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Making It Work
Leaving Your Milk for Your Baby

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 10 No. 4, July-August 1993, pp. 123-24

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I'm going back to work full-time six weeks postpartum. How much milk does my baby need per day?


I congratulate you on your foresight and your commitment to breastfeeding by anticipating the issues you will face on your return to your workplace. As a Leader and certified lactation consultant, I have helped many women combine nursing and employment.

A six-week maternity leave accelerates the need to introduce a bottle and build up your stores of milk. But with consideration and flexibility, you can preserve your nursing relationship as long as you desire.

If you're separated from your six-week-old baby for between seven and nine daytime hours, you'd do well to plan for several missed feedings. Ideally, you'll nurse before leaving and upon return from the workplace. Your baby will probably need to be fed three or four times while you are gone. After the first week or two, you'll have a better idea of how baby's feeding schedule will work out.

A six-week-old baby will require two to four ounces per feeding. Your caretaker can judge if baby seems satisfied. In the beginning, limit the size of each container to no more than four ounces. A couple of one- to two-ounce "snack packs" in the sitter's freezer will allow for times when baby is extra hungry. As baby grows and experiences "growth spurts," you can move the bottle size upward or provide more "snack packs."

To build your stores of milk, you need to become efficient at expressing milk. Many mothers with whom I work find that renting an electric pump with a double pumping kit is the quickest and easiest way to do this. If this option isn't available or affordable, try a battery pump or manual expression. Whatever method you choose, begin pumping and freezing the milk when your baby is about three weeks old. Early morning is often the most plentiful pumping session since you'll be rested and baby's sleeping pattern may be predictable. Pump an hour or two after that last early morning feeding to ensure baby's needs have been met. Some mothers pump after every feeding and combine the milk for freezing in two- to four-ounce bags. Another option is to pump one breast while baby nurses on the other side, taking advantage of the letdown reflex.

Ideally, your focus will be on getting to know your baby and establishing your milk supply in the first three weeks. By anticipating a six-week return to work, it becomes necessary to introduce the bottle in the third or fourth week. It's usually preferable to have someone else give your baby the bottle. Don't forget to pump your milk during these "practice" sessions and store it for later! Some other tips to streamline your return to work:

A "dress rehearsal" day simulating your work schedule can work out any kinks in your routine, or help you establish one! Plan an appointment with your dentist, health care provider, or beautician or return to your workplace and familiarize yourself with any changes that took place in your absence. Plan to pump during your missed feeding sessions and add this to your stores.

Return to work on a part-time basis the first week or start back on a Thursday or Friday.

Begin now to interview caregivers who are "breastfeeding friendly" and are receptive to your needs as a nursing couple.

Jan Ellen Brown
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA


I returned to paid work seven weeks after the birth of my oldest son, Carter. So I'll share with you some personal tips.

If I pumped for any reason, I stored my milk. Many mothers are engorged and pump to relieve this condition--take advantage of the surplus and freeze it for later on! Otherwise, as Jan Ellen said, the first few weeks are best spent getting to know your baby and resting.

When I first started pumping for real I was dismayed that only an ounce or two would come out. I started to panic. Don't. One or two ounces every day for two weeks will be enough to get your baby through the first day.

I always labeled the day the bottles were expressed and the ounces, then instructed the sitter to use the oldest milk first.

If you work part-time for a couple of days or try a simulated day of pumping, notice the times you get that natural letdown reflex. Mine were pretty predictable, and I arranged my schedule to be free during those times, which made pumping quicker and less stressful since the milk was plentiful. When I felt the let-down coming, I grabbed my breast pump and dashed off to the bathroom. Other times, quite honestly, I'd lock my door and pump in the middle of longwinded conversations on the phone. Once someone asked me "What's that buzzing?" and I replied (quite truthfully) "It might be the construction out in the street" (although it was more probably the breast pump!).

Don't forget to pump on the weekends. Even if you only get a few ounces, you're that much ahead for next week. For me, I noticed that by Friday I just didn't get as much milk as I had on the previous four days. Making up for it on the weekends kept my stress level low. Conversely, Monday's supply seemed extra plentiful, so I usually had enough for a "snack pack" from that day's efforts.

I developed a technique that I do not recommend for those women prone to plugged ducts. If you've not experienced this problem, you may want to try nursing baby on one side only during the night. By morning you'll have a large, aching, un-nursed breast. With baby's first morning feed, pump that full breast and then let baby finish on that side until it's soft again. I got a minimum of four ounces with that tactic every morning (weekends included) and many times closer to six or seven ounces. I got quite a psychological lift from knowing half of the day's requirement had been met before I even left the house!

Tamela Rich
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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