Keeping a good milk supply after returning to work can be challenging. Mother’s with long term breastfeeding goals are very vulnerable the first few weeks at work. They need time to adjust to being away from their baby and how to manage their milk supply when time is limited and responsibilities are abundant.
During this vulnerable time make sure you take time for yourself and treat yourself well. Eating well is a must and plan to bring prepared one-handed snacks to work so you can eat while working or pumping at work. Many women skip meals and use the time for pumping only which can be exhausting causing them to lose their energy. It may not affect their supply but certainly their mood which can only hinder the process of transitioning back to work. The success of keeping a good milk supply is to have a daily routine which will help keep your milk flowing and in good supply.
The most important thing to keep a good milk supply is know your “number”. By this I mean the number of times you need to remove milk from your breasts to maintain a steady supply over the coming weeks and months. Removal number is both from breastfeeding and pumping combined on a daily basis over a 24-hour period. To estimate your number, count the number of feeds your baby gets per day about 2 weeks before returning back to work. The following factors apply when using this formula. Your baby must be at least 6 weeks old (adjusted age if preemie), you exclusively breastfeed and baby eats on demand. If you gave your baby an occasional bottle you can figure that into this equation. So, what is your number? How many times was milk removed from your breasts in a 24-hour period. That number needs to stay the same or higher when you return to work which is the key to keeping a good milk supply.
Many mothers have different numbers due to breast storage capacity. The size of your breast doesn’t matter as storage is determined by the amount of milk in your breast when they are at their fullest. It is about the amount of room you have in your milk making glands not your fatty tissue. This is why some babies can get a full feed from only one breast when their mother has a large storage capacity while another baby may always have to feed from both breasts to get the amount of milk needed at each feeding. What is the number of feedings or milk removals that is necessary for your baby to gain weight? Most mothers will have plenty of milk for their babies but their feeding patterns are different due to storage capacity. Some may need only 5 or 6 milk removals per day while other mothers with a small capacity may need 8 or 9 removals per day. Remember this can be by either breastfeeding and/or pumping.
Your number may vary until you figure things out and get in a good routine. Also as your baby grows and begins to eat solids or sleeps through the night this number can change. Keeping an eye on your supply and making sure you reach your number daily will help you maintain a stable supply. If your supply drops you may need to increase your number of removals or do other things to keep a good supply. There is an excellent video about how to increase your milk supply with hands on pumping sessions. http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html
Another big factor when applying these principles is that a key to a good milk supply should include having a good number of nursing sessions with your baby. As mothers get busy and must go to bottles of expressed milk they sometimes cut down on nursing sessions even when at home. Their busy schedules consume them and soon they are pumping more and more and nursing less. So, they get into a cycle of pumping all the time instead of nursing. Remember breastfeeding is about also about connection and closeness for both mom and baby. What better way to slow down, love on your baby and forget about work. Your baby is only little for a short period enjoy these moments and make time for them.