How to Maintain Your Milk Supply Once You’re Back to Work

This is a guest post from Stephanie Canale, M.D., a family physician at UCLA and co-founder of Lactation Lab. Canale is a mom of two young kids and currently resides in Los Angeleswhere her practice focuses on young families.

Returning to work post-baby can come with a host of emotions, including, for moms who have been exclusively or mostly nursing, nervousness around the change to pumping more and breastfeeding less and what that might do to your milk supply. Not to mention pumping in an office mothers’ room is certainly not the same as pumping at home, where there’s no time pressure and you can be in whatever spot is most comfortable, including pumping while hanging with your little one.

But, I can assure you, after a period of adjustment, it will be OK. Once you work out the logistics of when to pump and how to get your milk to and from the office, your twice (or more) daily pump sessions will become second nature. The biggest question I hear from moms after this point is concern that they aren’t “keeping up” with how much baby is drinking while they’re away at work.

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Your baby is the best “pump”, so it’s very normal for moms to find they aren’t pumping as much as they expected. That said, there are some tried and true ways to maintain or increase your milk supply while away from baby. Here’s what I recommend as a physician, mother and fellow pumper:

Here are a few tips I would like to share as a physician, mother and “master pumper!”

DRINK UP! If you’re dehydrated, your milk supply will be down. Try to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, starting from the time you wake up. I suggest hydrating on the way to work and then keeping a water bottle close by on your desk. Most moms find that they’re naturally pretty thirsty, but if that’s not you, set a timer at regular intervals to remind yourself to take a few sips.

PACK SNACKS! If you aren’t lucky enough to work in an office where snacks are provided, make sure to pack some of your own. Milk production requires energy, which means you’re probably hungrier than normal and that’s OK! Nuts, fruit, bars —these are all easy things to stash in your bag or at your desk for a mid-morning or afternoon bite.

INVEST IN GOOD PUMP You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this thing, so it’s worth it to get one that fits you comfortably and works well for you. This may mean paying some amount over what your insurance company will contribute in order to get the best pump for you. For anyone pumping multiple times per day, I recommend an electric pump. A manual pump is useful for blocked ducts and during times of breast engorgement, but will take more time and usually not be as effective as an electric pump. A good pump should allow you to empty the breast with ease and it should never be painful to pump. If that’s not the case, it’s worth checking with a lactation consultant to confirm flange size and pump set up. If output is an issue, you may wish to consider a short-term hospital grade pump, which has a more powerful suction.

STOCK SPARE PARTS This is a necessity! I guarantee there will be a day that you will forget a part at home and you will be so happy you have a spare in your desk drawer. Also: washing pump parts every time you pump gets old fast. Consider having multiple full sets so you always have a dry set ready to go. And if you’re going to need to work while pumping, get a hands-free bra. This way you can set and forget while getting through your inbox.

SCHEDULE YOUR DAY With pumping, it’s helpful to have a set time(s) for each of your daily pump sessions in order to ensure you’re pumping enough to maintain your milk supply. Here’s what I recommend as a rough template, but of course customize as needed!

  • On waking, nurse or pump at home
  • Pump in the car on the way to work (key for women who have a long commute, but please be safe in the car!). If you have a long commute but take public transit and this doesn’t work, schedule your first pump for right after you arrive at the office.
  • Pump 1-3 times at work if possible. Consider blocking time on your calendar as you would block out a work meeting so you can protect this time.
  • Pump again on the way home or right before you leave the office.
  • Nurse or pump before bedtime

STORE YOUR MILK CAREFULLY Nothing is worse than spending a chunk of your day pumping at work only to find out some has spilled on the way home. Get yourself some easy-to-use storage bags with good seals and triple check you’ve closed them completely after pumping. You can carry your milk home in a cooler bag with a frozen ice pack. I would always keep a spare insulated storage bag and spare bottles in the car just in case I forgot anything. When you get home, consider storing milk in quantities that are easy for baby to use in one sitting (i.e. for younger babies 3-4 ounces) so you don’t have any waste. It’s also helpful to have a few bags with just an ounce or two in them to use as top off feeds. recommend freezing some bags of milk in 1 oz increments so that you can have small amounts of milk as needed to “top off” feeds.

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