Heather ONeal is a Certified Nurse-Midwife and Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She has dedicated her career to helping busy parents breastfeed with confidence. Read more about Heather.

Pumping Before Going Back to Work

Breastfeeding for Busy Moms

Congratulations! You just had a baby a few weeks ago, and you’ve been working hard to breastfeed your little one. Now you are thinking about pumping before going back to work…

I know you are exhausted. You’ve learned what breastfeeding positions work and how to establish your supply (check out episode 14 of the Milk Minute Podcast for supply help). Maybe you’re even starting to feel like you’re getting the hang of this breastfeeding relationship. (If you’re not, that’s OK, too. Parenting is hard work, and feeding is no exception!)

But there’s a new worry cropping up in your mind. Perhaps a sense of dread. You will be returning to work soon, and you have to learn about pumping and all that goes along with it.If this feels overwhelming to you, I’ve got you covered. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about pumping in the postpartum period as you prepare to return to work. If you haven’t yet talked to your employer about pumping… read this blog post of mine.

Mindset for Pumping in the Postpartum Period

Understand where that feeling in the pit of your stomach is coming from — the biology that has an underlying tone of survival all the time. Your subconscious mind might be thinking, “My baby will starve to death when I go back to work.” The first thing you need to do is take death off the table. Yes, breastmilk is an amazing way of keeping babies alive, but your baby is not going to starve to death if you live in a developed country. No matter what! Formula is available if you need it. Stress and anxiety do NOT help your breastmilk to flow more easily.

Dump the limiting belief that all working moms end up supplementing eventually. When I talk to expectant moms, I ask, “What are your thoughts on breastfeeding?” About 50 percent of the time, the response is, “We’ll see how it goes. I have to go back to work at six weeks.” For many parents, this lie that they won’t be successful in their breastfeeding journey is sitting back there in their brain. Most are not even conscious of it; it just rolls off the tongue. But with education and support, you CAN do it!

Educate yourself on everything breastfeeding. I especially recommend taking my Breastfeeding Basics class with your partner. Read articles on websites like La Leche League and KellyMom. Check out some books on breastfeeding, too. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding are two classic choices, while more modern options include Latch, Work. Pump. Repeat., and The Fifth Trimester. Also, join a community of breastfeeding working parents like my private Facebook group called Breastfeeding for Busy Moms. Understand that you are not alone! Know that many pumping parents have gone before you, empathize with you, and are there for you when you need to troubleshoot or ask for support.


There is a fourth trimester to pregnancy and we neglect it at our peril. It is a transitional period of 3 months after birth when many women are highly vulnerable, experience confusion and despair and during which anxiety is normal and reactive depression commonplace.

Get the Right Pumping Equipment

Get yourself a Haakaa. This unique manual silicone breast pump will help you begin passively collecting milk in the first few weeks without creating an oversupply. You simply place the Haakaa on the breast the baby is not using during a feeding. The Haakaa has a small amount of negative pressure, but it’s just enough to bring out the milk that’s already sitting there. It doesn’t pull milk from deep in the breast, like a baby or regular breast pump does.

Use breast shells and milk savers. These silicone cups fit around the nipple, and one can go in your bra while you nurse your baby on the other breast. There’s no suction, but the shells collect what you’re leaking. This is especially helpful if you have a strong letdown — no milk wasted! It’s important to note that these small amounts of milk you collect from the Haakaa and the milk savers should be kept in the refrigerator. Keep combining them until you have a full feeding in a bag.

Choose a reliable, double-electric breast pump. Once you go back to work, you will likely be using your pump multiple times a day for several months. Medela and Spectra are widely regarded as two of the best brands. Be sure that you are using the correct size flange. One of the keys to breastfeeding longevity is maintaining stimulation and emptying while avoiding nipple injury

Edgepark Does All The Work. Order Your Breast Pump in 3 Easy Steps!

Learn When To Pump

If you’re going back to work at six weeks postpartum, a good rule of thumb is to begin pumping about two weeks before that, or four weeks postpartum. For those lucky parents who get a longer maternity leave — perhaps eight, ten, or twelve weeks — it’s still a great idea to introduce a bottle when the baby is four weeks old. In the first few weeks immediately after birth, it’s important to establish breastfeeding and not use a bottle unless there’s a medical reason. Beginning at four weeks postpartum, consider giving the baby one bottle every 24 hours. This should be a paced feeding done by somebody else to get the baby used to eating from someone other than you. Check out my podcast episode on Breastfeeding Friendly Bottle Feeding to learn more.

When you’re trying to build up a small stash for returning to work, start by pumping after the morning and night feedings. Occurring between 4-7 a.m., the morning feeding is scientifically proven to have the most milk. If you feed the baby then pump, your breasts will empty the most volume of milk. Your brain will react as if saying, “We used all that milk? We must make more!” At nighttime, most newborn babies do not have an established bedtime, but pump after the feeding that happens between 7-10 p.m.

If your baby begins sleeping through the night, and you are still trying to stash as much milk as possible, you should pump in the middle of the night. For example, if your baby sleeps for eight consecutive hours, your breasts will be missing a feeding. In this instance, you should sleep for four hours, set an alarm, and pump. Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone for the obvious reason: Your newborn baby will most likely not sleep for such long stretches. It’s biologically normal for your baby to wake often to feed.  However, if you’re looking for opportunities to pump and have extra milk available, you don’t want to miss that opportunity to empty your breasts.

Managing Pumping Expectations

As I finish up, I want to address a couple general points. First, maybe you’ve read this post and you’re still wondering, “How much milk do I need to have in my freezer when I go back to work?” I suggest having enough for three feedings. Ten to twelve extra ounces is a good number, but it depends on how much your baby eats and what type of job you have. Because I’m a nurse, I know that many nurses work 12-hour shifts and have uncertain pumping times. In that scenario, you might want to have more than ten ounces — if it’ll make you feel better to have that cushion.

Second, the first rule of timing is to give it time. It takes three consecutive days of consistent intervention to judge results. So, if you pump once on a given day and don’t get much milk output, that’s not a reason to say, “This isn’t working.” Don’t panic! It takes approximately three days for your body to adjust. I do want to let you know that pumping parents tend to have more issues with clogged ducts, mastitis, and supply questions. Don’t forget you can always schedule a private consult with me if you need to troubleshoot.

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