Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

Here’s an article I wrote for the Parenting in Portland newsletter.

“Breast is best,” yet breast-feeding comes with challenges that are difficult to imagine before you become a mother. Support for breast-feeding is readily available through new moms’ groups, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, La Leche League, the Nursing Mothers’ Counsel of Oregon, hospital lactation consultants, and others. But what about support after returning to work?

Many moms return to work when their infants are 12 weeks old.  Health experts recommend that all babies should be exclusively fed breast milk for the first six months of life and continue to be breast-fed until age two or beyond. In light of these recommendations, and considering that many moms may still be working through latch, supply, and sleep issues at the 12-week mark, it is no wonder that continuing to breast-feed after returning to work is both a priority and a challenge.

Parenting in Portland (PIP) moms recently shared a number of challenges they faced after going back to work:

  • Finding the time to express milk (pump) during a full and hectic workday
  • Never having downtime, a real break, or time to chat with coworkers because all breaks are spent pumping
  • Coping with stress
  • Maintaining supply
  • Setting boundaries with coworkers and su pervisors around your schedule and lactation room usage
  • Finding privacy
  • Access to the necessary facilities: comfortable, private room; sink; and refrigeration
  • Discrimination, harassment, or lack of support from coworkers and supervisors

PIP moms and local experts shared the following advice, tips, and resources:

Be Prepared

  • Pump and stockpile breast milk during maternity leave. Guidelines for safely handling and storing breast milk can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

  • Get a hands-free bra (or two . . . or three) or a stretchy bra. You can secure the breast-pump funnels so you can get work done while you pump, or read books or magazines, or catch up with friends and family online or on the phone . . . or eat.

  • Get two pumps: Keep one at work and one at home to reduce stress and time hauling supplies back and forth. Although breast-pump makers and lactation consultants recommend against using a hand-me-down pump, many moms use a friend’s pump with new, sterile tubes and accessories to save on costs. The Nursing Mother’s Counsel and hospital lactation stores also rent or sell high-quality breast pumps at slightly above cost.

  • Check with your insurance company about coverage details for lacatation support services and breast-pumps.  Under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), if you enrolled in your health plan after March 23, 2010, “non-grandfathered insurance plans” are required to provide “Comprehensive lactation support and counseling, by a trained provider during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum period, and costs for renting breastfeeding equipment.”  Older plans may also include similar benefits.

  • Check with your employer about whether they are willing to invest in a hospital-grade, multi-user pump that can be secured in the private lactation room. Mothers can provide their own sterile tubing and accessories.
  • Get extra pump accessories, bottles, microwavable sterilization bags, hand sanitizer, wipes, extra ice packs and insulated lunch bags for breast-milk storage. Lunch bags can be used to discreetly store breast milk in the staff refrigerator or in your workstation.

Talk to Your Employer

  • Talk to your employer ahead of time — during pregnancy is ideal — about your plans to express milk after returning to work. Notifying your employer is actually a condition of Oregon law. The Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon provides a sample notification letter.

  • Invite your union or human resources representative to be present at the meeting with your supervisor if you feel your supervisor might be resistant or difficult.

  • Share information with your employer about the law: Oregon’s Rest Breaks for Milk Expression Law requires employers with 25 or more employees to provide a clean, private space and 30 minutes of unpaid break time for every four hours worked in order to express milk. The room must be located close to the employee’s workstation and cannot be a bathroom. This law applies to mothers of babies 18 months or younger.

  • Share the resources below with them on Oregon’s laws as they relate to breast feeding and the business case for employers. Many of the websites have tool kits and videos specifically for employers. Get help from any of the listed agencies to get a HR lactation-support policy in place and set up a lactation room before you go on maternity leave.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Create a repeat appointment alert on your calendar for milk expression.

  • Ask your partner, friends, and family for support. Explain that you need help preparing food, making sure you drink enough water, and coping with stress. Describe how difficult it is to get everything done during the day and talk about ways they might help lighten the load.

  • You don’t have to justify what you are doing to coworkers, but if they ask, you can provide friendly, direct information. Post a sign on the door with the international breastfeeding symbol and the words Privacy along with Breastfeeding Room, Nursing Room, or Mother’s Room.

  • Find ways to take breaks and socialize. Take ten minutes to walk around the block or have a coffee meeting with a coworker. Make a list of things you miss doing, like pedicures, movies, or massages, and set a time to do them at least once a month. Although it may seem like you can’t spare the time, you will be a better, happier mother if you take good care of yourself.

Many mothers continue to breast-feed for a year or more after returning to work. Though it can be daunting, with the right knowledge and support, you can do it!


Oregon has the highest rates of breastfeeding in the nation, largely due to the efforts of the organizations below:

Bureau of Labor and Industries fact sheet on Oregon’s Rest Periods for Expression of Breast Milk Law.

WIC’s Breastfeeding Mother-Friendly Employer Project: free packet on Oregon’s law, model policy, and how-to guide.

Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon: resources for employers on the Business Case for Breastfeeding, Tools for the Human Resources Manager, and ideas for creating lactation rooms.

Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon’s Workplace Lactation Support Services: policy writing, lactation rooms, corporate and individual breast pump sales and rentals.

Wellness@Work: Model Workplace Breastfeeding Support Policy.

Office for Women’s Health: Toolkit for Employers booklets, presentations, and marketing materials on the business case for breastfeeding, lactation programs, and tips for employees.

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4 thoughts on “Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

  1. I’m not entirely sure… but, I believe that part of the ACA (Obamacare), all insurances now must cover the cost of a breast pump. I don’t know the details, but my wife got hers free earlier this year through this new program. It could have just been a CA thing, but it would be worth a call to your insurance to see if it covered (it’s not like they are going to go out of their way to advertise they now how to cover that cost for you).

    1. Good point!
      It looks like the ACA requires insurance companies to support breastfeeding, but the coverage details vary widely and the ACA requirements don’t apply to moms on WIC or Medicaid.

      Here’s a little bit of info:

      It’s always good to check with your insurance carrier.

      Thanks for the comment (and for reading so many posts!) and for following. Have a great day!

      1. I couldn’t stop reading!!!! I just kept thinking, “okay, one more” but then I’d get to the end and the title of the previous one would look interesting, or a comment would catch my eye, or … I just plain ol’ got sucked in.

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