A New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding/How do I breastfeed if I have to go back to work or school?

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What can I do if I have to go back to work or school?

You can provide your baby with breast milk by either breastfeeding or by feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle. Mothers often face unique obstacles in maintaining adequate milk supply once they return to work or school. With planning, commitment, and skilled use of a breast pump, breastfeeding mothers can maintain their milk supply and continue breastfeeding after returning to work.

A maternity leave is helpful for establishing your milk supply and breastfeeding skills before returning to work. Start stock-piling milk a few weeks before you go back to work, and store it in the freezer. Most women find they aren’t able to pump as much as their baby needs in the first week back at work, and having extra milk in the freezer helps ease the transition. After returning to work, express milk 2 or 3 times a day, every 2 to 3 hours to continue exclusively breastfeeding.

It would be helpful to look for places where you can express or pump your breast milk while at school or work. An ideal place would provide a private room for breastfeeding moms, with a comfortable chair and an electric breast pump for use by all nursing mothers. If you have your own office or private room where you can close the door, it’s often easiest to pump there – just close the door and let your colleagues know to knock before they come in.

For efficiency, your best bet is to get a double electric pump. These are more expensive, but they allow you to pump both breasts in 10 to 20 minutes, allowing you to get back to work – and, ultimately, home to your baby – much more quickly!

To simplify your life, buy several sets of pump parts and bring them to work in plastic bags. That way, you won’t have to wash and dry pump parts during the day.

When you start using a pump, remember that this is not a “no pain, no gain” situation. If you’ve adjusted the pump setting so that you are in pain, you won’t get more milk – you will just get bruised nipples!

What is the deal with breast pumps?

There are a wide selection of breast pumps available on the market for either purchase or rental. If you plan to breastfeed for more than six months, it may be less expensive to buy a pump than to rent one. Rental companies generally require you to buy a kit to go with them.

When choosing a breast pump, consider the following:

What types of pumps are available?

Should I purchase a breast pump or rent one?

There are several different categories of pumps.These include:

  • hand pumps
  • battery-operated pumps
  • small electric pumps
  • medium-sized electric pumps
  • hospital-grade electric pumps
  • single pumps
  • double pumps

If you have questions or concerns about which options is best for you should consult with your doctor or lactation specialist.

How do I store my breast milk for future use?

Human milk is quite different from other types of milk. It is not homogenized or pasteurized, so there are certain steps that you must take to ensure that it is safely stored.

  1. Wash your hands before touching anything (breast pump, milk containers, breasts, etc.).
  2. Always make sure that the collection cup is clean, and avoid touching the insides of bottles or caps whenever possible.
  3. Make sure the milk is put in a sanitized storage container. Running containers and pump parts through the dishwasher is generally adequate.
  4. Label the container with the time and date of collection.
  5. Milk can be kept at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
  6. Refrigerated breast milk can be stored for up to five days, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

Frozen breast milk can last longer. In a freezer compartment within the refrigerator, milk keeps for two weeks. In a freeze with a separate door, it can last from 3 to 6 months, and in a chest or upright manual defrost freezer, it will last from 6 to 12 months. You should NEVER refreeze breast milk!

How do I thaw my frozen breast milk?

You should NEVER microwave breast milk (it can disturb the nutrients and the milk could be too hot for your baby). Thaw your container in warm water (or run warm water over it) for about 30 minutes, or leave it in the refrigerator over night to allow it to defrost. It is normal for the milk to separate into milk and cream. Gently swirl the bottle to mix it before feeding. Do not stir or shake it. In addition, the breast milk may normally appear bluish, yellowish, or brownish. Some mothers report that it smells soapy. This is fine, but it should not smell sour. Use the thawed breast milk immediately or keep it in the refrigerator for no more than 24 hours.


(2010). ABM clinical protocol #8: human milk storage information for home use for full-term infants (original protocol March 2004; revision #1 March 2010). Breastfeeding Medicine, 5(3), 127-130. Retrieved from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database.

Gedney, L. (2010). Working mothers' challenge -- finding a way to pump throughout the day. Today's Dietitian, 12(5), Retrieved from CINAHL Plus with Full Text database.

U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services Office On Women's Health (2006, September). An easy guide to breastfeeding. Retrieved November 1, 2010, from http://purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS60089