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Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

Returning to work after maternity leave can be very difficult – it’s emotional for some, a logistical dilemma for others, and yet another big life change for everyone. For those mothers who are returning to work and also hope to continue breastfeeding their babies, pumping while you are away from your baby presents another complication.


baby and computer


As Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (CPNP) and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), we frequently encounter mothers who have questions about HOW breastfeeding after maternity leave actually works. We are often asked questions such as, “When do I pump?”, “How much should I pump?”, “What do I need to pump?” and “What do I do with pump parts when I’m at work?”


First, let’s review the goal of pumping.  There are many reasons that mothers pump; however, the main reasons are usually to maintain your milk supply when you are away from your baby and to ensure that your baby continues to receive expressed breast milk while under the care of others.


Schedule: It’s important to think about pumping a few weeks before you actually return to work. Specifically ask yourself, what kind of flexibility will you have in your schedule? Where will you be able to pump, i.e. is there a private office available? Do you need to leave your desk to go to a lactation room or mothers’ lounge? If you have a flexible schedule and are able to pump whenever your baby typically feeds, transitioning from breastfeeding to pumping can be fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Teachers, for example, may need to pump during their planning periods or lunch. Other professions might need to schedule meetings around their pumping time. Ideally, nursing mothers should be pumping every three hours while they are away from their baby.


Volume: Duration of these pumping sessions will vary from mother to mother; however, you should anticipate that pumping to empty your breasts will take fifteen to twenty-five minutes. The volume pumped during this time will also vary from mother to mother. A general rule of thumb is that your baby will require one ounce of expressed breast milk (EBM) for every hour that you are away from him or her. So, if between your commute and your work day, you are away from your baby for 9 hours, it can be expected that your baby will need 9 ounce of EBM.


Supplies: We highly recommend use of a double-electric breast pump. If you do not have a pump already, call your insurance company to inquire about which pumps are available to you through your policy. A good pumping bra makes things a lot easier (I tend to recommend the bras that actually attach to your nursing bra/camisole as opposed to the separate garments). Another consideration is how to clean your pumping parts between pumping sessions. As per the CDC, it is NO LONGER advised to put used pump parts in the refrigerator until their next usage. Instead, pump parts should be cleaned with soap and hot water and air dried between each use. If this will be difficult for you, it might be worth investing in addition assemblies for pumping. Finally, consider how you will be able to store your EBM until your return home. You might have a refrigerator available to you or you might need to bring a portable cooler with you to work. Please see the CDC website for up-to-date guidelines regarding the proper storage of EBM (


Mindset: Like anything else, sometimes it takes a little trial and error to get into a good rhythm with routines – pumping is no different! Pumping can be frustrating, annoying, and sometimes emotional, but it can also be very rewarding. Remember, the point of pumping is to help you meet your individual nursing goals! For some mothers, getting into the right state of mind can actually benefit their pumping. For example, instead of catching up on email while you pump, can you take a minute to look at pictures or videos of your baby? Can you call their caregiver to check in? The release of breastmilk is, in part, mediated by oxytocin – our “love hormone.” Taking a moment to foster the release of this hormone may help you meet your pumping goals.


Hopefully, this basic introduction to pumping at work is helpful. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact your primary care provider or an IBCLC.



Article originally published at Chesapeake Family Life.