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.
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.
- Join a breastfeeding support group to talk with other moms about breastfeeding while working.
- Watch these videos of moms who successfully breastfed, including after returning to work.
- Talk with your boss about your plans to breastfeed before you go out on maternity leave.
- 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 in all different types of workplaces.
- 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.
- Learn about your rights under the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. The law requires some employers to provide reasonable break time for employees to express milk for their nursing child for 1 year after their child's birth. These include a functional space and time for women to express milk each time they need to.
- 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. Find out whether a child care facility close to where you work is available, so that you can visit and breastfeed your baby during lunch or other breaks. Ask whether 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. Taking 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 several days or weeks before you have to go back to work. It can feel very different to pump breastmilk compared to breastfeeding your baby. Some women find it helpful to get comfortable with their breast pump or hand expression while they're at home in a stress-free environment.
- A breast pump may be the best method for quickly removing milk during work. A hands-free breast pump may even allow you to work while pumping, if you do office work. See our Pumping and storing breastmilk section for information on how much to pump and how to store your milk.
- Pump breastmilk while your baby is napping or being looked after by others. Build up a supply of breastmilk for caregivers to give your baby while you are at work.
- Help your baby adjust to taking breastmilk from a bottle or cup. It may be helpful to have someone else give the bottle or cup to your baby at first. Wait at least a month after birth before introducing a bottle to your infant. Your baby may be able to drink from a cup at 3 or 4 months old.
- Talk with your family and your child care provider about your desire to breastfeed for as long as possible. Let them know you will need their support and how they can best help you. Follow these suggestions on how people in your network can support 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 a breastfeeding employee 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, see if you can take time to breastfeed your baby right away. This will give you and your baby time to reconnect before going home.
How often should I pump at work?
At work, you will need to pump during the times you would feed your baby if you were at home. 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 feedings may go down.
Pumping can take about 10 to 15 minutes once you are used to using your breast pump. 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 pump.
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 keeping your milk in an employee refrigerator if you think anyone will be concerned. If you work in a medical department, do not store milk in the same refrigerators where medical specimens are kept.
Label the milk container with your name and the date you expressed the milk. Try to keep the milk in the back of the refrigerator where the temperature is the most constant and coldest.
How much breastmilk should I send with my baby during the day?
You may need to pump two to three times each day at work 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 3 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 or she needs from the same number of ounces at 9 months as he or she did at 3 months.1
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.
Did we answer your question about breastfeeding and returning to work?
For more information about unplanned breastfeeding and returning to work, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:
- Break Time for Nursing Mothers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (Fact Sheet #73) — Fact sheet from the Department of Labor.
- Breastfeeding: Returning to Work — Information from the American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Breastfeeding benefits — Information from HealthCare.gov.
- Workplace Support in Federal Law — Fact sheet from the United States Breastfeeding Committee.
1. Kent, J.C., Mitoulas, L.R., Cregan, M.D., Ramsay, D.T., Doherty, D.A., Hartmann, P.E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics; 117(3): e387-e395.