In the United States, the average maternity leave only lasts about 6 weeks, and it takes just about that long for your milk supply to fully establish.
Then you’re expected to leave baby behind and return to work. This is not only emotionally difficult, but presents challenges when you’re breastfeeding. Working moms have an unfair disadvantage when it comes to breastfeeding, and the statistics make this very apparent- 80% of mother’s will stop breastfeeding within one month of returning to work. These statistics are very discouraging. That being said, if you have the right tools under your belt you will be ahead of the game and can take down the obstacles working and pumping put in your way.
It’s important to be aware of potential challenges and know how to beat them- so let’s break it down!
1. Make breastfeeding your #1 priority
It is essential that you make breastfeeding, at the breast, your main focus first. You can read my tips for breastfeeding success here. As I mentioned, it takes about 6 weeks for your milk supply to fully establish. Establishing a healthy milk supply is crucial and your focus should remain on nursing your baby at the breast according to your baby’s cues during this time period. Don’t worry about pumping yet, and don’t worry about having baby practice with a bottle, there is really no need for that. The more you nurse your baby, the more milk your body will make.
In these early weeks, you want to avoid pumping to “build a stash” of milk. If you are pumping while home with your baby and nursing your baby you will tell your body to make more milk than you actually need. Then, upon returning to work, you are much more likely to experience plugged ducts and increase the potential of mastitis from having an oversupply of milk.
2. The week before you go back to work.
Now that breastfeeding is going well and your milk supply is well established, it’s time to start thinking about pumping. This is your time to really get to know your pump, how to use it, and make sure it fits you properly.
Once or twice a day, go ahead and practice with your pump and store any of the milk you get out. Keep in mind, how much you are pumping is not an indicator of how much milk you are making. There are many factors that can affect your pumping output. (That’s why you’re reading this article, right?) Babies are very effective milk drinkers, and pumps are less so. When you are pumping milk while you are home with your baby, you are likely to get less milk while pumping than when you are away from your baby. Keeping this in mind, remember your main goal is to practice, practice, practice! You really only need enough milk for the first day that you are away from your baby. Which would roughly be 8-12oz, depending on how long you're away from your baby. You can get that much milk in a week!!!
3. Getting the right pump and the right fit.
There are so many pumps! Which one should you choose? Choosing a pump is a very personal matter. Breast pumps can be expensive, so you want to be sure to get one that will work well for you and really make pumping easier. I highly suggest using a brand that has excellent customer service and replacement parts are easily located. Medela and Spectra are both popular brands, with excellent customer service. You can find replacement parts for Medela at most big box stores. You also want a pump that is electric and you can pump from both sides at once, aka double electric.
Avoid pumps that are manufactured by formula companies, as they are not made well and typically have poor suction. Check the warranty on the pump you would like to purchase as this can tell you how long the pumps are meant to last. Pumps are meant to be single use and their motors are typically only fully functional for about the first year or so.
After you have your breast pump it is important to make sure that you know how to use it and even more important that it is fitting you properly.When I support breastfeeding mothers, I always offer to do a pump fitting for them. Pumps come with one size parts, and breasts are not all one size fits all. More often than not the parts that came with the pump are not the right size.
4. Maximize output and minimizing time.
There are a few simple techniques you can use to make pumping faster and more efficient; hormone manipulation, massage, breast compression, and hand expression.
First things first, get yourself comfortable and relaxed. Your milk let down relies on those happy hormones your body releases when you experience something pleasurable- like holding your baby or thinking about something that makes you happy. Associating pleasure with pumping will help your body relax and let that milk down! So, while you’re pumping look at pictures or videos of your baby, eat a piece of chocolate, drink a cup of tea, or daydream about taking a vacation somewhere. Anything that gives you the warm fuzzies will be helpful when you are pumping. If you’re worrying about pumping or how much milk your body is putting out, then you are releasing stress hormones and this will inhibit your let down.
Second, once your pump is all hooked up and you’re ready to go, use breast massage and compressions to help your milk get moving. Start by massaging your breasts by gently kneading, then compress or squeeze them gently. This will help get the milk stored deep in your breast to come out more easily and quickly. You can use both of these techniques while your pump is running. (Having a hands free pumping bra makes this easier too!)
Lastly, at the very end of your pumping session, utilize hand expression to get those last bits of milk from your breasts. There is a bit of a learning curve to proper hand expression, but once mastered it is a very fast and effective way to remove milk from the breast. It also comes in very handy in situations where power isn’t accessible or if you (heaven forbid) forget your breast pump! Hand expressing for a few minutes at the end of your pumping session may help you get that last ounce of milk from your breasts that your pump just couldn’t get.
5. How much milk will I need?
You're probably worried about how much milk you will need for your baby, and if you'll be able to sustain your supply. Like I discussed before, that leads to triggering a stress response in your body and inhibits milk supply. Having confidence that you are pumping enough milk for your baby will help you succeed.
If you need help figuring out how much milk you REALLY need, click HERE.
