Returning to work or school

Returning to work or school

You can continue breastfeeding after you return to work or school. Continuing to breastfeed may help you and your baby reconnect at the end of the day.

You may wish to start pumping once breastfeeding is well-established, usually three to four weeks. Pumping before you need to return to work or school will:

  • help you become comfortable with the breast pump
  • let your baby practice using a bottle
  • establish a supply for the first couple of days after you return to work

It can be helpful to talk to others who are continuing to breastfeed. Talking about your feelings with your partner is important for both help and support.

  • Spend the first three or four weeks with your baby establishing your milk supply with your baby at your breast.
  • Start pumping when breastfeeding is well-established at about four weeks.
  • Pump for each missed feeding.
  • Talk with your lactation resource to create a plan for you.
  • Nurse often to boost your milk supply and reconnect with your baby.

Talk with your employer about options for breastfeeding at work before you go on maternity leave.

Talk to your employer

Some companies have programs to support breastfeeding. You have the right to pump breastmilk when you return to work. You may also have the option of extending your maternity leave, working part-time for a while, working from home some of the time, or job sharing.

Choose a supportive day care provider

Share information about how to store and thaw breastmilk with your day care provider. Ask that your baby not be fed right before you are scheduled to return so your baby will be ready to nurse. If your baby is hungry during that time, the day care provider should give your baby one-half of an average feeding of breastmilk.

Introduce a bottle before you return to work

When your milk supply is well-established and your baby is nursing well, introduce a bottle. Your baby may be more receptive if someone else does the feeding. Then, offer a bottle occasionally to remind your baby of this option.

When you put breastmilk in a bottle, consider the average feeding for a baby younger than three months is two to five ounces. But remember, every baby is different.

The Federal Drug Administration advises that you should never buy a used breast pump or share a breast pump due to concerns about spreading germs.

Hospital-grade breast pumps, however, can be cleaned.

Rent or buy a high-quality, automatic breast pump

You will need something more than a hand-held pump to maintain your milk supply. Depending on your work situation and where you will be pumping, choose an electric or a battery-operated pump. Look for a pump that will cycle on its own rather than require you to release the pressure. A breast pump should never cause you pain.

Use a double-pumping kit

This will allow you to express milk from both breasts at the same time. Expressing from both breasts saves time and will help maintain your milk supply.

Give the pump a trial at home

Become familiar with the pump before using it at work. Knowing how it works will help you relax while you're using it.

Try not to start back to work on a Monday

If you can, return midweek so you only have a few days until the weekend. This can make the transition easier.

Remember the law of demand and supply

The more your baby or a pump stimulates your breasts, the more milk you will produce. Don't skip a pumping session at work.

Work feedings into your schedule

Nurse just before you leave in the morning. If you can, meet your baby for lunch. Pump two or three times during your workday. Have each session last 10 to 15 minutes.

Your baby may wake more often to breastfeed at night while they adjust to you being gone during the day and a change in feeding.

Be patient

You may feel anxious or nervous the first few times you try pumping at work. This can inhibit your milk let-down reflex. Massage both breasts for about 30 seconds before starting to pump.

Be creative in finding ways to relax:

  • Listen to music through headphones.
  • Look at a picture of your baby.
  • Imagine nursing your baby.

Refrigerate the milk

If you don't have a refrigerator at work, use a cooler case.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022