Going back to work while nursing

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Nursing is one of the best decisions you can make for your child, and returning to the work force doesn't mean you have to give that up
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Discover how to return to work and continue nursing your little one.

Congratulations! You've already made it through nine months of pregnancy and however many hours of labor and you've been given the wonderful gift of a newborn baby. If you're reading this, you're probably going back to work while nursing. Nursing is one of the best decisions you can make for your child, and returning to the work force doesn't mean you have to give that up. Many moms, myself included, have continued to give their baby the nutrition of breast milk while working outside the home.

Establish Your Supply

The first thing you should do is use the weeks or months of your maternity leave to get your milk supply firmly established. Nurse your child at least every three hours. If your baby doesn't finish off all the milk, pump or express the rest to freeze for a future supply.

Don't offer your baby a bottle for the first three weeks or so you want him or her to get used to nursing. On the other hand, don't wait too long to introduce the occasional bottle, or you risk your baby refusing to drink from a bottle. Around four weeks or so, have your partner or a babysitter give your baby a few ounces of pumped breast milk once or twice a day. Use slow-flow nipples, or else your baby might become a lazy nurser.

Purchase a Breast Pump

You need to invest in a good breast pump. An electric pump is expensive, but if you plan to pump at work, it is a necessity. The best ones allow you to pump both sides at the same time, and come with a cooler for milk storage.

Check out the following web sites for more information on choosing a pump (and other breastfeeding resources):
Pump your milk into hard plastic or glass bottles. You can store the milk bottles in the fridge for up to 48 hours. If your baby will not be using the milk within 48 hours, you can pour it into breast milk storage bags in the back of your freezer. Freeze it in one to three ounce amounts to avoid waste. Make sure you label the packages with the date the milk was expressed. Breast milk can be frozen for up to two weeks. Thaw the frozen milk packets in a dish of warm water, and always test the temperature before feeding your baby. Never microwave breast milk.

Talk to Your Employer

In order for things to work smoothly at work, talk to your employer or supervisor well in advance of returning to work. You will need a bathroom that locks or another private room with a lock for use during pumping. Explain that you will need to pump your milk at least three times during an eight-hour day once of which can occur during your lunch break. My boss was kind enough to allow me to use his office, as there was only one women's restroom and no other room that locked. If your breast pump does not have a cooler where you can store your pumped milk with ice packs, then you will need to arrange to store your milk in the office refrigerator. Make sure you label it we've all seen the TV sitcom gag where someone uses breast milk in their coffee.

Returning to Work

When it is time to return to work, allow yourself some time to ease into it. Don't expect to jump back into full-time work with no problems. You are still recovering from childbirth, and you are accustomed to being with your baby all day. If possible, start in the middle of a week with half-days. When you leave your baby with your caregiver, nurse him or her one last time before you walk out the door, and again as soon as you return home.

Remember to pump at least three times during an eight-hour workday. It's very important to not let your breasts get engorged, as this is a sign to your body to cut back on milk production. Make sure you pack everything you need: a pump and attachments, bottles for storage, an ice pack and lots of breast pads.

Going back to work while nursing can make things a little more complicated, but it is worth it. Breastfeeding is recommended for babies up to the age of 12 months by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is proven to reduce cases of illness in babies, and that means less time off, which is a plus for your employer. Again, congratulations for making a smart decision for your child.

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