Mom Pumping Breast Milk in Order to Return to Work

Is there some way to work breastfeeding into my schedule once my maternity leave ends and I return to the office? I've heard that I might be able to manage it by pumping and saving my own milk, but this sounds like a lot of work and trouble. What would you suggest?

With some planning, creativity and assistance on the home front, it is definitely possible for a mother to return to work and continue breastfeeding. The necessary adjustments will vary considerably depending on the age of your baby, the location of your job and the hours involved. Obviously, you’ll have to arrange the details with your spouse, your childcare provider or a friend or relative who is willing to help. You may also need to bring your employer into the loop.

Nursing mothers who begin or resume work outside the home may have to contend with daily absences of several hours from their babies. Some moms choose to give up breastfeeding at this point and resort to formula as a satisfactory substitute. But you can continue to nourish your baby with your own milk by learning how to pump and store it for immediate or future use. Once you’ve mastered this procedure, you can arrange to have anyone – your husband, a childcare provider, a family member or a friend – feed your child with your milk at any time. Pumping is fairly simple, though it may take some getting used to.

To pump or “express” milk, wash your hands with soap and water and make sure your breasts are free of lotions or creams. Before any milk is expressed, each breast should be gently massaged. Using the palm of the hand, stroke several times from below, above and the sides of the breast toward the nipple applying gentle pressure. At this point you’re ready to express milk from each breast, either by hand or with the aid of a breast pump. Either method is acceptable, and the choice can be based on effectiveness, comfort, convenience and cost. You may find it easier to begin pumping milk for three to five minutes at a time and then gradually progress to ten- or fifteen-minute sessions if you are collecting milk on a regular basis.

  • To express milk by hand: Sit in a comfortable position and lean over the container in which you will be collecting the milk. Place the thumb and index finger of one hand about an inch to either side of the nipple and press toward your chest while gently squeezing the fingers together. At first you may see a few drops, a literal spurt or nothing at all. Keep pressing until the milk begins to flow. When it stops, release your fingers, rotate to another position and squeeze again. If you don’t see much milk, keep trying and don’t give up. It may take some practice.
  • To express milk using a breast pump: Make an airtight seal between the pump and your breast by applying a little water or milk to the skin where contact is made. The pump should be applied snugly enough to make a good seal but not pressed so tightly as to restrict the flow of milk. Pumping can continue until after the milk has stopped flowing for a minute or so. After you are finished, use soap and water to wash the parts of the pump that came into contact with the milk and allow them to air dry. Check the manufacturer’s directions for specific details about cleaning and proper handling of the equipment you’re using.

For convenience, your milk can be collected in a clean baby bottle or a breast milk storage bag that attaches directly to the pump. Your baby can immediately drink what you’ve collected, but you can also store milk for future use. Remember that breast milk is a perishable food. Here are some guidelines for handling it so that it will retain its nutritional value and not become contaminated.

  • If you plan to refrigerate or freeze milk, do so as soon as you’ve finished collecting it. You can use plastic or glass containers with sealable tops or sealable plastic bags designed specifically for storing breast milk. Label and date the containers.
  • You may feed a baby fresh breast milk that has been left at room temperature for up to ten hours. After that the milk should be discarded.
  • Breast milk that has just been expressed may be kept in the refrigerator for seven days, but any that is thawed from the freezer must be used within twenty-four hours and should not be refrozen.
  • Various time limits for safe storage of breast milk in the freezer have been recommended; they range from two weeks (in a refrigerator freezer compartment that is opened frequently and whose temperature thus varies) to six months (in a deep freeze). A reasonable guideline would be to store frozen milk no longer than one month. Mark each bottle or plastic bottle liner with the date you collected it, and use the oldest milk first.
  • You can combine the milk from both breasts into a single bottle or plastic bottle liner. If a particular pumping session has not yielded enough milk, you can freeze it and then add more cooled milk to the same container later – but don’t change the date on your label.
  • When it’s time to feed your baby with expressed milk, it should be thawed by placing the bottle or bottle liner in warm (but not hot) water. Heating milk in a microwave is not recommended because it may cause “hot spots” in the milk that could burn the baby’s mouth. Overheating may also destroy some nutrients in breast milk.


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