Breastfeeding at Work or School
women at work and school

Breastfeeding After Returning to Work or School

En Español

Leaving your infant to return to work or school is emotional, to say the least. Continuing to breastfeed is the best thing you can do for your baby, but for some, can add to the stress. Learn tips that can help ease the transition and support your breastfeeding goals.

Talking with your Employer or School

By Colorado law employers MUST provide breastfeeding women with private space (that is not a toilet stall) and time to express milk at work. Employers may not discriminate against women for expressing milk in the workplace.

Before maternity leave, while you’re pregnant, is the best time to start the conversation with your employer or school about your plans for after your baby arrives, including your plan to breastfeed. Most managers will be happy to support you, but the sooner they know your needs, the more helpful they can be. Here are some tips:

  • Tell your employer or school that your doctor recommends that you continue to breastfeed your baby. Let them know you’ll use your usual breaks and lunch period to express milk.
  • Create a lactation and work plan and share it with your employer or school.
  • Give your employer or school a copy of the Boulder County breastfeeding toolkit for employers.
  • Nominate your employer or school to receive funding to create a lactation room at your worksite or school.
  • After your baby arrives, bring them to work to meet your co-workers. This will help them to be more understanding when you need to take breaks to express milk.

Building Milk Supply & Stockpiling

Getting breastfeeding off to a good start in the first month will help you to have more options later. Here are some strategies.

  • Breastfeed exclusively before you go back to work or school so your body will build a strong foundation for making milk.
  • Learn how to recognize feeding cues and breastfeed whenever your baby shows feeding cues, or at least 8-12 times every 24 hours.
  • Avoid using bottles or pacifiers during the first month so baby becomes a pro at breastfeeding.
  • Begin collecting and freezing extra milk (1-3 ounces) about 3-4 weeks before your first day back at work.
  • Continue breastfeeding once bottles are started. One of the best ways to keep making enough milk is to nurse your baby often when you are together.
  • If you’re going to be away from your baby for more than a couple of hours, you’re probably going to want to express your milk. Count the number of times your baby usually breastfeeds every 24 hours. This is your “magic” number to keep steady once you return to work.
    • For example, if your baby usually breastfeeds 10 times every 24 hours, you will need to either breastfeed or express your milk a total of 10 times every 24 hours once you are back at work. This might mean you breastfeed 6 times and express milk 4 times for a total of 10, or once every 2 hours or so. Keeping your magic number steady will ensure your milk production stays high, even when you are away from your baby.
  • Try to take at least 6 weeks maternity leave, if possible, so you will fully recover from childbirth and you and your baby get breastfeeding off to a good start.
  • If you must return to work or school sooner, call your Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) peer counselor or a lactation consultant for ways to keep your milk production strong.
  • Remember: every drop of your milk is important! Be proud of any amount of breastfeeding you and your baby can enjoy.

Finding Time

  • Count the number of times your baby usually breastfeeds every 24 hours. This is your “magic” number to keep steady once you return to work or school. Most women find they need to express milk every 2-3 hours.
  • If you’re using a “double” electric pump that expresses from both breasts at the same time, it may take around 20-30 minutes each time. Expressing by hand or with a manual pump will take longer.
  • Use your regular breaks and meal period to express milk. Some moms eat their lunch or dinner while they pump.
  • If you clock in and out and find you need a little extra time, talk with your supervisor about coming in a few minutes early or staying a few minutes later to make up the time.
  • If you work in a restaurant or retail store, express milk when business is slower, or ask about working a “split shift,” so that you work during the busiest periods and go home between those busy periods.
  • Ask if a family member can bring your baby to you to breastfeed directly.
  • Ask if someone else can cover your work station while you are expressing milk.
  • If you don’t have a coworker who can cover for you while you’re expressing your milk, ask if you can post a “Back in 30 Minutes” sign while you’re away.
  • Check out the sample pumping schedule for ideas.

Finding Space

Some employers or schools have a lactation room already set up. Ask first. Remember, by law, employers cannot ask you to breastfeed or pump in the bathroom.

