22 Tips for Thriving as a Breastfeeding, Working Mother
Whether you’re working from home with your nursing baby right down the hall or braving the daily commute to and from your job, breastfeeding while maintaining a career — no matter where you work — comes with a variety of unique challenges.
But if you’re working away from your child several hours a day, you’ll have to go the extra mile to make breastfeeding a success.
You see, despite worldwide recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for six months — and in conjunction with solid food for at least another half year after that — only 26% of mothers who choose to nurse while working full-time are still breastfeeding at six months, which is significantly lower than the nearly 66% of full-time working moms who initiate breastfeeding.
This is devastating news for babies, whose delicate immune systems depend on at least a year of breast milk nutrition (and preferably longer) for proper development.
So, if you are determined to defy these odds and overcome any breastfeeding challenges that come your way, give yourself a huge pat on the back for making the healthiest choice for you and your baby…and know that there will be some struggles, but it’s worth every last drop!
And here’s the good news: breastfeeding while you work out of the home is not only totally doable, it’s one of the best gifts you can give your child for a lifetime of health and happiness.
Here are some practical tips for surviving (and thriving!) on your beautiful, brave, and empowered breastfeeding journey:
1. Maximize your maternity leave
It takes up to four weeks for a mom’s milk production to become well established, so do whatever you can to stay home and nurse your baby for at least a month after you give birth. If possible, take even longer — remember, many employers are required to provide 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave — to really get into the groove with your breastfeeding regimen.
2. Know your rights
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers offer “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” This means that, by law, you have the right to express milk as often as you need for a full year after birth…period.
You have every right to nourish your child and be a career woman at the same time! If you are not one of the more than 130 million Americans who are protected by the FLSA, just ask — many employers are happy to help you come up with a plan, especially when presented with the facts that supportive workplace breastfeeding programs lead to healthier babies, reduced absenteeism from work, lower healthcare costs, and higher morale.
3. Don’t skimp on the pump
If you’re going to be away from your baby for more than a couple hours each day, you’ll need to pump to keep your milk supplies up…a lot. Rather than going cheap (step away from the manual pumps!), invest in a high-quality, electric double breast pump designed for frequent pumping, preferably one that tucks away in an easy-to-transport tote. Sure, you’ll pay more, but the ease and convenience are worth every penny. Hospitals also rent out top-of-the line pumps for new moms to use.
4. Command your space
The days of having to sit in a toilet stall to pump are over; now employers must provide private, non-bathroom areas for breastfeeding women to express milk. So, if your employer isn’t up to speed on the most recent laws, educate them — and search out your pumping oasis. Laws also mandate that pumping areas are “free from intrusion,” but this can be tricky if your room doesn’t lock. Hang a clever sign on the door (“Got Milk? I do!”) that makes clear what’s happening within and you’re much less likely to get walked in on.
5. Embrace flexibility
Many companies these days offer flexible schedules, which can be a godsend when you’re trying to exclusively breastfeed your baby. Maybe you can work 4, 10-hour days to have an extra non-pumping day at home with your little one, or perhaps you can shift your schedule opposite of your partner’s so he/she can bring the baby to you during feeding times. A split shift with a long lunch can also be an ideal time to pop over to daycare for a midday nursing session, and some companies also allow employees to telecommute one or two days a week. If your baby is with a family member or nanny, you can even have them stop by the office on occasion for a scheduled nursing session.
6. Learn how to hand express
If you’ll be pumping for a solid year, chances are good that, at least once, you’ll either forget a pump part at home or it’ll konk out on you. Learning the art of hand expressing your milk (from a lactation consultant or one of many tutorials online) can save you the worry of having to skip an expressing session — and the possible resulting dip in your supply.
7. Stock up on breast pads
We’ve all been there — you’re at a dinner party, an appointment, or (gasp) in an important meeting — and your milk lets down, conspicuously soaking the front of your shirt. Leakage is inevitable in the first few months of breastfeeding, so prepare yourself by keeping boxes of absorbent breast pads at your desk, and change them each time you pump.
8. Bring extra clothes
Even with breast pads firmly in place, you may experience let down, leaking, or pumping mishaps at inopportune times at your job. Keep an extra neutral shirt or blazer at work that you can quickly change into when needed, and dress in dark or bright prints for the most milk coverage.
9. Double up on bottles
Figure out how many bottles your baby will drink in a day away from you and purchase double the amount. That way, you’ll have one set of empty bottles to use throughout your workday (ideally bottles you can both directly pump into and that your baby will drink from), and your baby will have a set of full bottles while you’re at work. At night, just wash the set of empties in preparation for the next day’s pumping!
10. Refrigerate parts between pumpings
Rather than washing and/or sterilizing pump parts after every pumping session, which can really dig into your work time, pop them in a container or plastic bag and store in the refrigerator until your next session. They’ll stay cold and safe, and one massive washing or boiling session at night is all you’ll need. Even better? Invest in an extra set of parts so you always have one clean, dry, and ready to use.
11. Dress for success
Breastfeeding success, that is. In an 8-hour workday, you’ll likely need to pump 3–4 times, so making sure your clothes are “pumping-friendly” is key. Look for easy access shirts (forget anything that requires you to disrobe completely, like a tight, high-neck dress) and a hands-free pumping bra that allows you to set the pumps in place and then check email, surf social media — or just relax.
12. Get into a routine
It’ll be harder to stick to pumping at work if you don’t come up with a set schedule, so figure out the times you’ll need to express milk each day — based on your baby’s actual feeding times when you’re home, if possible — and put them (red, and in bold!) on your calendar.
13. Set boundaries and remember that “no” is a complete sentence
Don’t forget to remind your colleagues and boss that you’re unavailable during pumping sessions and that the times are firm — think of them as mandatory appointments that you can’t (and won’t) postpone.
14. Ask for logistical support
You may be the only one who can provide precious breast milk for your baby, but that doesn’t mean your loved ones can’t help you with the logistics. Put your partner in charge of washing and drying bottles and breast pump parts at night, so they’re packed up and ready to go in the morning.
15. Focus on your baby
Although most quality breast pumps have a let down cycle that prepares your breasts to start expressing, it can help to bring a picture or recording of your baby to your pumping sessions to encourage let down — especially if you find it hard to relax enough to get your milk really flowing. What’s more, gazing at a picture of your little one will remind you why you’re pumping, and will renew your commitment to seeing it through.
16. Stop bottle watching
Nothing impedes let down like stressing out while you watch your milk slowly fill the bottles. Distract yourself with a good book or magazine, phone games, visualizations, or anything that will keep you from counting the ounces.
17. Create a pumping oasis
If you’re lucky enough to have a whole room set aside for your pumping needs at work (complete with a mini-fridge just for milk!), turn it into a meditative, relaxing refuge that you look forward to spending time in every day. Diffuse stress-relieving essential oils like lavender and play soft music for a spa-like experience.
18. Maximize bonding time at home
When you’re not at work, make the times that you do get to spend nursing your baby (ideally both before and after work each day and during the night) special bonding times for the both of you. Fully engage in the experience, look into your baby’s eyes, and be entirely present as you nourish your baby with your entire being — it’ll make all those pumping hours totally, completely worth it.
19. Keep your baby (and your necessities) near at night
If your baby is away from you all day, chances are she’ll want to be extra close to you at night, and she may want to “catch up” on nursing time. Keep her in a bassinet next to your bed while she sleeps, or give cosleeping a try, and learn to nurse lying down. A nearby basket with a book, snack, and bottle of water for you will make middle of the night breastfeeding a special, nourishing time for you both.
20. Take care of your gut
You’re probably wondering what your gut has to do with your breast milk, and the answer is…a lot! Your gut is filled with trillions of bacteria, most of which are beneficial strains called probiotics that support every aspect your health. Some of these bacteria travel via the enteromammary pathway to your breasts, where they enrich your milk with the bacteria your baby needs to build a healthy immune system. To support your own healthy gut, take a high-quality probiotic supplement designed specifically for nursing moms.
21. Nourish yourself
Self-care is incredibly important when you’re breastfeeding, and if you don’t take steps to eat well, your energy and milk supply can tank. Focus on healthy fats and nutrient-dense whole foods, and stick to organic and chemical- and preservative-free options whenever possible. Stay hydrated and if you do experience supply issues, search online for a yummy, gut-healthy lactation cookie or smoothie recipe that can help increase your milk production.
22. Seek out support
No matter how dialed in your pumping and breastfeeding routines are when you go back to work, you’re bound to run into with questions, frustrations, and concerns at some point on your journey. Reach out for support as soon as you need it and try everything before you throw in the towel — breastfeeding is that important.
La Leche League has amazing Mother-to-Mother forums with thousands of threads dedicated solely to working and breastfeeding moms that you can peruse to ask questions, find answers, and get support.
As women, we often feel like we have to make the choice between having a career and nourishing and nursing our baby, and that’s just not the case.
Will it be easy? Not always.
Will it be hard? Most definitely.
But, if you prepare for and commit to the whole breastfeeding journey — with all its winding roads, detours, and roadblocks — you can learn to love and appreciate every mile along the way.