Going back to work after maternity leave can bring on a lot of mixed feelings. On the one hand, you may be eager to get out of the house and get back to your job; on the other, you’re going to miss your little nugget like crazy. Add to that your worries about balancing your life as a working mom, your baby’s childcare schedule, and countless other things, and it’s no wonder many mamas find going back to work to be incredibly stressful.

If you breastfeed, that’s definitely up there on your list of concerns. How much to pump, where to do it, how to store it, and more, are questions we hear frequently.

So below, we’ve compiled our advice for the breastfeeding mom headed back to work.

1. Don’t stress too soon.

In the early weeks, going back to work should be the last thing on your mind. Focus on adjusting to your new life as a mama and enjoying the time with your baby.

2. Establish a pumping routine early.

Establishing good milk production early on will help your long term nursing success. Week 2 or 3 is when we recommend you begin pumping. This will allow you to get comfortable with the pump, as well as allow your baby to get used to taking a bottle. Plus, enabling someone else to feed the baby will give you a little bit of freedom and rest early on.

3. Start building a breast milk stash.

As you get closer to the end of your maternity leave, add an additional pumping session each day to start building a stash. Many moms have success pumping right after their first feed each morning.

A caveat: you don’t need a freezer filled to the brim with breastmilk! Don’t make yourself nuts trying to store up all the milk you’ll ever need. Focus on storing a few days at a time.

4. Talk with your employer about your needs.

Your manager may not have experience with breastfeeding moms, or she may be a breastfeeding mom herself. Either way, it’s important to speak with her before your first day back. You’ll want to bring up your needs, which will include:

  • A clean, private place with electricity (that isn’t a bathroom) in which to pump
  • Time to pump throughout the day (20 to 30 minutes every few hours)

Know your rights: most employers are required by law under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to provide both these things. Here are some more resources on having this conversation.

5. Plan your pumping schedule around your baby’s feeding schedule.

This probably means that to start, you’ll be pumping every 3 hours. Depending on your production, you may eventually be able to get away with pumping only twice per day; mamas who struggle with supply may need to pump up to 4 times. Your pumping schedule may need to be adjusted depending on your specific work situation and your baby’s needs. Remember how milk production works – supply and demand – and do the best you can.

6. Talk with your caregiver.

Let your caregiver know your baby will be taking bottles of expressed breastmilk. If they’re used to formula-fed babies, they may need some extra education. Discuss what’s needed in regards to bottle preparation, frequency of feedings, extra milk storage, minimizing breastmilk waste, etc. 

7. Brush up on storage guidelines.

For healthy, full term babies, breastmilk can:

  • Stay out at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours
  • Be stored in an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for 24 hours
  • Be refrigerated (39°F/4°C) for 5 days
  • Be stored in the freezer compartment of a refrigerator/freezer with separate doors for 3 to 6 months
  • Be stored in an infrequently-opened chest or upright manual defrost deep freezer (−4°F/−20°C) for 6 to 12 months

More information on breastmilk storage.

8. Have a list.

And check it twice. Bottles, pump parts, ice packs, freezer bag—you’ll be toting way more stuff to work than you used to! Have a checklist and run through it before you walk out the door.

9. Learn how to hand express.

If you forget a piece of the pump or you end up somewhere without electricity, knowing how to hand express will enable you to still get the job done.

10. Don’t stress about leaking—but be prepared.

Leave the nightmare scenario of leaking milk through your clothes to the movies; it doesn’t happen that often. However, keep an extra shirt at work—just in case.

11. Give yourself time to adjust to your new double role.

Some mamas find it hard to shift gears from working woman back to breastfeeding mom when pumping at work. So when that time comes, get to your designated space, try and relax (easier said than done, we know!) and imagine the feelings you have being with your baby. Some moms find it helpful to bring something that smells like their babies; others look through pictures.

Also, don’t watch the bottles! In the same way a watched pot never boils, we’ve found the more you stare at the bottle and stress about your output, the less milk you pump.