Maximizing Your Maternity Leave

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated August 2, 2017.

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Whether you will have 6 weeks, 6 months, or something in between for you maternity leave, you’ll want to use the time getting to know your baby, finding your rhythm of being “mommy” to a new little blessing, and be preparing for the time when you return to work.  Many new moms spend this time worrying about who will take care of their child, how they will express milk, wondering whether they will have enough milk to express, and so forth.  And some things you read and hear encourage new moms to express from the very beginning and practice giving your baby bottles each day.  Even more stress!

While there are some things you will want to do to prepare for your return to work, the most important thing you can do during this time is bond with your baby, get to know your baby, and fall totally in love with your baby.  You need to get breastfeeding off to a good start and not have to worry with pumping and giving bottles in the beginning.  So, until 3 weeks before you return to work, it is a good idea to not spend time worrying about pumping and bottles or teaching your baby to drink from one!

Several weeks before you return to work, though, you will want to familiarize yourself with your pump, learning how to operate it, clean it, and store your milk.  Never throw milk you pump away but you also don’t need to give all the milk you pump to your baby right now.  You are still home with her so enjoy these moments of cuddling and nursing before you return to work.  This milk can be frozen for the future when you do go back to work.

You will also need to give thought as to how you want your baby’s caregiver to feed your baby your expressed milk.  Do you want to give a bottle?  Cup?  Sippy cup?  Make sure to talk about your desires with your baby’s caregiver beforehand.  Many moms and caregivers choose to use bottles for their convenience but the other options should be explored.  Make sure to educate your baby’s caregiver on how to give a bottle if this is what you choose to do.

Finally, don’t worry about your baby “taking a bottle” from you.  Many babies refuse to take a bottle when their mothers are around.  They know what they want and prefer and therefore won’t drink from a bottle when you’re around.  When you are away, though, these same babies will take a bottle from someone else.  Your baby may also “reverse cycle” and drink less milk while away from you throughout the day and take in more while with you in the evening, night, and morning before work.

Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable with how your pump works and how to store your milk before you return to work.  You will want to feel comfortable with your caregiver and share with her your desires for feeding your baby while you’re away.  But, as you plan and prepare for your return to work, make sure to enjoy these precious moments while you are with your baby.  Enjoy nursing at the breast while planning for the time you are away.  Try not to stress and worry about it.  You are mommy to your precious little one and if you are exclusively nursing your baby at one month old then you have the milk to feed your baby at six months and beyond as well!