When you return to work, plan to get up a little earlier than usual to allow time to breastfeed your baby before leaving for work. Many mothers find they maintain milk production more easily if they breastfeed before showering or getting ready for work and then breastfeed again just before leaving the baby with the care provider.
If possible, develop a pumping routine based on when the baby would normally breastfeed, especially when first returning to work. However, you, your baby, and your milk production will adjust to a new routine if you are able to pump often enough. Many mothers do find pumping sessions go more quickly when they are able to pump at approximately the same time each day.
Most mothers prefer to pump both breasts at once with a double collection kit about every 3 hours, for 10 to 15 minutes. Double pumping minimizes pumping time, but the frequent sessions are needed to "empty" the breasts for continued milk production and avoid any breast discomfort. Pumping less frequently, even for longer than 15 minutes, does not help maintain milk production. If unable to keep a regular pumping schedule at work, expressing small amounts of milk during quick bathroom breaks can help to maintain milk production better than going for longer periods without expressing any milk.
Do not pump just prior to leaving work for home (unless you learn your baby just ate a big meal). Plan to breastfeed your baby when you pick him or her up at the care provider or as soon as you get home. Ask your care provider not to feed the baby, or to limit the amount a hungry baby is fed, for 1 to 2 hours before you arrive. This will ensure that he or she will still want to breastfeed soon after your arrival. It may help to call the care provider when you are ready to leave work so he or she knows when you are on your way.
You may need to arrange your evening schedule so you can spend more time with your baby when you get home. Breastfeeding more frequently in the evenings and on weekends can help you better maintain milk production, plus you and your baby will enjoy the time together after separation.
As your baby grows and solid food or other liquids are slowly added to his or her diet, you may find you do not have to pump as frequently to keep up with your older baby's current need for breast milk. However, deleting pumping sessions should be done gradually, and 1 at a time. Once small amounts of solid food are introduced, you may want the care provider to offer it, so your baby continues to breastfeed more when with you. This also may allow you to begin gradually extending the time between pumping sessions.
Regardless of the actual time frame, the first few days or weeks after you return to work may be difficult until you and your baby develop a new routine. You can expect a period of adjustment as your body and your baby respond to the change. Some mothers experience a decrease in milk production the first week they return to work due to the stress and changes in schedule. If this does occur, it should quickly resolve and milk production should increase with frequent pumping sessions. Continue to breastfeed your baby as often as possible when not at work.
Should you have any questions, problems, or concerns about preparing to return to work when breastfeeding or at any time during the actual transition, contact your doctor or a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) for information, advice, and assistance.