothers may find it helpful to pump one more time in addition to feeding their baby at the breast and pumping at work. Pumping before you go to bed or before you leave for work, or both, will assure that you keep your supply up, and collect milk to save for times in need.

Here is a sample schedule for a Working Mother who’s away from baby from 9am-5pm:

6 AM – Breastfeed

8 AM – Breastfeed at “drop off” or when caregiver arrives

10 AM – Pump

1 PM – Pump

4 PM – Pump

6 PM – Breastfeed

Breastfeed at Bedtime (time may range)

10:30 PM – Pump

Breastfeed during the night as needed

Any tips for making the most of my pumping sessions?

  • Always pump both breasts at each session for 15 minutes. You will be able to get more milk in less time when pumping both breasts, and your body releases hormones more freely when both breasts are stimulated at the same time.
  • Play around with the settings on your pump. Put the vacuum/suction strength to the max that is comfortable for you. When using a 2-phased mode pump, keep the cycling speed on stimulation mode for 2 minutes and then change into a slower phase, the expression mode (some pumps automatically change phases after 2 minutes). After about 6-8 minutes, you may toggle back to stimulation mode for another 2 minutes to trigger additional letdowns (some pumps have a “let down button” and some have a dial to increase speed). This will simulate baby being at the breast and offer more hormonal response.
  • The flange (cone) size is key to comfort and successful milk expression. The flange is what puts pressure on the nipple and areola tissue for successful output. If it is too big, it may cause swelling of the nipple and areola, constricting the ducts and milk output. If it is too small, it can cause discomfort and restriction of the ducts which would therefore also affect expressing milk. Try lubricating the flange with a little bit of olive or coconut oil to allow for the nipple to move more freely and gently.
  • Think: Hands free, hands on. Massage and compress the breast throughout the pump session, which helps increase stimulation (skin to skin contact) and also the volume of breastmilk output. This is especially important in the areas that you are feeling bumps.

Cleaning my pump after each session is such a timesuck! Any shortcuts you know of?

After each pumping session, put all parts in the fridge in a bag or a bowl. Continue to use those pump parts throughout the day, continuously putting the back in the fridge between pump sessions. At the end of the day, you can wash everything in warm soapy water and allow to air dry for the next day. Sterilizing is not necessary daily, you can boil for 3-5 minutes or use a steam bag 1 or 2 times per week.

Helpful Resources:

MV Breastfeeding Support

Free Breastfeeding Hotline Sponsored by MV Breastfeeding Support: 857-400-0897

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