Return to work can be less stressful with some careful planning. Discuss your need to pump about every 3-4 hours with your employer. You can assure your boss that breastfeeding will help your baby remain healthy, which will reduce missed work to care for a sick child. You’ll need a private space-not a bathroom- and if refrigeration is not available, a cooler pack is adequate for storing your milk at work. State and federal laws that protect a breastfeeding mother’s right to pump at work may apply to you.

Guidelines For Feeding Breast Milk

At about four weeks of age, and at least two weeks before you return to work, begin introducing a bottle of pumped milk.  You can pump before a feeding and let someone else feed the baby, since many breastfed babies will not easily take a bottle from their mother. After one month of age, the volume of milk a baby drinks at a feeding doesn’t change much. A healthy baby born at term will usually drink between 3 and 4 ounces at a feeding, and rarely more than 5 ounces. Be sure to inform your baby’s caregiver about how often and how much your baby usually eats. Ask that your baby is fed whenever he says he is hungry and be allowed to stop when he says he has had enough. Many mothers find that storing breastmilk in small quantities of one and two ounces helps to prevent wasting milk as the caregiver can add small quantities to a feeding as needed.

Storage guidelines for pumped milk are widely available online. You will find slight variations in recommendations from different sources. The CDC website has good recommendations. Fresh breastmilk is quite stable since it is filled with living cells. However, the digestive enzymes present in breastmilk can cause a change in the flavor. Refrigerating milk after no more than four hours at room temperature can help to prevent this change. Milk that is frozen no more than 48 hours after pumping will retain more of the immune factors that protect babies from colds and other respiratory illnesses. Once thawed, frozen milk must be used within 24 hours.

Many mothers feel more secure with a few ounces of frozen milk on hand “just in case”.  Frozen milk can also be mixed with first foods when your baby starts solids at about six months of age, and given to a sick toddler for the immune protection. Breastmilk will keep for six months to a year in the freezer.

Protecting Your Milk Supply

Often when I talk with mothers who are preparing to return to work, they express concern over their ability to pump enough milk to build a large freezer stash. The stress of returning to work can cause a temporary decrease in production, but you only need a few emergency feedings in the freezer if you have a job that will allow you to pump when you need to, about every 3-4 hours for 15 minutes. Fresh milk is always better than frozen. Regular pumping breaks will allow you to pump enough milk each day to feed your baby the next day. If you need more than an occasional feeding of frozen milk, it’s time to reevaluate your pumping routine. Frequent and effective breast emptying is necessary to build and maintain your milk supply. Pumping more frequently is always more effective that pumping for longer periods of time. Breastfeeding your baby when you are together is a good way to help ensure your milk supply remains abundant.