Returning to Work and Breastfeeding: Planning for Success

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Meribeth Aldridge


By Meribeth Aldridge, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant


World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, is celebrated annually across the world to encourage breastfeeding and family-friendly policies that support breastfeeding. This year’s theme is “Empower Parents. Enable Breastfeeding.”

There are a number of important reasons why international organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization support breastfeeding. Studies consistently show that breastfeeding reduces the risk of childhood infections and premature mortality. For mothers, breastfeeding aids in pregnancy recovery and is thought to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as uterine and ovarian cancer.

Women planning to return to work after maternity leave may feel anxious about continuing to breastfeed while managing work and family. While it can sometimes be difficult, many mothers find it to be very rewarding. As with many challenging tasks, it helps to be prepared. A little planning can help families meet their breastfeeding goals while transitioning back to work.


Below are some helpful steps for families to consider for each stage of maternity leave:

Before baby arrives:

  • Take a breastfeeding class and research lactation resources in your area
  • Choose a reputable breast pump and review the operation manual
  • Read books on breastfeeding and returning to work
  • Communicate with your supervisor and human resources department about your plan to breastfeed after returning to work

During maternity leave:

  • Meet with a lactation consultant to work through any issues you may experience with breastfeeding
  • Familiarize yourself on breastfeeding rights in your country
  • Start expressing milk and assemble a back-at-work pump bag
  • Determine how much milk your baby will need when you are away
  • Do a practice run with your baby’s caregiver

Back at work:

  • Start back at work with an abbreviated week
  • Bring a photo or video of your baby, as this can assist with the process
  • Express milk at work with the same frequency your baby feeds
  • Nurse your baby right before the drop-off with the caregiver and right after pick-up
  • Have spare pumping parts and a change of clothes on hand

When a workplace supports breastfeeding, it can create many benefits for the mother and child, as well as the employer. Benefits to the employers may include:

  • Decrease in healthcare costs
  • Decrease in time away from work for due to illnesses
  • Lower employee turnover
  • Positive public image
  • Positive return-on-investment

Company leaders and supervisors can take the following steps to enable a supportive culture:

  • Be aware of breastfeeding laws and company lactation program details
  • Communicate with employees on how the company supports breastfeeding
  • Proactively plan with employees for the return to work
  • Educate co-workers on the benefits of a supportive culture
  • Lead by example

Breastfeeding parents are a valuable part of the workforce and when we support them we are building an environment that helps everyone thrive!

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