Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

New mothers who are committed to nourishing their babies with breastmilk often have special concerns when they return to work. Returning to work is a big transition for both mother and baby.

Here are a variety of useful tips answering common questions that can help make the transition from home to work easier for mother and baby alike.

Returning to work is a big transition.

How long should I try to remain home before returning to work?
If possible, it is helpful to remain at home at least 6 weeks so that you and your baby can learn to breastfeed successfully together. Because a newborn’s need for milk tends to increase sporadically in the first few weeks, being at home with your baby during this time also allows you to take advantage of these periods of increased demand to build a milk supply that keeps up with your baby’s needs.

When should I begin pumping and storing milk?
Two weeks before returning to work is usually plenty of time to stockpile enough milk for your caregiver to begin bottle feeding your baby. After feeding sessions, simply pump some extra milk and store it.

How should I store breastmilk?
  • Date and store milk in 2–4 ounce servings in clean, BPA-free, hard plastic or glass containers with well-fitting tops or in freezer bags specially designed for storing breastmilk.

  • Breastmilk can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours, in a refrigerator for up to 3–5 days, in a refrigerator freezer for up to 3–6 months, and in a deep freezer for up to 6–12 months.

Our Safe Storage of Breastmilk Magnet is a
great giveaway to provide storage guidelines.

  • Thaw and/or heat frozen or refrigerated breastmilk under warm, running water. Do not bring the milk to a boil or heat it in a microwave.

  • Thawed milk can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, but it should not be refrozen.

Our Breastmilk: Storing for Later Use Pamphlet
is an ideal handout for moms returning to work.

How do I determine how much milk my baby needs per bottle feeding?
Generally, infants consume about 2–4 ounces (60–120 mL) of breastmilk per bottle feeding for the first 2 months and gradually consume more as they get older. Your baby may want more or less than this amount at particular feedings, so—just as in breastfeeding—your baby should be allowed to set the pace and feed until he is satisfied.

How should I introduce my baby to the bottle?
  • If possible, wait to introduce her to the bottle until she has first had a few weeks to learn how to breastfeed efficiently.

  • For bottle feeding, hold her in a different position than you hold her for breastfeeding. Tickle your baby’s lips with an artificial nipple that has been run under warm water, and give her time to explore it, rather than trying to force it into her mouth.

  • Consider having someone else introduce the bottle. Your baby may associate you with breastfeeding at first and accept no substitutes when you are holding her.

  • Be patient. Babies may not take much milk from a bottle at first, but most will become accustomed to it in time.

How often should I pump when I’m at work?
A guideline for pumping while at work is 10–15 minutes every 3–4 hours. If possible, you may want to try to replace one or more pumping sessions with a breastfeeding session during a lunch or rest break.

How can I make the transition from home to work easier?
  • Practice efficiently setting up, using, and cleaning your breast pump before you return to work, and meet with your employer to determine where and when you will be using your breast pump.

  • Try to return to work on a Thursday or Friday.

  • Choose clothes that can conceal possible leakage of milk, such as sweaters, jackets, and printed blouses. You may also want to keep an extra blouse and bra at work. (Remember: Folding your arms so that your nipples are firmly but gently pressed back into your breasts will suppress your milk ejection reflex.)

  • Make taking care of yourself a priority, and be patient with yourself as you get used to your new schedule. Although working while breastfeeding can be a challenge, it soon will become routine. Through it all, you can be assured that you are taking the best possible care of your baby.

Covering breastfeeding while while working and much more, our
Successful Breastfeeding Folding Display is perfect for promoting breastfeeding.

For more information and educational resources about breastfeeding, please visit our Breastfeeding Section.

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