Most parents return to work after the birth of their baby, but that doesn’t make it any less daunting! To make the transition as smooth as possible for your family, we’ve compiled our expertise at Doulas of Cincinnati with these tips from parents who have been there:

A. If you are a breastfeeding or pumping parent, put together a special pumping kit just for work. I personally love the durability and easy storage of an inexpensive plastic shoebox for this purpose. Keep the box in your office, work locker, or bring it along with you each day.

Your at-work pump kit should include:

  1. an extra pump kit that stays at work (keep one set at home)
  2. milk storage bags/bottles
  3. pump cleaning supplies, including a small bottle of dish soap and brushes (I personally love this compact drying rack + brush set from Oxo- perfect for travel!)
  4. hands-free pumping bra (Want a quick, inexpensive option? Cut dime-sized holes in a sports bra or a tube top and voila!

    You might also consider supplies specifically for your car, especially if you have a long commute or might get stuck in traffic. Tools such as a car adapter for your pump and a nursing cover can be used with a hands-free pump bra if on-the-go pumping is necessary for you!

Don’t forget! If your pump does not come with a cooler bag and ice packs, you will need to obtain one to safely transport your milk back home.

B. For any baby eating from a bottle, whether it is formula or breastmilk, paced feeding is the recommended way to feed. Paced feeding allows baby to eat at a comfortable speed, take needed breaks to breathe, and finish when he or she feels full- regardless of whether the bottle is empty at the end of the feeding or not. As adults, we sometimes take for granted that eating is a big task for little ones!

Safe formula prep: If you already know how much formula your baby drinks and how often, it might be easiest for you to prepare enough bottles for your childcare provider ahead of time, to be refrigerated and used throughout the day. Remember: “Formula that's been prepared should be consumed or stored in the refrigerator within 1 hour. If it has been at room temperature for more than 1 hour, throw it away. And if your baby doesn't drink all the formula in the bottle, throw away the unused portion — do not save it for later.” (KidsHealth)

Don’t forget! Throw away any mixed formula after 24 hours.

Bottlefeeding the breastfed baby: It’s a good idea to introduce your breastfed baby to a bottle by 4-6 weeks of age. Doing so can be casual- have your partner offer a few ounces to baby while you take a break and indulge in some self-care. Some important points to keep in mind:

  1. Your baby may take a bottle better from someone other than you.
  2. Stick to the slowest-flow nipples.
  3. Your baby may snack throughout an entire day instead of taking full, regular feedings by bottle. This may be temporary or the norm for your child.
  4. Be prepared for cluster feeding and even reverse-cycling (when baby eats throughout the night instead of the day). Baby will need to reconnect after time apart, so cluster feeding also serves as a comfort tool.

Don’t fret!  If your baby is totally refusing bottles, or is struggling to drink from a bottle. Contact an IBCLC, who is skilled at utilizing alternative ways to feed baby when at-the-breast feeding isn’t an option, and can give your family a tailored plan.

You might be unsure about how much expressed breastmilk to leave for your little one. The general rule of thumb is “1 ounce an hour.” So if you will be away from baby for an 8-hour shift, plus drive time, plan accordingly, perhaps 8-10 ounces. If you are able to breastfeed baby right before you leave and as soon as you pick him or her up, planning for a few feedings of 3-4 ounces during the time away may be enough. It’s okay to leave extra, too.

A good tip to not waste your hard-earned liquid gold: freeze bags of expressed breastmilk in 2 or 4 ounce increments. That way if baby only wants a small amount, your childcare provider doesn’t have to thaw (and potentially have to toss out) more than is needed.

C. What to really expect- for yourself!
While some parents may be more excited to get back to work than others (Routine! Adult interaction!), almost all parents report feeling at least a little bit nervous about being away from baby for a long stretch for the first time. It’s totally normal to feel both excited and anxious. I remember crying to my husband the night before I returned to work after the birth of our third son, telling him “I can’t do it!” But I did and the day actually went smoothly (our little man slept most of the day and seemed unaffected by my absence). Give yourself the freedom to feel what you need to feel, and cry if you need to.  

Remember! The anticipation of returning to work is often much worse than the actual day is. It almost always gets better each day as you find your rhythm.

Written by: JoEllen Noble, IBCLC, ProDoula Certified Labor Doula, Postpartum Doula, Certified Postpartum Placenta Specialist, and General Bad Ass.