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Returning to work after having a baby doesn’t mean you need to give up breastfeeding—the two elements of your lifestyle can exist together peacefully, but it does require some adjustments to your feeding habits. The following will explore some helpful tips for women who would like to continue breastfeeding while also working.

Read the Science, (But Read the Recent Stuff)

Before we begin, it’s important to note that there is an endless supply of misinformation out in the world regarding breastfeeding, infant care, and motherhood. A big part of this problem is that older studies simply don’t reflect the lives of mothers and babies today. Once upon a time, everyone agreed that babies should be formula fed because it was more hygienic and that establishing habits as similar to adult habits as early as possible (like sleeping through the night) was deemed ideal. We now know that infant care is far more complicated than getting a baby to act like an adult as soon as possible.

The big problem is that the majority of the studies done on infants were done during this era. What this means is that most data we have on babies applies to formula-fed infants who slept in their own rooms, separated from other people, and were not “spoiled,” meaning they were left to “cry it out” (insert attachment style psychology here). If you’re breastfeeding, most of the data we have doesn’t apply to your situation. If you’re cosleeping, most of the data we have doesn’t apply to your situation. 

Address Breastfeeding Problems

Before you throw another wrench into the rhythm you’re always trying to establish (or give up on and fall asleep on the couch instead of or reestablish again when your neck is angry at you for falling asleep on the couch), you need to acknowledge and address any strains, stressors, or issues present in your current breastfeeding patterns. If there is pain or difficulty on your end of the children working through these first can help smooth out the transition of you returning to work. 

You’re probably going to want to maintain as much regular breastfeeding as possible when you’re off work, and this will help with that, too, particularly when it comes to maintaining an ideal milk supply. For many of us, this means lots of trial and error until we find what works for our little ones and us.

Pay Attention to Your Cycle

Before you’re needed back at work, you’re going to want to start paying attention to the cycle that has organically or inorganically developed. In order to keep milk expression optimal, you might want to be pumping at the times that you typically feed. It would help to know ahead of time when you’ll need to be pumping.

Talk About It With Your Supervisor or Boss

This part can be a bit uncomfortable, especially if you don’t like talking about this sort of thing with people, but it is vital. You want to mention to your employer your plans to continue breastfeeding while working and together come up with a clean and private area (ideally with a locking door) that you will be able to use for pumping. If there is any tension or frustration felt during this conversation it’s important to address that early on. 

Some people find that getting a doctor’s note can help smooth over the idea with their employer. These notes can explain the health benefits for both you and your child. Many places in the world have laws or regulations that protect a breastfeeding mother’s rights, and some countries offer tax incentives for businesses that have an established private area for breastfeeding. 

Find a Breast Pump That Works for You

Like anything else that has to do with pregnancy, infant care, or early motherhood, there is an endless supply of breast pumps available on the market. A good place to begin is by reading reviews. Take some time to read up what other mothers have said about the product before choosing one for purchase. If a review is particularly scathing or comically glowing, you can click on the reviewers’ names and see what else they’ve reviewed. 

That should give you an idea of whether they’re an extremely positive or absurdly negative person overall and help you weed out the reviews that shouldn’t be trusted. Many mothers like to limit their search by pumps made and sold in countries with high standards for plastics, baby products, and food-grading systems like Australia or Canada. Never settle for a breast pump you’re not comfortable with. After all, you will be the one that is going to use it regularly. 

Figure Out How to Use the Pump

Everything in life has a bit of a learning curve, and it might be less fun to go through that curve at work than it would be to go through it at home. Figure out how the breast pump works and ensure that you’re comfortable using it before your first day back. This will also keep your pumping breaks down in time, which in turn will help you manage your workload a bit easier.

Don’t Put Pressure on Yourself to Keep Up With Your Previous Productivity

Yes, in an ideal world, you’d be able to bounce right back into your position and pick up where you left off as if no time had passed. The truth of the matter is, you’ve changed, the demands of your life have changed, your sleeping patterns are different, your energy levels have shifted, your workplace probably hasn’t remained static either—there might be new colleagues who do things a bit differently, systems and procedures may have been tweaked in your absence—people are going to want to stop you in the office and catch up and hear about the baby; there’s an endless list of things that might be different this time around. 

Take as many deep breaths as you need, and be patient with yourself. It might help to think about returning to work as starting a new job instead of stepping back into an old one. Things will need to be learned or relearned, and that’s okay.

The above tips should help ease the transition of returning to work while still breastfeeding. Of course, every child is different, and so this process is going to be altered slightly by you and your baby. If something isn’t working for you or your little one, readjust. It’s more than okay to change your mind about how you want to do things.

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