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How often will I have to pump when I go back to work?

When you're preparing to return to work, it's hard to predict how often you'll need to pump your breasts to provide milk for your baby. Ideally, you will pump at work as often as you would have breastfed your baby at home. Realistically though, mothers often find that in an eight-hour workday they are able to pump during morning, lunch and afternoon breaks. Since time is in such short supply, using a pump that allows access to both breasts at the same time is a real help. By double pumping, mothers keep their prolactin (an important lactation hormone) level up, and they may be able to pump in 10-15 minutes rather than 20 to 30 minutes. Many mothers find that double pumping, three times a day during the first few months, gives them enough milk to leave for their caregiver for the next day. As the baby gets older and begins eating solids they may not need to pump as frequently.

The FAQ "How Do I Choose A Breast Pump?" gives more information about obtaining the breast pump that is right for you. In addition, the FAQ on pumping and supply issues has pointers on efficiently using a pump that you may find helpful.

Pumping can be avoided or reduced if your baby is being cared for at your work place, enabling you to breastfeed during your workday. Some babies begin sleeping more while they are away from you and breastfeeding more when you are together. Gale Pryor, author of Nursing Mother, Working Mother, calls this "reverse cycle breastfeeding". If your baby adopts this pattern, you may be able to eventually pump less when you are away from your baby. Keeping your baby close at night allows your baby unrestricted access to your breasts while you get as much sleep as possible.

Since you will be separated from your baby while you are at work, be sure to breastfeed your baby when you are home-- mornings, evenings, and weekends. It's a great way to keep tuned in and bonded to your baby. Frequent breastfeedings will also help you to maintain your supply.

Going back to work with a new baby, and having to leave that baby, regardless of the feeding method used, is hard. Breastfeeding mothers who are able to pump for their babies have the special satisfaction of knowing that they are providing their priceless milk for their new baby even when they are separated. Pumping or not, at the end of the day it is wonderfully reassuring to reconnect with your baby as you snuggle together and breastfeed. The FAQ "How Can I Make My Return To Work Easier?" lists ideas that other mothers have found helpful for this new phase in your family's life. In addition, La Leche League meetings are a wonderful source of information and support. Besides practical information on how often to pump, how to pump and store milk, many mothers find the helpful suggestions and tips from other working mothers make a world of difference in avoiding problems.

Resources for Additional Information

Attend a La Leche League Group meeting in your area for additional information and support. To find a Leader of a local Group, visit Finding a Local LLL Group.

FAQ on storing human milk

Pumping and Working, a collection of article from the LLLI magazine for mothers, NEW BEGINNINGS.

LEAVEN article entitled, "Employed Mothers: Supporting Breastfeeding and Mother-Baby Attachment".

These items may be available from the LLLI Online Store or from your local Leader:

  • Pumps, storage bags and other devices for easier pumping and storing of milk
  • "Choosing and Using a Breast Pump": Informational sheet provides brief descriptions of major categories of breast pumps and factors to consider when choosing a pump whether the mother pumps occasionally, has a baby who is hospitalized or neurologically challenged, or works outside of the home. Includes tips on learning how to use a pump and monitoring milk supply.
  • "Working and Breastfeeding": Informational sheet provides helpful hints for mothers who perform the balancing act of breastfeeding and employment.
  • Nursing Mother, Working Mother, by Gale Pryor: Mothers who have decided to combine breastfeeding with working will find this an immensely helpful and reassuring book. The author includes practical information about planning for and returning to employment, clear concise tips on breastfeeding, pumping, storing, and transporting milk, and possible alternatives to full time employment such as job sharing, working from home, and staying home full time. The book suggests numerous ways mothers can build and maintain closeness with their babies in spite of separation. (Softcover, 184 pages.)

Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.

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