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Breastfeeding and going back to work

Planning ahead for your return to work can help ease the transition. Learn as much as you can before the baby's birth, and talk with your employer about your options. Planning ahead can help you continue to enjoy breastfeeding your baby long after your maternity leave is over.

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What can I do during my pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding after returning to work?

  • Take a breastfeeding class, which may be offered at the hospital where you plan to deliver your baby. These classes offer tips on returning to work and continuing to breastfeed.
  • Get advice and support from experts with these breastfeeding videos.
  • Join a breastfeeding support group to talk with other moms about breastfeeding while working.
  • You can also watch these videos of moms who successfully breastfed, including after returning to work.
  • Talk with your boss about your plans to breastfeed.
  • Encourage your boss to visit the Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions site to get tips and solutions for supporting nursing mothers at work.
  • Discuss different types of schedules with your boss, such as starting back part-time at first or taking split shifts. For tips on talking to your boss, read the Business Case for Breastfeeding.
  • Find out if your company offers a lactation support program for employees.
  • Talk to other women at your company. Ask the lactation program director, your supervisor, the wellness program director, the employee human resources office, or other coworkers if they know of other women who breastfed after returning to work.
  • Explore child care options. Check if a child care facility is available close to where you work, so that you can visit and breastfeed your baby during lunch or other breaks. Ask if the facility has a place set aside for breastfeeding mothers. Make sure the facility will feed your baby with your pumped breastmilk.

What can I do while on maternity leave to make breastfeeding more successful after I return to work?

  • Take as many weeks off as you can. At least six weeks of leave can help you recover from childbirth and settle into a good breastfeeding routine.
  • Practice expressing your milk by hand or with a breast pump. A breast pump may be the best method for efficiently removing milk during the workday. A hands-free breast pump may even allow you to work while pumping if you have a laptop or an office with a door that you can close. See our Pumping and breastmilk storage section for information on how much to pump and how to store your milk.

Photo of a woman working at her desk, wearing and operating a hands-free breast pump, to express breastmilk.

  • Help your baby adjust to taking breastmilk from a bottle (or cup for infants 3 to 4 months old). It may be helpful to have someone else give the bottle or cup to your baby at first. Wait at least a month before introducing a bottle to your infant.
  • Talk with your family and your child care provider about your desire to breastfeed. Let them know you will need their support. Follow these suggestions on how people in your support network can play a role in your breastfeeding goals.

What can I do when I return to work to help ease the transition?

  • Keep talking with your boss about your schedule and what is or isn't working for you. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most employers, with few exceptions, must offer their breastfeeding employees reasonable break times to pump for up to 1 year after her baby is born and a place, other than a bathroom, to comfortably, safely, and privately express breastmilk. Learn more about how to protect your right to breastfeed.
  • When you arrive to pick up your baby from child care, try to take time to breastfeed your baby right away. This will give you and your baby time to reconnect before going home.

Your business can take easy steps to support breastfeeding!

Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions
Learn how the Office on Women's Health is helping businesses support nursing mothers at work. This site offers cost-effective tips and time and space solutions listed by industry.

The Business Case for Breastfeeding
The Office on Women's Health partnered with the Health Resources and Services Administration to create a toolkit that encourages business owners to support breastfeeding. The program points out the benefits of breastfeeding to businesses and gives them easy steps to make a breastfeeding-friendly work environment. You can share the program's information with your supervisor or your company's human resources department.

Did you know?

Under the Affordable Care Act, pregnant and postpartum women can access lactation support and counseling from trained providers as well as certain breastfeeding equipment, such as breast pumps and nursing supplies.

How often should I pump at work?

At work, you will need to express milk during the times you would normally feed your baby. As a general rule: in the first few months of life, babies need to breastfeed eight to 12 times in 24 hours. As the baby gets older, the number of feeding times may go down.

Expressing milk can take about 10 to 15 minutes. Sometimes it may take longer. Many women use their regular breaks and lunch break to pump. Some women come to work early or stay late to make up the time needed to express milk.

Where should I store my breastmilk?

Breastmilk is food, so it is safe to keep it in an employee refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs. Talk to your boss about the best place to store your milk. If you work in a medical department, do not store milk in the same refrigerators where medical specimens are kept.

Be sure to label the milk container with your name and the date you expressed the milk. Place the container in a canvas or insulated bag that you can discreetly put in the back of the workplace refrigerator with the other employees' lunch bags.

How much breastmilk should I send with my baby during the day?

You may need to pump two to three times each day to make enough milk for your baby while he or she is with a caregiver.

Research shows that breastfed babies between 1 and 6 months old take in an average of 2 to 4 ounces per feeding. As your baby gets older, your breastmilk changes to meet your baby's needs. So, your baby will get the nutrition he needs from the same number of ounces at 9 months as he did at 3 months.

Some babies eat less during the day when they are away from their mothers and then nurse more often at night. This is called "reverse-cycling." Or, babies may eat during the day and still nurse more often at night. This may be more for the closeness with you that your baby craves. If your baby reverse cycles, you may find that you do not need to pump as much milk for your baby during the day.

All material contained on this page is free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.

Content last updated: July 21, 2014

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