Sometimes employers respond better when presented with possible solutions. Bring your ideas to the conversation. Here are some possibilities:

  • Private office of the manager or another worker
  • A conference room or small room not used very often
  • A small closet or storage area converted to a lactation space
  • Dressing room of a retail store
  • A partition in the corner of a room
  • A space that can be shared with other offices or stores
  • Ask if the baby can be brought to you for feedings if that would help you

You can also nominate your employer or school for funding to create a lactation room at your worksite or school.

Privacy Signs for Breastfeeding Mothers

Child Care

Your child care provider can be a valuable support to meeting your breastfeeding goals. Try these tips to ensure they are doing all they can to support you.

  • Ask if you can breastfeed at the child care facility before and/or after work, or during the meal period
  • Ask your child care provider not to feed the baby shortly before you pick your baby up.
  • Let your child care provider know that your baby might start nursing more frequently at night and less during the day. This is called “reverse cycle feeding,” which is normal.
  • Clearly label your expressed milk you take to your child care provider with the date your baby’s name.
  • Provide milk in small quantities (1-3 ounces) to reduce waste.
  • Look for a breastfeeding friendly child care provider. If your child care center is not on the list, Boulder County Public Health can help you find out if they support breastfeeding moms.

Milk Storage

Storing your milk while at work or school can be easier than you might think. Your milk can be:

  • Stored in an insulated lunch bag, a small cooler, or in a regular refrigerator until you can take it home to your baby.
  • Refrigerated or frozen. Your milk will stay fresh up to 5 days in the refrigerator and up to 6 months in the freezer.
    • If you will not be using refrigerated milk within 5 days, put it in the freezer.
    • To freeze your milk, place small quantities (1-3 ounces) in glass containers or BPA-free milk storage bags. Label it with the date and use the oldest milk first.
    • Place your milk away from the freezer door so it will not thaw when the door opens and shuts.
    • If you will be adding fresh milk to a container of frozen milk, refrigerate it first since fresh milk is warm and can cause frozen milk to begin thawing.
    • Thaw frozen milk under warm water. NEVER microwave breast milk! Fat separation is normal! Swirl (don’t shake) to remix it.
    • Once milk is warmed, use it immediately, and only for that feeding.
    • Milk left in the bottle after feeding should be discarded within one hour.
    • Milk that has been thawed should not be refrozen.

Ask your employer or school for a small refrigerator to store your milk or nominate them to receive funding for pumping and storage supplies at your worksite or school.

Pumping

Pumping takes practice. Don’t be surprised if you only get a little the first few times. Babies are usually much better at removing milk than breast pumps. Here are some tips to make pumping work for you.

  • Practice pumping your breast milk during the morning or other times when your breasts feel fuller.
  • Consider purchasing a hands-free pumping bra so that you can keep your hands free to snack or do other things. You can make your own by cutting small holes in the middle of an inexpensive sports bra to keep the pump flange next to your breast, or attach the pump to your bra strap with a hair tie and then attach it to the flange.
  • To help your milk flow while you’re away, consider bringing something with your baby’s smell on it, listen to a recording or look at photos of your baby.
  • Store any milk you collect in small quantities (1-3 ounces). Your baby may not take a large amount at one feeding, and your milk is too valuable to waste!
  • Ask a lactation consultant, healthcare provider, or the WIC office whether you need a breast pump, and which kind is best for you.
  • 8 Things You Need to Know about Pumping at Work
  • What to Know When Buying or Using a Breast Pump

Bottle

  • Wait until about 2 weeks before you go back to work or school to help your baby learn to drink from a bottle.
    • Only put a small amount of breast milk (1-3 ounces) in the bottle. These are practice tries right now.
    • Offer it when baby is not super hungry or upset. Some babies are more eager to try something new if they are a little sleepy.
    • Ask someone else to offer the bottle. Babies often prefer to nurse when they are with mom.
    • Don’t force baby to accept a bottle. If the baby refuses, try again later.
    • Use a bottle with a slow-flow (or newborn) nipple and experiment with different types of slow-flow nipples. Continue breastfeeding once bottles are started. One of the best ways to keep making enough milk is to nurse your baby often when you are together.
    • Learn about and try paced bottle feeding which mimics breastfeeding.
  • Some babies prefer a cup, dropper, or spoon. Some babies “reverse cycle feed.” This means they switch the times they eat by breastfeeding more when mom is at home and may not take much when mom is away. This is normal, as long as babies get 8-12 feedings in a 24-hour period.

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