Going Back to Work: A Pumping FAQ

By Michelle Clookie

It can seem like just as soon as you start to get the hang of new motherhood, it’s time to go back to work, which can present a whole new learning curve—especially if you’ve been breastfeeding and want to keep doing so. But with a little planning and know-how, you can totally do it mama! Pumping is a labor of love, and I think you are making a great choice, for both you and your baby—one that you will never regret. As a lactation consultant who’s supported numerous moms as they return to work, I’ve put together answers to the most frequently asked questions to help make it a little easier for you, too.

Q: How do I create a 'milk stash' before returning to work, and how much will I need? 

A: There is a common misconception that you need a huge “milk stash” saved for when you return to work. This can be stressful if you’re not pumping a ton beyond your baby’s immediate needs. Have no fear! That 100-ounce stash you may have seen recommend elsewhere online is not a necessity. Realistically you only need about two days’ worth of milk to be on the safe side. Though it depends on their weight, if your baby is 3 to 6 months old, they will most likely need 3 to 4 ounces every 2 to 3 hours. This means that if you’re away at work for eight hours, you will need about 24 ounces in your ‘stash’ to get you through that first day of work, with a little emergency backup. To prep, start pumping once a day after your first morning feed, about one month before returning to work (avoid pumping in the first 6 weeks postpartum so as not to mess with your milk supply). Don’t worry if you are only pumping 1 ounce at a time—save it in the fridge until you collect about 3 to 4 ounces then pop it in the freezer!

Q: How do I create a pumping schedule?

A: This can seem daunting, but it’s actually very simple. If your baby is eating every 2 to 3 hours, pump every 2 to 3 hours. You don’t need to pump at the same time your baby eats every day—if your baby eats at 9:30 a.m. and you can’t get out of a meeting until 10:30 a.m., that’s ok. The same goes if your pumping times change based on your day’s work schedule—don’t stress! Here’s the best rule of thumb to keep in mind: If baby is eating three times while away from you, try and get three pumping sessions in. If you are making way more milk than baby needs, and freezing milk that is not being used, you can try cutting out a pumping session, just be careful to assess your supply. If you notice a dip, add that pumping session back in.

 Q: Do I freeze all my milk every time I come home? 

A: The short answer is no! The long answer is that fresh breast milk contains the most valuable nutrients, so feed your baby fresh milk first. On Monday (or your first day of work for the week) feed your baby the oldest milk in the fridge. On Tuesday offer them Monday’s pumped milk (no need to freeze), on Wednesday offer Tuesday’s pumped milk (no need to freeze), and so on. On Friday (or your last day of work for the week), put that pumped milk in the freezer. Voila, you now have a pro-pumping-breastfeeding-badass-mama schedule!

 Q: How do I clean my pump and store my milk at work?

A: Washing pump parts can be a pain. Nobody wants to clean a pump more than once a day, so my recommendation is to throw the milk and all the pumping parts in the fridge after you are done pumping. This means you only need to wash your pumping parts when you get home at night. When it comes to storing, have milk storage bags with you and place the full ones in the fridge at work towards the back. Depending on the length of your commute, you may want to bring a small, insulated lunch bag for transporting your milk home, but if it’s not a long trip or drive, you can do without. Keep things as simple as possible! For more detailed milk storage guidelines, click here.

Q: My baby's caregiver is asking for more milk? How much milk does my baby need? 

A: The amount of milk a baby needs is based on their age and their weight. In the United States moms typically return to work between 3 and 6 months postpartum, which means babies that age need about 3 to 4 ounces per feed. Breastfed babies tend to top off at 4 ounces around 5 to 6 months of age, and rarely need more than that at one feeding. Consider visiting a breastfeeding support group or a lactation consultant in your area to get your baby’s accurate weight, a weighted feed, and to discuss the amount needed for your baby. Sometimes babies take milk faster from a bottle than they do from the breast, which can lead to that baby’s tummy not having enough time to tell its brain that they are full. To prevent this from happening, keep your bottle nipple at a size 1 (rarely do breastfed babies need to go above this level).

Another helpful tip for preventing baby from being overfed with the bottle is to practice paced bottle feeding, which more closely mimics breastfeeding. Find more information about it here. Don’t be afraid to advocate for this even when working with seasoned caregivers and daycare centers!

Q: What are my rights as a working mom? 

A: Regulations vary from state to state, but most workplaces are required to be supportive of new moms and their need to pump, including service industry jobs. If your company has a Human Resources department, set up a meeting with an HR representative and your manager (or only your manager if there is no dedicated HR department) to discuss how often you’ll need to pump, to designate a private space where you can do so as well as where you can store your pumped milk if a break room fridge is not available. For more information about your working mama rights, visit the Thrive Momma resources page here.

For more information on going back to work, if you have questions, or if you just need to be reminded that you are capable of doing hard things, feel free to email me at hello@michelleclookie.co. Also, visit my website for upcoming online classes that cover this topic!

Ingrid & Isabel was born when its founder, Ingrid, was newly pregnant with her daughter Isabel and could no longer button her pre-pregnancy bottoms. She fashioned the first prototype of the Bellaband and spent three years perfecting the design before it hit shelves in 2003. To this day, every piece we make, we design with, on, and for moms. Shop our full line of maternity wear.

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