Returning to work? How to make breastfeeding work for you!

One of the easiest and least stressful ways to return to work if you are breastfeeding is continuing to breastfeed. Breastfeeding as a working mom looks different for every mom and baby. With some trial and error you can find something that works for you. For me and my children, nursing offered us much needed one-on-one time and was a great help when my kids were exhausted and cranky after a long day of child care. It also feels good to know the benefits of breastmilk continue for as long as you are nursing – even if you are only nursing once a day.Side view of mid adult African American mom lifting happy toddler son into air above head.

Having gone through this transition twice now, with two very different children—one who resists all change, and another who goes with the flow—I’m hoping to pass on a few tidbits from the experiences I’ve had along the way. Note: This advice applies for breastfeeding mothers returning to work after a one-year maternity leave, give or take a few months.

To express or not to express?

Expressing your breastmilk during the workday is a personal choice, and one that employers must legally support. The benefit of expressing your milk at work means you can provide expressed breastmilk for your child care provider to give your child, and you get to avoid having to wean your child from daytime feeds! You can either hand-express your milk or use a pump. Mothers who return to work earlier may be short on time or want to express more milk and may find a pump more efficient.

If expressing milk at work is not for you, you can continue to breastfeed, but you may need to wean your child from the breastfeeds that take place during your workday.

Gentle weaning

Starting a few weeks before your return to work, gradually remove the breastfeeds that take place during your workday. Maintain the breastfeeding times you will be keeping once back at work.

Sample nursing and working schedule: 6:30 a.m.: Wake up: nurse, then breakfast 8:00 a.m.: Off to childcare 5:00 p.m.: Pick up from childcare, nurse 5:30 p.m.: Dinner 7:30 p.m.: Nurse at bedtime Overnight: Nurse as neededMy favourite approach for gentle weaning is “don’t offer, don’t refuse”. Stop offering to nurse during your workday hours, but if your baby asks to feed, then let him. This approach tends to be less stressful but does not always work for everyone. Often babies will drop a feed or two on their own, and if not (or if you are short on time), focus first on eliminating the feed your child cares least about by changing your routine and distracting him. I have found car rides, stroller walks, play dates and trips to the park are great ways to keep an older baby distracted. Wait a few days before moving on to dropping the next feed. If you’re having a hard time dropping a feed or two from your workday schedule, don’t worry about it. Let the first week of child care or work be the first time your child misses that feed.

Help! My baby won’t nap without breastfeeding first!

This was my daughter. Oh my goodness, this stressed us both out. I was determined to get her to nap without a breastfeed. It failed miserably.

If this is your child, don’t despair. You can maintain your routine of nursing before naps. You may want to try occasionally asking other caregivers close to your child (such as Daddy or Grandma) to put baby down for a nap while you are out of the house. If you cannot do this, there is no need to worry. Child care placements are often very willing to slowly transition your child into their care over a week or two. This helps your child get used to the placement, and tends to be less overwhelming for everyone involved. Your child will eventually learn to nap at her child care placement without a breastfeed. Also, quite often, babies will have different expectations when you aren’t around and may end up adjusting better than you may expect.

Quick tips for when you are back at work:

  • You may want to wear breastpads for the first few weeks, and if you feel your letdown starting, discreetly apply pressure on your breasts at the nipples until the sensation passes.
  • There is no need to maintain your workday nursing schedule when you are home (unless you want to). For example, I continued to nurse my daughter before her naps on weekends, and when my little ones got sick I would stay home and let them nurse as much as they wanted. It’s incredible how your supply can adjust with your toddler’s needs.
  • It’s normal for your baby to be “clingy” or “needy” during this time. She is simply noticing there is a change and wants reassurance you are still there for her. Give her extra cuddles and time to adjust.

As you embark on this new adventure of returning to work, go easy on yourself. Find ways to keep life simple. It’s an adjustment but you will find a new normal. For me, I was terribly sad to see the end of my maternity leaves, but continuing to breastfeed my toddlers meant that we had a special time to reconnect every day.

You’ve got this!

Do you have any questions about returning to work and breastfeeding? If you live in Halton, Ontario, our public health nurses would be happy to help you. Connect with us:

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

Check out our other posts that might help you as you and baby prepare for work and child care:

How to search for child care for your baby
Back to work: My new reality!
Countdown to calm: How to ease transitions for toddlers
Toddlers, transitions and tantrums
Breastfeeding and returning to work? Oh my!
6 reasons why breastfeeding a toddler is pretty awesome

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
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