Being aware of appropriate amounts of milk and baby’s tummy size will help you, andyour care provider, understand how much and when it’s appropriate to feed your baby your expressed milk. Using a paced method of bottle feeding and continuing to follow baby’s feeding cues is crucial too.
Very often babies are unintentionally over fed when a care provider doesn’t understand how to bottle feed a baby, or if they are unfamiliar with a breastfed baby’s feeding cues.
It is highly discouraging to hear from your provider that you need to provide them with more milk because they are misinterpreting your baby’s cues. So please, make sure your care provider is on board with both of these. (Click the underlined link to see our workshop that covers that and more just for infant caregivers.)
How much milk you continue to make while you are pumping at work will also be affected by how often you are pumping. You need to keep your breasts stimulated during your work day to help maintain your milk supply when you are away from your baby.
6. Making it all happen.
Now that you have mastered techniques of using your pump it is time to have a conversation with your employer about your plan to pump when you return to work. One of the biggest hurdles you may face is finding an adequate space and the time while you’re working to pump your milk. It may be helpful during your conversation to give your employer some information about why it is important for them to allow you this time. It is important for your health that you are able to have the time that you need to pump. If pumping sessions are missed you could become engorged and experience plugged ducts and a breast infection called Mastitis which would lead to you needing to take time off of work. Furthermore, breastfed babies are normal, healthy babies. If you’re not given adequate time to pump at work, it will affect your milk supply, leading to supplementing your baby. This will then affect the overall health of your child and lead to your needing to take more time off of work to stay home with a sick baby.
How could your employer deny this logic?
7. My BEST Tip Yet!
Watch my video below to hear one of my TOP tips!!!
Courageous women and breastfeeding advocates are making big changes for you and future breastfeeding mothers, not only in the workplace, but in everyday life. It is my vision that our daughters will not face the same obstacles that we have faced as nursing mothers. One day I would like to see every employer be breastfeeding friendly and go above and beyond to accommodate the needs of their breastfeeding employees.
Using these techniques will really help you be successful with breastfeeding when you return to work. Instead of becoming one of those 80% of women you will be lowering this statistic and paving the way for other mothers in the future.
You’ve got this momma!
For even MORE advice, tips, and tools to fully set yourself up for success, take our Online Back to Work Workshop!
So, Here’s The Problem.
Child care providers have it rough. Especially infant caregivers.
You have to bend over backwards to gain the trust of the families who are touring your facility for the care of their new baby. New mothers are emotional about going back to work and being away from their babies. They come to you with 1000 questions, concerns, and many also will break down and cry. Breastfeeding mothers have even more to worry about.
How many times has a mom expressed to you the anxiety she is feeling about being a working and pumping mom? This breastfeeding mom may fear her baby will reject her for the bottle, or not want to take the bottle at all. (And I’m sure you’ve seen that happen before.) This last fear produces the most anxiety and emotion for her.
What about when she is a couple weeks in, pumping isn’t going as well as she hoped? She is now concerned about her milk supply- it’s decreasing. She has come to you, her caregiver, to ask you to start supplementing her baby with formula- with tears in her eyes.
What do you say? How do you reassure her?
She obviously is in need of support, and you may not know where to refer her. Now, this mother is weaning, and has given up continuing breastfeeding.
For her, this is devastating, and for you it’s frustrating.
It seems there may be nothing you can do, so you accept her fate.
The benefits of breastfeeding are widely known, and breastfeeding rates are increasing. For you, this means more moms are choosing to continue breastfeeding when they go back to work. Supporting breastfeeding moms and breastfed babes is your new reality as a caregiver. However, like the breastfeeding mom above, few of them will make it past the first few weeks. Going back to work is hard, and there are many obstacles a mother may face. Working moms are high risk for early weaning. Statistics show that 80% of working breastfeeding mothers will quit breastfeeding within a month of returning to work. This is a grim outlook for your moms to have.
Improvements for breastfeeding moms are being made in the workplace, however there is one component being overlooked- YOU- her childcare provider.
How many working families can you think of who started out breastfeeding, and then switched to formula?
Sometimes the switch is sudden, and sometimes more gradual. Working mothers switching over to formula may seem normal, and frequently happens. Infact 80% of working moms who start breastfeeding will switch to formula in about a month!!!
This doesn’t have to be normal, and shouldn’t be.
So here’s the question:
How do you gain this moms trust, and remove some of the anxiety and emotion with her breastfed baby in your care?
That’s a big question. Thankfully one with a simple answer.
What if I told you can take simple action to make your life as an infant caregiver easier?
You can make it easier to gain mom's trust, learn how to support her and guide her questions, which will lead your working breastfeeding moms meet their goals!!!
Child Care Centers across the country are taking the leap and learning how to support their working breastfeeding moms.
YOU CAN TOO!!!!
And Now, The Solution.
Here’s how it works. Here’s how you can do it too.
