With no consistent – or guaranteed – maternity leave in the United States, moms who return to their jobs outside the home will need to bring pumping into their routine to continue breastfeeding.
Regardless of when you have to go back, it is best to be prepared as early as possible. The best advice for breastfeeding success is to make sure your supply is firmly established before returning to work. While you’re still at home, nurse at the breast whenever baby shows hunger cues.
Breast pumps can be intimidating to many moms, especially first time moms who have never seen or used a breast pump before. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your pump before you return to work: how to put it together, how to operate it, how to clean it, etc. It will need to be sterilized prior to use; this is a great project for your partner or a family member who is looking for ways to help you after baby is born.
When possible, it’s best to hold off on pumping until baby is four weeks old. This allows you to connect with your baby at the breast and for baby to teach your body how much milk to produce. You will want to start pumping at least two weeks before returning to work so you can build up a breast milk supply in your freezer. This will also give baby a chance to adjust to taking your expressed breastmilk in a bottle (or however you will instruct baby’s caregiver to provide it).
Under the Affordable Care Act, there are mandates that your employer must provide a safe, clean and discreet place for you to pump. If you didn’t make arrangements before maternity leave, check in before your return to ensure they are prepared to accommodate your pumping needs. Explain that you will need to pump on a schedule that mimics baby’s feeds and that you will need to be able to refrigerate your expressed milk during work hours.
Before going back to work, start gathering and organizing the items you’ll need to take with you. These range from a change of clothes and a picture of baby, to pump parts and cooler bags. See a full list here.
It can be overwhelming to think about leaving your baby so try to take it step by step. Making short lists and breaking everything down into smaller tasks will help you accomplish what needs to be done before you return to work. More than anything, enjoy the moments you have while you’re at home, and try not to worry about what comes next. You can do this!