Dominique Gallo, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), discusses the emotionally difficult question of planning your return to the workplace. Topics include when to shift from breastfeeding to pumping to return to work, how to prepare for daycare, and more.


Returning to work: how to prepare

It’s hard to think about being separated from your new bundle of joy after having only a short time together. However, with some preparation, returning to work does not have to be a daunting task. As 

Preparing while pregnant

Take this time to sign up for a breastfeeding class and join your local breastfeeding support group. Having a good start on breastfeeding can make it easier to transition to work. Find your local lactation consultant and program their info in your phone, this way you know how to reach them if things aren’t going quite as expected once getting home from the hospital. The best place to start for a class and support group is the hospital where you will deliver or if having a home birth ask your midwife if they offer classes and if there any local support groups. 

Preparing while on maternity leave

Talk to your employer about your pump breaks and where you will pump. The Affordable Care Act mandates that parents have a place to pump where there is a lock on the door and that is not a bathroom. Prepare for this while pregnant or on maternity leave helps to make this transition less stressful and much easier. If you work in a setting where the appointment system is booked out in advance have them put in breaks for your pump sessions so that you do not have to sacrifice pump breaks because of the schedule. If you choose to stop pumping at work later, you can always have them build that time slot back in. 

Start pumping 1-2x/day starting at about 2-3 weeks postpartum. Most lactation consultants tell parents not to start for 4-6 weeks; however, most of the population is returning to work at that time so it is a huge disservice to have parents start storing milk this late. Pumping this much will encourage a slight over supply but not too much where it will make it difficult for the baby to nurse. 

Learn proper milk storage guidelines and make sure anyone that will be handling your milk understands proper milk storage guidelines as well. 

Learn paced bottle feeding and make sure you get bottles that have a sloped style nipple and are slow flow. This will help prevent over feeding with the bottle and encourage the infant to take breaks while eating instead of “sucking down” large amounts very quickly. Paced bottle feeding helps to set up a good relationship with food and allows the baby to tell us when they are full versus the caregiver making the baby finish the bottle. 

You want to pump AFTER the baby nurses and for 15-20 minutes. Understand that you will not get a huge amount of milk, and this is OKAY as you are getting the milk that the baby left behind. On average, I would expect 1-2oz, if that. 

Learn your breast pump! You have done the research on what pump to get, now is the time to see what this little machine can do! Take this time to play with the different settings to see which setting works best for your body. While in the hospital, have your pump flanges fitted or make an appointment with a lactation consultant.

Preparing for daycare

Babies will need about 1-1.5oz of milk per HOUR of separation. Bottles should be prepared in the way the daycare prefers and in 3-4 oz increments (assuming you are going back to work at 6 weeks or later).

Make sure that the daycare understands the paced bottle-feeding method and proper breastmilk storage guidelines. 

Send bottles that have sloped-style nipples that are slow flow. 


While at work

Establishing a regular back-to-work pumping schedule is very helpful. Make sure you are pumping at least every 3 hours for about 15-20 minutes that you are separated from the baby.

Use warm compress, gentle massage, and compressions to help the pump empty the breasts better. There is no need to use massagers as these things can irritate the breast tissue and cause the milk flow to slow. 

Washing your pump parts after every use is the BEST, however, using microbial sprays, wipes, and steam bags are okay too if your baby is full term. 

Make sure your milk is stored safely and kept at the appropriate temperatures. 


5 Bonus Tips for Pumping at Work

  1. Double pumping is better than single pumping! It releases more of the hormone necessary for milk production and it will make for a faster pump session.
  2. Hands on pumping helps the pump to empty the breasts more effectively.
  3. Don’t watch the bottles! They will never fill if you do! Cover them with socks or pull your shirt down over so you cannot see and busy your mind.
  4. Bring pictures, videos, and recordings of your baby being happy and sad. These will help to stimulate let down faster or help you to have a second let down.
  5. When storing milk at work, it is okay to pool the milk and then separate it out once you get home. (Check out Pumpin’ Pal’s milk storage bags, with built-in thermal indicators, to help store your milk.) This will make pumping at work much easier.


Dominique Gallo is the owner of Gallo Birth Services, serving families in-person within the Roanoke Valley and virtually throughout the United States.