Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work

Written by Dhrutika Vansia, a public health professional living in Lilongwe who is currently undergoing certification to become a breastfeeding counselor: dhrutika.vansia@gmail.com

If you are breastfeeding and will be returning to work there are different ways in which you can still provide breastmilk for your baby. 

  • If your employer allows it you can have your caretaker bring your baby to you when they need to be fed or you can go home if it is close by. 
  • You may choose a hybrid feeding method where you give your formula during work hours and you can breastfeed before and after work.
  • You can pump and leave milk in the freezer for when you are at work and breastfeed when you are home. 

In this article we will discuss how to get started with pumping and what to consider if you choose this option. 

WHICH PUMP?

Manual pump – a manual pump is cheaper and can be handy for when you need to occasionally pump, for example to relieve engorgement. 

An electric pump – these are more expensive but if pumping regularly these are easier and are more convenient to use. They come as either single or double breast pumps; double breast pumps are the most efficient at removing breastmilk.

In Malawi you may be able to find breast pumps at a pharmacy or a baby store.  

It’s also possible to express breastmilk manually.

WHEN?

You can begin pumping as early as you would like, however if your maternity leave allows, it is recommended to not begin pumping for the first 4-8 weeks. This is because your baby’s sucking rhythm is more efficient at removing milk and increasing supply than a pump and at around 4-8 weeks breastfeeding should be well-established. Pumping too much will increase your milk supply beyond your baby’s needs and can lead to plugged ducts and/or mastitis.

To have enough for your first few days at work, 3-4 weeks before you have to return should leave you with enough stored breastmilk. 

HOW OFTEN?

Try to pump shortly after you have breastfed your baby if pumping before your supply has regulated. If you have a silicone let down catcher like the Haakaa or something similar, you can attach to the breast you are not feeding on – in the early days you may find you are able to catch enough to store. 

If your supply has regulated you can pick a time of day and pump at the same time every day and your body will read it as an extra feed for your baby. Try not to pump too close to your baby’s next feed as it may decrease the flow of breastmilk and frustrate your baby.  

To keep your supply stable once at work you should pump for every bottle your baby will be given, whilst you are away. So, if your baby will have 3 bottles while you are at work, you will need to pump three times at work. 

WHERE?

Speak to your employer beforehand to arrange for a comfortable and private space where you can rest and pump. Agree on how many breaks you will be able to take and at what times so that the space can be made available to you. 

HOW LONG?

You should pump for about 2 minutes after the last drop of milk – depending on the type of pump you have and your milk supply that could be about 15-30 minutes. 

HOW MUCH MILK?

When you first begin and are pumping right after you have breastfed your baby, you may find you are able to pump only a little. That is ok. Cumulatively you can build enough for the first few days you are at work. You can combine breastmilk from different pumping sessions – if you do this use the date of the first milk expressed. 

Once you are at work you will pump approximately what your baby is getting at home. You may get more and can store that too. 

STORAGE

Depending on the weather, breastmilk can last unrefrigerated for about 5-6 hours, in the fridge for 5-6 days and in the freezer for 6 months. Breastmilk can be stored in air tight bottlers or breastmilk Ziploc bags. As your breastmilk composition changes to meet your baby’s needs not only over days but within a day itself, it is good practice to label the date and time. 

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