I’d like to tell you the story of The Green Garden Childhood Development Center. They have taken initiative to increase their appeal, while raising the bar for the families in their care. They easily earn the trust of their breastfeeding moms, and remove much of the frustrations that come with supporting them. Green Garden’s founder, Erica Tank, takes pride in standing out as a facility with exceptional care. She is committed to providing a healthy and natural environment for the children. In fact Green Garden’s centers are the first and only to be 100% organic in the state of Michigan. This isn’t the only first for them. Green Garden is also the very first childcare to take steps to becoming a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility ™. The working breastfeeding mothers who come to their facility will have access to some serious benefits, exclusive only to a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility. It is obvious why Green Garden is the most popular child care facility in their area, with an extensive waiting list.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Tank, and got some great insights into how this program is expanding her child care business.
“I see the benefit for this program all around - for my staff, our families and of course the babies.”
- Erica Tank
The Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiver Program was inspired by real working breastfeeding mothers, and the challenges they face. These mothers are excited about this program. Working moms see the value the Breastfeeding Supportive Program adds to their childcare providers, and when asked, they ALL said they would choose a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Childcare over any other.
The program combines caregiving methods and feeding practices to offer support and peace of mind to breastfeeding moms. Caregivers are trained in what is known as the Baby Led Feeding Practices; which includes understanding paced bottle feeding, infant hunger and satiety cues, truly knowing exactly how much milk is appropriate for a baby to drink, and so, so much more.
“Before this program we really didn’t know how to support our breastfeeding moms. It is important to me that our teachers understand breastfeeding supportive feeding practices and also that they understand the importance breastfeeding has for mom and also baby.” - Erica Tank
Research shows us, and what many breastfeeding mothers can attest to, is babies are unintentionally being overfed by their caregivers.
This alone puts extra pressure on the working mother to provide more milk than her baby actually needs, and more milk than she is producing. The extra pressure from her baby’s providers and the obstacles of pumping at work combined eventually leads to weaning, and the mother is left feeling like she failed.
Erica recognized this in her own facility and, frustrated, decided to take action.
“We’ve seen countless moms come in for a tour very anxious about going back to work, and nervous they won’t meet their breastfeeding goals. Time and time again we see them give up within about a month of going back to work because it’s too hard for them to keep up with pumping, and their baby is eating too much at day care. Mom isn’t able to match her supply to what baby is drinking, and our caregivers were asking mom for more milk, when admittedly, they just weren’t recognizing the baby’s cues.” - Erica Tank
One of Green Garden’s core values is to establish relationships with the families they support from the moment they come through their doors. Since taking the Breastfeeding Supportive Training Erica’s staff has been able to further establish trust with the breastfeeding mothers interested in the facility, and offer them peace of mind.
“Having the certification gives us the extra edge and shows our commitment to breastfeeding families and really sets our program apart. This certification shows our families that we put in the work, and we know how to support you. We are always looking to be innovative, and we already do many unique things at our facility, and this fits in perfectly with our mission to offer the highest quality for the families in our care. This certification further proves how much we care.” - Erica Tank
The Baby Led Feeding Practices Training has an extra benefit for caregivers and the babies too!
“Rather than just rush through bottle feeding, our teachers have slowed down with the paced bottle feeding, and this has greatly strengthened the bond between the babies and teachers. I’ve seen them become more and more comfortable with the children and the children become even happier in our environment and the parents really value this.” -Erica Tank
The families at Green Garden are already benefiting from the small changes the Green Garden staff has made after the Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiver Program. Now Erica, and her staff, have the skills and knowledge to properly care for a breastfed baby. They have the power to melt away the anxiety and empower the breastfeeding moms with the skills they need to be successful from the start.
“Not only is our staff able to provide peace of mind that her baby will be in the best care, as a certified facility we will be able to give her support with the Return to Work planning through Successful Breastfeeding.”- Erica Tank
Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facilities have exclusive access to the Back to Work online workshop. This highly valuable service is included with the Breastfeeding Supportive Facility Program and available to families enrolled at certified centers- FOR FREE! Just one more way to attract prospective families. Having the luxury to offer this to your families is incredibly impressive, and has them eager to enroll.
“Caregivers play an important role in the breastfeeding relationship when it comes to day to day support. We spend the majority of waking hours with these babies and it’s incredibly important we support the breastfeeding families, especially. I love that the training has given us the information we need to pick up on potential red flags of weaning and direct mom to research based resources and community support.
We all gained so much. The Breastfeeding Supportive Caregiving Practices and other skills makes all the difference when it comes to making sure babies are not being overfed. I am so excited to be bringing this level of care to our families and setting our breastfeeding moms up for success at work.”
- Erica Tank
This program has so much to offer you, your families, your babies, your community.
Take initiative like The Green Garden Childhood Development Center. Enhance your skills and make your childcare irresistible to new moms.
Sign up for your training today, and take the step to be a Certified Breastfeeding Supportive Facility.
Your families deserve it, and you deserve the recognition.
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE