Maternity leave varies around the world, and depending on where you live – and your employer – many times this means returning to work while baby is still breastfeeding. If you’ve purchased a portable electric breast pump because you plan on continuing to breastfeed after you return to work, here are 10 tips for smoothing the transition.
1. Get comfortable with your breast pump before returning to work
Don’t wait until you’re back to work to start using your breast pump. It can take the body several weeks to get used to using a breast pump and you don’t want to have to do this while you’re getting back into the routine at work. It can be stressful to go through the trouble of fixing any problems that might arise while pumping, like finding your breastshield size, when you’re relying on your breast pump to express milk for your baby. Learn how to assemble your breast pump ahead of time, explore the settings, and figure out the best way to sterilise and wash breast pump parts. A few weeks before you return to work, start pumping so you can get used to the settings on the pump and find what works for you. Try to work in one pumping session each day, between normal feeding times during the day when you might normally pump at work. This is a great opportunity to build up a freezer stash before returning to work, too!
2. Make a baby plan before returning from maternity leave
Just like making a birth plan, work with your partner or family to come up with a baby plan before you return to work. Decide how you’ll divide household chores and responsibilities, and what needs to happen should something unexpected, like an illness or emergency, occur. Here are some things to consider in your baby plan:
- Who shops for groceries?
- Who cooks dinner?
- Who cleans the house, and when?
- Who picks up the baby if she’s sick at daycare?
- Is there a friend or relative who can take the baby during an emergency?
- What happens if one of us work late?
- What if our childcare cancels?
Do this several weeks in advanced if you can. This will make sure you avoid any stressful surprises and help you make decisions ahead of time, and also help you identify where you might need help.
3. Do a dry run before returning to work
The week before returning to work, do a dry run. If possible, leave your baby with the childcare provider you will be using, and leave for the day with your breast pump, milk storage bags, and packed lunch, as you normally would during the workweek. This allows you to work out any kinks ahead of time, and fix any unforeseen problems that might arise – like, for example would you benefit from purchasing an extra set of breastshields because it wouldn’t be convenient to wash and dry your pump parts during the day? Your baby can benefit from this time, too, to get used to the childcare provider and drinking from a bottle if he hasn’t yet been introduced to one.
4. Build up a freezer stash of breastmilk before returning to work
While you’re getting used to your breast pump, it’s a good opportunity to save up some expressed breastmilk. You can start on building a freezer stash before returning to work. A good rule of thumb is to always have enough pumped milk for the next day, and pump enough milk each day for the next day. If you’re unsure how much breastmilk your baby needs, you can talk to your child’s pediatrician or to your childcare provider about their experience with other breastfed babies.
5. Confirm pumping arrangements with your employer
You wouldn’t want to return to work to find you don’t have a place to pump because it isn’t quite set up yet, or find taking your pump breaks difficult because your team isn’t aware of when you need them. Before returning to work, drop a note to your boss or HR person to confirm pumping arrangements at your work. Make sure that they know when you’ll need to pump each day, and that you’ll need a dedicated space to do so. Make sure they know exactly when you’re returning from maternity leave so they can get things set up.
6. Confirm breastmilk arrangements with your childcare provider
As much as you can in advanced, confirm ahead of time any breastmilk feeding arrangements you might have or need with your childcare provider. Here are some things to consider:
- Will you be able to come breastfeed during your lunch break?
- Is your childcare provider familiar with paced bottle feeding?
- Is there a minimum amount of breastmilk your childcare provider requests each day, or a minimum number of bottles?
- How does your childcare provider require your baby’s food to be labelled?
- What if your baby runs out of breastmilk during the day? Do you want to send some frozen breastmilk just in case?
Knowing these things in advanced can ease the transition of returning to work from maternity leave. The less you have to worry about during those first weeks back, the better.
7. Consider flexible work options while breastfeeding
You may be used to working 8 hours each day and 40 hours each week, but is there another way you can do your job? Flexible work arrangements are becoming more popular especially as more and more tasks can be done online and we can stay connected more easily. Perhaps you can work from home for a couple hours each day, or for a couple days each week. Maybe you can return to work part time or work half days for the first few weeks back, or maybe you can arrange to bring your baby with you while she is still a newborn. Maybe you can have a flexible start time that shortens your commute time.
8. Try returning from maternity leave in the middle of the workweek
Easing back into work can make the transition much less stressful. Consider making arrangements with your employer to start back slowly from maternity leave. For example, start back to work on a Wednesday so you aren’t away from your baby for a full week and then have the weekend to reconnect. Alternatively, perhaps you can work shorter days during the first week.
9. Bring photos of your baby to work with you
When returning to work, it’s common for mums to really miss their babies – really badly, and sometimes unexpectedly. Get ready to return to work form maternity leave by having some photos of baby printed and framed, and maybe take some baby items to work with you like clothing or toys (some women find that photos of baby and articles of clothing help facilitate letdown while pumping, too!). If possible, try to arrange your baby to visit during your lunch break to help ease the transition, too.
10. Stick to your pumping routine on weekends
After you return to work, as much as you can, stick to your pumping routine on your days off. It can take a while for your body to get used to using a breast pump, and you don’t want to get out of routine and have to get used to pumping again at the start of each workweek. Pumping on the weekends is also a great opportunity to contribute to your freezer stash.
What are your best tips for returning to work after having a baby? Tell us in the comments below!