Maternity leave is a joyful time, yet for many of us – that leave is far too short. For new mother’s, that time clock places the dual stress of bonding and preparation. How can you carve enough time to bond with your baby? What about daycare? Will they give you time away if your baby gets sick? And when should you start pumping to return to work? The questions are endless, and while many of those answers will change per person or situation – starting a frozen breastmilk supply is a slightly easier proposition.
First things First
While the idea of returning to work and being away from your baby may be looming large in your mind, even in the beginning days, the first thing you have to remember is that things take time. Your body just went through an amazing process that moved your organs, rearranged you, changed you and physically drained you… not to mention the minor fact that you quite literally created life. Now, your body is recovering – and working hard to provide for that life you just spent months crafting.
The beginning days and weeks of the newborn period are a time of change and growth. Your body is STILL changing, growing and healing – and you need to let that process take place. Birth is a natural process, yet it is still a traumatic one, no matter if you had a vaginal or belly birth. It hurts, and you need time to recover from the experience. On top of that, your breasts are now in full swing, learning and adjusting with the ebbs and flows of your infant’s hunger.
How Breastfeeding Works
Breastfeeding is a process of supply and demand. The more your baby demands (nurses), the more milk your breasts will supply. In order to create an adequate supply, your breasts must be emptied often and well. Over the first few weeks, your breasts will start to adjust to their new role, eventually regulating into a predictable pattern.
This is often referred to as the time when your ‘breastmilk is established.’ This means that your body understands that you are breastfeeding and will keep making the milk needed as the demand grows, and will slow down on the oversupply you may have been experiencing. You may notice that your breasts do not get as full as often, letdowns may happen less frequently and you may even leak less. No need to panic! This is supposed to happen (even if it seems a little scary and that your supply has dropped!)
When this happens is dependent on the mother, but most will experience this between 6 and 12 weeks post birth. At that point, Lactation Professionals and Doctors state that a pump can be introduced, bottles can be provided to the baby if necessary and even a pacifier if you like.
Sounds wonderful, right? And totally unfeasible!
While many countries the world over respect the newborn phase with plenty of paid time away from work – The Good ol’ US of A is not one of them. In fact, the United States holds the esteemed and questionable position of being the ONLY Country in the developed World that offers NO paid family leave for Maternity Care. None. Private companies aside, the only choice many new mothers have in America is to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA. This law offers a provision for eligible participants to claim up to 12 weeks UNPAID leave from work without reprisal.
For many of us, even one week of Unpaid Leave is one week too many.
So what is a new mom supposed to do?
Well, unfortunately, for most, it means returning to work long before your body, or your baby, is ready. That means making plans, setting up daycare and breaking out the breast pump in order to stash that precious gold in the weeks your breasts are still trying to find their groove.
If at all possible, try to wait at least 2 to 3 weeks before you begin pumping. This gives your body at least a little time to adjust and can help stave off oversupply, fullness and clogged ducts.
One thing to note, you do not need to begin your journey back to work with gallons of frozen breastmilk in the freezer. Enough for a few days, or even a week, is suitable, as you will still be pumping over the next weeks and while you are work (TAKE THOSE BREAKS!)
Pump (Need a pump? Free Pump through your insurance) for 5 minutes after a feeding, or on the other side while your baby nurses on one breast. Store your milk in 2-3 oz bags in order to prevent waste. Remember, once breastmilk is defrosted, it cannot be refrozen.
For more, please see: Breastmilk Storage Guidelines
Some moms are eager to return to work, while many others are not. No matter your stance on the issue, it can be an emotional time. Please remember that you are not alone – moms the nation and world over have faced the same challenges and have the same questions you do right now. Reach out.
You can find a local Breastfeeding Support Group and attend meetings:
Or you can find other, online support groups like these: