The Breastfeeding Mom’s Stress-Free Guide to Going Back to Work

Photo: Veer / The Bump
Photo: Veer / The Bump

There are so many things that I wasn’t prepared for when it came to motherhood: how much I would love my new baby girl, how my priorities could change so dramatically and so quickly, and just how hard breastfeeding would be with my schedule.

I returned to my job just five weeks after having baby, but I wanted to continue to give my daughter all of the benefits that breastfeeding provides.

My initial online research on the topic of breastfeeding and short maternity leaves didn’t give me a lot of hope. The first results focused on a study revealing, “Mothers who take less maternity leave may breastfeed less.” The study, conducted by the Community Health and the University of South Carolina, noted that if new moms delay their time of return to work, then their duration of breastfeeding among U.S. mothers may lengthen.” Great, except — not an option to lengthen my leave. While I have a management position with a wonderful company, being absent for 12 weeks would prove difficult. So, now what?

After a few months of breastfeeding and working and learning a lot along the way,  I am still exclusively breastfeeding. I also found key things helped me to stay on track.

So, if you’re planning to breastfeed (or are already breastfeeding) and you have a shorter-than-usual maternity leave, here’s how I made it work:

1. Don’t sweat the stash.

I had visions of having a month’s worth of extra milk on the day of my return. I read stories online about women who had over 200 (!) ounces saved when they went back to work. The reality is that a newborn baby has constant needs that might not allow you to have a large surplus when you’re returning early. I reset my expectations and just pumped as often as I could. I always made enough for the next day, and built up a small freezer stash, slowly. Very slowly. But, I now have a moderate supply that I’ve built up ounce by ounce. When you are returning to work early, it’s nearly impossible to have gallons of milk saved. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have it immediately.

2. Nursing on demand at night.

You’re still establishing your supply in the early weeks of breastfeeding. Nursing on demand at night helps make sure that your supply stays strong, and it gave me much needed bonding time after my early separation. Do I miss the extra sleep? Sure. But I know this phase of her life is short and I love the quiet time alone together looking out at the moon.

3. Develop a support team.

Breastfeeding seems to be one of the most polarizing topics for moms. Some formula users want to tell you to give up and that breastfeeding is overhyped and doesn’t make a difference. Some breastfeeding moms are so rigid that it’s hard to identify with them or follow their advice. Find a few friends, colleagues and family who can celebrate your goals and successes, and can hear you vent when you’ve had a bad day. Luckily I have a husband, boss, friends and family that fit this bill. It makes a huge difference. If you don’t have this, online communities, blogs and forums are full of women going through the same thing. And don’t let anyone judge your early return to the office. We all have different situations, schedules and lives.

4. Lose the “all or nothing” mentality — now!

There was a point where I would say to myself “No formula for my baby. It’s not what’s best.” I’ve since abandoned this. If breastfeeding becomes something I just can’t do or if she has hunger needs that I just can’t keep up with, I will be open to using formula to fill in the gaps. Or, if breastfeeding became something that turned me into a constantly stressed, nervous wreck (which admittedly it almost did a few times) I would stop completely. Having a “one day at a time” mentality will be better on you physically and mentally and ultimately better for your supply should you continue. Do what you can. Any breastfeeding, whether it’s for a few days, weeks , or months, is an accomplishment anyone can be proud of.

How did you balance breastfeeding and work?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Breastfeeding Advice for New Moms

Top 10 Health Benefits for Breastfeeding

Top 10 Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms