Back to Work for Breastfeeding Moms Can Cause Challenges

By: Courtney Caprara and Tim Betler


This week is World Breastfeeding Week, a time dedicated to informing, supporting and encouraging women who make the decision to breastfeed their babies. The worldwide theme “Let’s Make it Work,” focuses on issues that arise for new moms who are balancing breastfeeding and their careers.

While a new baby brings joy for most women, their transition back to work can be met with questions and uncertainties about breastfeeding. Celia Emmons, a lactation consultant at the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC Lactation Center, offers the following advice for new moms looking to make the transition from maternity leave to work.

Prior to maternity leave, speak to employers.

Breastfeeding moms will need additional breaks during the workday to ensure they can pump enough milk for their babies, and having the conversation before maternity leave will eliminate any surprises upon returning to work. Expectant moms should also work with their employers to establish a pumping location that is private and comfortable.

Speak to the insurance company before giving birth.

When a new mom returns to work, her milk supply will be dependent on her ability to pump during work hours. Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance providers are required to cover the cost of a breast pump. Since each company’s policy for providing breast pumps is different, talking to insurance companies in advance will help women secure pumps prior to or immediately after giving birth.

Start pumping before returning to work.

Many moms choose to build up a reserve of milk in preparation for their return to work.  Women who wish to do this should start pumping around four weeks after delivery to build their reserve over time.

Introduce bottles early on.

The transition from breast to bottle can take time, so experts recommend that babies be introduced to bottles when they are 4 weeks old, while their moms are still at home. Incorporating bottles into feedings allows babies to adjust before spending time away from their mothers. Adopting the typical workday routine a week before actually returning to work will make the overall transition easier for everyone.

Pump extra milk whenever possible.

Milk production is stimulated by frequent removal of milk from the breasts, which happens more effectively when a mom is with her child. Returning to work can cause a decrease in hormones and milk production, so it is critical for new moms to pump as close to baby’s schedule as possible, even while at work. Pumping extra after regular feedings at home may be helpful, and hand expression and massages can also be used to increase milk supply.

Take care of yourself.

Healthy moms make for healthy babies, so new moms should be extra attentive to their overall health. While it will be difficult to maintain a regular sleep schedule, new moms can combat the lack of sleep by practicing other healthy habits. Drinking water throughout the day along with eating healthy foods will help new moms feel good, putting them in better shape to care for their babies.

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC staffs a dedicated team of lactation consultants that are available to answer any and all questions about breastfeeding and the transition to being a working mom. Information is available online or by calling 412-641-1121.