Going Back to Work? 5 Tips for Pumping Enough Milk

After baby arrives and you start getting into a groove with breastfeeding, you may start to wonder, “when does the pump come in? How do I build a stash for going back to work? How will I manage to make it all work when I go back?” Here are 5 tips to help you pump enough for baby when you go back to work.

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1) Don’t Stress About Building a Stash

As with all things birth and breastfeeding related, stress is your enemy! The good news is you don’t need a freezer full, so you can relax a bit about your stash. The amount of milk you need to return to work is just a day’s worth, as you will be pumping while away from baby to replace the milk used while gone. A little extra just in case or for a date night is great, but you don’t need hundreds of ounces. Breastfed babies on average will take around 3 oz per feeding, or roughly an ounce per hour you are away. This means you can spend the first few weeks just getting into a groove with breastfeeding, introducing a pump session a couple mornings (you’ll get more earlier vs later in the day due to hormone levels) of the week around 4-6 weeks postpartum, or later. Don’t stress if you don’t see a huge yield, as it is normal to get about 1.5 to 2 ounces per session (both sides) if you are also feeding baby. Still, that bonus milk adds up, and pump output may increase over time as your body recognizes the increased demand. One session a day for around 7 days and you should be set for the first day back. Another option is to use a passive collection device like a Haakaa on the opposite breast while feeding your baby and store that collected milk as your freezer stash.

2) Use Hands-on Pumping Techniques

Hands on pumping is basically just what it sounds like. Using your hands to massage and compress your breasts before and during pumping can be a game changer in terms of output. One study found that hands on techniques yielded 48% more milk than the pump alone! Another study showed milk pumped with these techniques contained twice as much fat! The process is fairly simple: Massage both breasts before pumping, double pump while compressing your breasts until flow slows to a trickle, massage again and then complete the process by either hand expressing or single pumping one breast at a time, switching from one to the other several times until both breasts are fully drained. The entire process should take about 25 minutes. The “Jiggle, Roll, Stroke” massage technique is also very helpful for many.

3) Consider your Pumping Ambience

Another evidence based tip is to combine relaxing music, guided relaxation recordings, watching your baby on video or looking at your baby in photos while pumping. In this study, those who incorporated such things pumped 2-3 times the amount of milk as the control group! The authors of the study speculate this is due to the recordings or photos helping to relax the pumping person, therefore causing a greater release of oxytocin, the love hormone also responsible for milk letdown. Another simple change to your pumping ambience that could help with output is to use a cover, or just not look at your output while pumping. This can help to avoid stress or worry over how much/little you are pumping, allowing for maximum relaxation and oxytocin release.

4) Learn Your “Magic Number”

Maintaining milk production after going back to work can feel challenging, but can be made simple if you can learn and stick to your “magic number”, a term coined by IBCLC Nancy Mohrbacher. This refers to the number of times per 24 hours that a given person needs to express milk in order to keep milk production stable. Since storage capacity varies from person to person (unrelated to breast size) and full breasts make milk slower, per Nancy, “Due to differences in breast storage capacity, some mothers’ “magic number” may be as few as 4-5 or as many as 9-10. But when a mother’s total number of breast drainings (breastfeedings plus milk expressions) dips below her “magic number,” her milk production slows.” Start by considering how many times you breastfed on average per day during your parental leave. If it was 8, and you pump 3 times while at work, you know to shoot for 5 feedings while you and baby are together. If baby starts sleeping longer stretches at night, this may mean a dream feed or a pumping session before bed if baby is already down.

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5) Take Advantage of Time with Your Baby

It may seem obvious, but more direct breastfeeding while together will definitely reduce the amount of milk you will need to pump while apart. Also remember that babies are more effective at removing milk than most pumps, and there is no substitute for the additional oxytocin hit you get from actually smelling your baby in your arms, and their own little soft strokes of your skin as you reconnect. Try to take advantage of this time with baby as much as you can by getting lots of nursing in while you are together. Maintaining production for many does include night feedings, and some babies will start to “reverse cycle” when you transition back to work. If this happens, try to go to bed early when you can and keep baby close to minimize awake time during night feedings.

Want to learn more pumping hacks and practical tips for making it all work when you go back? Check out the Pump and Store class at Haumea here!

Written by Angie Traska, CLC, Director of Childbirth Education at Haumea and birth doula/ lactation counselor supporting clients in Madison and the surrounding areas at Align Doula Services.