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Going back to work


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

During pregnancy

  • Join a breastfeeding support group to talk with other mothers about breastfeeding while working.
  • Talk with your supervisor about your plans to breastfeed. Discuss different types of schedules, such as starting back part-time at first or taking split shifts.
  • Find out if your company provides a lactation support program for employees. If not, ask about private areas where you can comfortably and safely express milk. The Affordable Care Act (health care reform) supports work-based efforts to assist nursing mothers.
  • Ask the lactation program director, your supervisor, wellness program director, employee human resources office, or other coworkers if they know of other women at your company who have breastfed after returning to work.
Your business can take easy steps to support breastfeeding!

The Office on Women's Health has a partnership with the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to encourage business owners to support breastfeeding.

The Business Case for Breastfeeding program points out the benefits of breastfeeding to businesses and gives them easy steps to make a breastfeeding-friendly work environment. The program includes tools you can use to help your workplace support breastfeeding. You can also share the program's information with your supervisor or your company's human resources department.
Did you know?

You can contact a lactation consultant or your local hospital, WIC program, or public health department to learn where to buy or rent a good breast pump.

After the baby is born

  • Follow the steps in our Tips for making it work section to set up a breastfeeding routine that works for you and your baby.
  • Ask for help from a lactation consultant or your doctor, if you need it.

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During your maternity leave

  • 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. Twelve weeks is even better.
  • Practice expressing your milk by hand or with a quality breast pump, which may be the best method for efficiently removing milk during the workday. Freeze 2–4 ounces at a time to save for your baby after you return to work. See our Pumping and milk storage section for more information about pumping and storage.
  • Help your baby adjust to taking breast milk from a bottle (or cup for infants 3-4 months old) shortly before you return to work. Babies are used to nursing with mom, so they usually drink from a bottle or cup when it's given by somebody else.
  • See if there is a childcare option close to work, so that you can visit and breastfeed your baby, if possible. Ask if the facility has a place set aside for breastfeeding mothers. Ask if the facility will feed your baby with your pumped breast milk.
  • Talk with your family and your childcare provider about your desire to breastfeed. Let them know that you will need their support.

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Back at work

  • Keep talking with your supervisor about your schedule and what is or isn't working for you. Keep in mind that returning to work gradually gives you more time to adjust.
  • If your childcare is close by, find out if you can visit to breastfeed over lunch.
  • When you arrive to pick up your baby from childcare, take time to breastfeed first. This will give you both time to reconnect before traveling home and returning to other family responsibilities.

Find a private place to express milk

Work with your supervisor to find a private place to express your milk. The Affordable Care Act (health care reform) supports work-based efforts to assist nursing mothers. The Department of Labor is proposing a new regulation to allow nursing women reasonable break time in a private place (other than a bathroom) to express milk while at work. (Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to comply if it would cause the company financial strain.)

If your company does not provide a private lactation room, find another private area you can use. You may be able to use:

  • An office with a door
  • A conference room
  • A little-used closet or storage area

The room should be private and secure from intruders when in use. The room should also have an electrical outlet if you are using an electric breast pump. Explain to your supervisor that it is best not to express milk in a restroom. Restrooms are unsanitary and there are usually no electrical outlets. It can also be difficult to manage a pump in a toilet stall.

Pumping and milk storage tips

It may take time to adjust pumping breast milk in a work environment. For easier pumping, try these tips for getting your milk to let down from the milk ducts:

  • Relax as much as you can
  • Massage your breasts
  • Gently rub your nipples
  • Visualize the milk flowing down
  • Think about your baby — bring a photo of your baby, or a blanket or item of clothing that smells like your baby

When to express milk

At work, you will need to express and store milk during the times you would normally feed your baby. (In the first few months of life, babies need to breastfeed 8–12 times in 24 hours.) This turns out to be about two to three times during a typical 8-hour work period. Expressing milk can take about 10–15 minutes. Sometimes it may take longer. (Electric pumps that allow you to express milk from both breasts at the same time reduce pumping time.) This will help you make enough milk for your childcare provider to feed your baby while you are at work. The number of times you need to express milk at work should be equal to the number of feedings your baby will need while you are away. As the baby gets older, the number of feeding times may go down. Many women take their regular breaks and lunch breaks to pump. Some women come to work early or stay late to make up the time needed to express milk.

Storing your milk

Breast milk is food, so it is safe to keep it in an employee refrigerator or a cooler with ice packs. Talk to your supervisor 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.

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Content last updated: August 01, 2010.

Resources last updated: August 01, 2010.


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