During your first few weeks with baby, your lives were intimately entwined: eating, sleeping and eating some more. All occurring at erratic, irregular times, and around the clock, might we add.
As the calendar on maternity leave begins to run out, it’s hard to fathom how this intensive baby schedule is going to fit in with your working life. Now is the time to start planning for your return to work, especially if baby will be eating from a bottle for the first time.
It’s a scenario that will be familiar to many moms. About four-fifths of U.S. infants are breastfed at some point, according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When babies reach 3 months old, 44.4 percent are exclusively breastfed, and that percentage dips to 22.3 percent by the age of 6 months.
Whether you plan to pump or switch to formula, preparation is the key to ensuring a smooth transition.
Pump and freeze: Two weeks before you return to work is the ideal time to start pumping and freezing extra milk so you have plenty in your supply. Set aside time after one feeding per day to pump, and store the milk in the plastic bags that are designed for use with the pump. If baby is going to a daycare provider, be sure to label them with your last name and the date.
Practice with a bottle: In this two-week period before work, start offering breast milk or formula from a bottle so baby becomes accustomed to this new approach to eating. Some babies aren’t picky, while others will protest. In the latter case, that might be because your baby strongly associates you with food! Before a regular feeding, try leaving for a brief outing while another caretaker stays behind with baby and offers her a bottle. Many parents have found that eventually, with practice, baby will accept a bottle.
Have a supply plan for your child care provider: Talk to your child care provider about what they need from you. If you are providing breast milk, have a conversation about what happens when the supply runs low. Some provide formula, while will require that you send a container or two they can keep on hand for backup. With that in mind, a test feeding at home with formula is a good idea, so you can confirm baby does not have any allergies.
Pumping at work: If you plan to pump, set up a meeting with your boss a couple of weeks before you return to work to plan on how this will fit with your work schedule. One way to do it is to break up your lunch hour into three 20-minute segments, pumping once in the morning and once in the afternoon, which leaves a 20-minute meal break for you. Also, talk about where you can pump, preferably in a clean, private lactation room not far from your work space.
Keep formula on hand: Over the next few months, your baby’s eating habits will emerge and change. Even if your workplace is generous with time and resources to help you stay on your pumping schedule, a busy week can collide with a hungrier than usual baby, which can tax your supplies. Have a couple cans of powdered baby formula on hand so your family is ready in any situation. Consider store brand infant formula, which is just a nutritious and safe as the nationally advertised name brand versions, because all infant formulas sold in the U.S. must meet the same Food and Drug Administration standards and offer complete nutrition for baby. Store brand formula can save families up to 50 percent, or approximately $600 per year. Even if you are already feeding baby with a certain brand formula, switching to store brand formula is safe and well-tolerated in infants, according to “the Switch Study,” a clinical study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia.