Stock Up: If possible, start pumping and freezing breastmilk about a month before returning to work so you have some extra stored in case you’ll be away longer than usual and need to feed the baby more milk than what you pumped the day before. The milk you pump during your extended time away can then be put in the freezer to maintain your extra breastmilk supply.
Invest in an Electric Breast Pump: A double electric breast pump is important to keep up your milk supply and pump enough milk for your baby to have while you are apart. While there are many types of pumps including manual and single pumps, if you’ll be away for several consecutive feeding times, it’s good to use a double electric pump so you can pump both breasts at the same time and maintain your supply more efficiently.
Pump at Work: Since breastfeeding works on supply and demand, it’s important for you to pump and store your milk while at work if you’ll be separated from your baby. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2012 mandates that employers give working moms time and a clean, sanitary place (that’s not a restroom) to pump. It may require some discussions with your HR department or direct manager to ensure that you can take advantage of these protective laws. The most basic necessities are a comfortable chair and table for your equipment, privacy, and cleanliness. And in order for your body to receive the signal that it needs to keep making milk, it’s best to pump whenever you normally breastfeed. If your baby nurses every two hours, you want to pump at the same interval. It’s important not to skip pumping sessions even if you only have a few minutes. Frequency, not length of pumping sessions, is what stimulates your body to continue to produce milk.
Store Expressed Breastmilk Properly: It’s important to store your breastmilk in a place that’s sanitary and safe. Breastmilk can actually be kept at room temperature for up to eight hours, in the refrigerator for five to seven days, frozen in a standard freezer for three months, or a deep freezer for six months. If there’s a refrigerator available at work, use it to store your milk when you’re finished pumping. Having a special cooler that you only use for storing breastmilk can help keep it separate from your co-workers’ food. It also makes for easy transport home. If you don’t have a refrigerator available or won’t be near one for more than eight hours, keep your milk chilled with ice packs in a portable cooler.
Breastfeed as Often as Possible: As your baby grows, his or her nursing schedule will adjust accordingly. When you’re at home with your baby, try to breastfeed exclusively in order to maintain and boost milk supply.
Gina Ciagne is a Certified Lactation Counselor and La Leche League International-trained breastfeeding peer counselor. She has worked with and provided advice and support to thousands of breastfeeding mothers around the world for more than a decade. Ciagne is the Senior Director of Professional Relations for Lansinoh.