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Breastfeeding my 9-month-old on the US Capitol Lawn on a work trip to Washington, DC!

Donna Hoffman Cullinan's picture

Aside from the initial “figuring out how to survive life with a newborn” phase, one of the most stressful experiences for me was trying to figure out how I was going to successfully continue breastfeeding after I returned to work, and how I would fit in pumping as part of my daily routine.

I knew I wanted to breastfeed when I was pregnant, and it was a priority I shared with friends and family so that they knew to support me when the time came. My mom hadn’t been able to breastfeed long with me, and my grandmother-in-law made a comment like “when they put that 10 lb baby on my boob I thought DAMN THAT HURTS and that was the last time I tried that”. So I was in a bit of uncharted territory with my family, yet it was so important for me and I made sure they all knew to respect and support my goals. I was lucky to be working for an advocacy organization that did a lot of breastfeeding work, and my boss was a former lactation consultant- so I was in good hands and knew that my office would support me when it came to pumping and accommodating my needs.

I gave myself short term goals to start. I started with wanting to exclusively breastfeed for the time I was on maternity leave- meaning no unnecessary supplementation- and succeeded. When I returned to work, I said I’d pump until he was 6 months old, and then see how I felt. I felt fine! Although I wanted to throw my pump out the window, I was able to make the time I needed, and pump what my son ate. I ultimately pumped until right after his first birthday, and he continued to occasionally nurse until he self weaned before his second birthday.

Every mom, every baby, and every breastfeeding experience is different. What’s important to you may not be someone else’s cup of tea- so listen to yourself, listen to your baby and know that you are doing an amazing job.

I found the following 10 easy ideas to help me succeed with breastfeeding and returning to work. What worked for you?

Start Early! While You’re Pregnant….

1. Commit to wanting to breastfeed- and tell your family, friends and boss! 

Breastfeeding can be hard. Yes, it’s natural, we all know that- but it can also be hard. Like any potential challenge, you will set yourself up for success by gaining the support of your friends and family around you. Let your family know that you plan on breastfeeding, and tell your work as well. You don’t need to give them specifics, but by telling your office early on, you’re setting the stage for pumping and nursing at work when the time comes.

2. Take a Breastfeeding Class.

I can’t stress this enough. Take a class, and know what to expect when the time comes. I was lucky and worked in a very pro-breastfeeding community, and had a bit of prior knowledge of what to expect, but taking a class was so beneficial at setting my expectations and giving me the courage to succeed. Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes for a nominal fee, or free- or you can reach out to your local La Leche League for other resources.

3. If you have options, opt to deliver at a Baby-Friendly Hospital.

Most women don’t have the luxury of deciding which hospital they choose to deliver, but if you do- try to opt for a Baby Friendly Hospital. The Baby-Friendly certification means that the hospital has committed to breastfeeding-friendly practices, defined by the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.  More than 85 % of moms intend on breastfeeding when they arrive at the hospital to deliver, yet only 60 % are a mere three days later when they are discharged. Why is that? Many hospitals have policies in place that can hinder a mom’s early success for breastfeeding, including giving unnecessary formula supplementation, separating the baby from mom instead of “rooming in”, and not providing moms and families with adequate support to initiate breastfeeding. Many hospitals are taking positive steps forward to support a mother’s wishes. If you deliver at a hospital where you feel you are not being heard, lean on friends and family to advocatefor you. You know what’sbest for your baby!


4. Research a local Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

Before you deliver, research a local breastfeeding resource who could come and support you if you experience challenges in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding, which are the most essential for establishing milk supply, and navigating your new routine. If you receive benefits from the WIC Program, be sure to utilize their lactation consultants and peer counselors for breastfeeding support- they are a wonderful resource!

After you Deliver….

5. Give yourself time to bond and nurse.

Like any new ‘hobby’, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally. And really, it will be your new pastime for the next few weeks or months (or years!).  Give you and your new baby time to snuggle and learn together. As soon as your baby is born, ask to have them placed on your chest, skin to skin. Try to give yourself time when you get home to relax with the new baby and establish your new routine. Lean on family and friends for support during those early weeks!

6. Nurse on demand.

One of the most important things I learned was that it is impossible to overfeed a breastfed baby. Breastfed babies can regulate themselves at the breast- so they will stop when they are full, and eat when they are hungry. Babies grow and develop so fast, and they need the fuel to do so.  Everyone told me that I’d be nursing a lot those first few weeks, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly what that looked like! Nursing on demand helps establish and regulate your milk supply, and helps your baby grow to their potential. You might think that the baby just ate an hour ago, it’s impossible that they’re hungry again! But really, they might be- so don’t hold back!

7. Don’t compare yourself!

I can’t say this enough. The spectrum of “normal” with a newborn runs a very wide range. So yes, it is normal for your friend to have a baby who sleeps 6 hours straight. It is also normal for you baby to be up every two hours nursing. It is normal for a baby to only nurse for 10 minutes and be done, and it can also be normal for a baby to nurse 45 minutes at a time. It is so easy to look for answers and explanations with a newborn, but just remind yourself all babies are different. Parenting can be one big comparison game- but you know your baby best! 


8. Begin building a freezer stash.

Once you have established your supply, you can start slowly building a freezer stash of milk to help once you return to work. I would pump once a day, usually in the morning, so I would nurse off one side, pump the other, and freeze that vial, usually around 5 ounces. By the time I returned to work, I had close to 60 ounces frozen, which allowed me to be a lot less stressed on those days where I didn’t get much!

When you Return to Work…

8. Know your rights!

Under Federal law, you are entitled to a safe private place that is not a bathroom, as well as ‘reasonable’ time to express milk for a year after your baby is born. This is the law!  I found it helpful to leave for maternity leave with a plan in place with my boss. I worked for a small office, so we didn’t have a separate room to pump, but every 3 hours I was able to pump in the conference room, and put a busy sign on the door so people wouldn’t come in.

9. Find time to pump.

I’ll say it. Pumping SUCKS. I hated it. I felt like a cow attached to a milking machine and celebrated the day I stopped pumping. But it’s so worth it knowing that I was still nourishing my baby, and still had a sense of connection to pumping and breastfeeding that is so worth it. And seeing that milk in the fridge was like DANG I DID THAT!

Set a phone alarm to remember to pump, drink a bunch of water, look at pictures of your baby, and relax. Don’t stress about how much you’re getting, or if one day is less or more than the next- you’re doing the best you can, and an amazing job!

10. Relax! And know that you’re doing the best you can and are amazing.

Stress levels impact milk supply and production, so while it’s easier said than done- relax and know that you’re doing the best you can. Set yourself goals. Maybe you say you want to pump until your baby is 6 months, and you meet that goal and think you can go longer. You are being the best mom you can be and are doing amazing. There is no right or wrong when you navigate new motherhood- you figure it out as you go and do the best you can. 



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