Breastfeeding and getting ready to go back to work

The AAP recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life. In the United States the law allows mothers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave any 12-month period for pregnancy or care of a new born child. If you do the math, you’ll see there are not many choices left for working moms who want to breastfeed their babies.

In other countries like in Spain, mothers get a breastfeeding leave which is additional to maternity leave and bonding time, and allows them to either accrue this time and extend their leave, or reduce their work day by a couple of hours a day so they have enough time to comfortably keep breastfeeding their baby during the first months of their lives.

If you live in one of these countries, you can probably get your nanny to bring your child somewhere close by to your office so you can breastfeed, or go back home a couple of times a day (if you leave close enough), or just accrue that time and extend your maternity leave.

If you don’t, like in my case, and depending on the type of work that you do (I recognize I’m a privileged in this sense), you can try and ask your employer to let you work from home a couple of days a week. By doing that, I was able to balance breastfeeding and pumping, keep my body stimulated to produce enough breast milk, and avoid having to pump at the office every day.

Pumping, yay or nay?

You’ve probably heard a lot of things about pumping; some of them may sound contradictory without context, like for example:

  • Pump a lot during the first few days
  • Don’t pump at all during the first month
  • Start pumping as soon as possible to stimulate your body

Reasons to pump during your baby’s first month of life

  • During the first few days, under the advice of a lactation consultant, if they think you can use the stimulus to start producing the right amount of milk. In those cases, expressing is also very useful. I was advised to do this for 3-4 days before the milk came (while I was still producing colostrum) and it worked great. I also didn’t use a regular pump but a hospital one, which I borrowed for free from Kaiser (afterwards, I would get a regular one to keep, also for free).
  • If you can’t or decided not to breastfeed but still want to give your baby breast milk the first few days / weeks if you’re able to. Most of the moms I know that for one reason or another can’t breastfeed, decided to just move to formula. A few others were committed to give their babies breast milk and pumped during weeks. Bear in mind this last option is not only hard but very time consuming (since you have to spend time pumping – plus you don’t get stimulus from your baby breastfeeding – and then feeding your baby).

Reasons NOT to pump during your baby’s first month of life

  • During the first few weeks is when your body gets used to producing just the right amount of milk your baby needs (e.g. You’ll see eventually you stop leaking). If you add pumping into the mix too early, it may be may be more difficult for your body to learn that pattern.
  • Latching to a bottle is easier than latching to a nipple. Presumably, if you pump the milk and give your baby a bottle, it’s going to take longer or be more difficult for the two of you to get to the point where breastfeeding feels comfortable. You both need to learn how to do it, so the more practice you get the better.

When to start pumping

If you’re in the situation where you have to go back to work and are still breastfeeding, it’s good to start early.

At the hospital, they advised me to start pumping a month an a half or two months before I was planning to get back to work.

The main two reasons being:

  • Stimulating your body and being able to pump enough breast milk to feed your baby while away.
  • Start filling up your freezer with breast milk reserves for when you go back to work.

Although I didn’t like pumping much (who does, right?), I have to admit it did give me some freedom. Pumping meant I could miss a feeding (and go to the gym, have a date night, or meet a friend for lunch by myself); enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine from time to time; or leave the mid night feeding to my husband some days. Most of the time it was still easier to breastfeed, but it feel nice to have the option not to.

How to start pumping

So here I am, approximately two months into maternity, and I decide to start pumping. It’s 6 pm, I feel adventurous, feed my baby, wait for a bit (so I get more milk) and go for it.

After 30 min I get maybe 1.5 oz (pumping from both sides!) and start thinking this is not going to work. My baby needs 4-5 oz of breast milk per feeding, if I can only get 1.5 oz in half an hour, that means just for one feeding I need to be pumping an hour and a half. And after half an hour, I’m not getting that much milk anyway. On the other hand, whe I go back to work I’m going to be missing three feedings a day, that’d be 4.5 hours of pumping… definitely not going to work.

By the way, when I looked up how to get started with pumping the information that I found in the internet was overwhelming and I just wouldn’t even know where to start reading. I also couldn’t find specific answers to my questions:

  • How long does it normally take to pump 4-5 oz?
  • How much milk per day can you normally get pumping?
  • How may times a day should I be pumping?

At this point I’m very frustrated and have absolutely no idea about how to fix this problem. So my husband reminds me there’s a lactation consultancy center at Kaiser, and that I should go and get professional advice. Thank-God-I-Did-It.

Here’re 5 useful tips they gave me at the lactation consultancy center to get started pumping:

  • Pump once a day, between feedings.
  • Try to pump every day at the same hour.
  • You produce more milk in the morning, so try to pump in the morning.
  • Alternate sides according to where your baby has eaten more / less in the previous feeding.
  • Don’t freak out, your body needs to get used to pumping (stimulus you get from a baby is not the same than what you get from a machine!).

These five tips made all the difference to me.

I started pumping about a month an a half before going back to work and by the time I started working again I was able to pump enough milk for three feedings (about 12 oz) , with three times a day during ~10 minutes each time.

How to choose a breast pump

First thing to do is check with your insurance, e.g. with Kaiser Permanente in California you can get a double electric breast pump for free.

If that’s not your case, you may want to consider buying one breast pump or another (or none at all) depending on your needs. For example, if you’re planning on using it regularly at work, it may be worth investing in an electric breast pump like the one below:


Here’s a couple of good ones that you can find on Amazon:

If that’s not your case, you can probably do with a manual one like this one, which is also less expensive:

Here’s some useful information from Kaiser Permanente about types of breast pumps and which situations they may be best.

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