Breastfeeding, Weaning, And Returning To Work

Preparing to return to work and the decision to wean your child from breastfeeding.
As you prepare to go back to work, you can wean your child to a bottle or a cup. TongRo/TongRo Images/Getty Images

Returning To Work And The Decision To Wean

Many breastfeeding moms decide to wean once they return to work. For some, it's an issue of the place and space. For others, the idea of adding time into their day to pump and store their breast milk is simply too stressful. Whatever your reasons are (recognizing that this is a very personal decision), just make sure that you are 100% ready to wean.

Some women think they're ready and begin to wean, only to realize that they're not quite there yet.

This uncertainty and stress can be tough on your body and your milk supply. 

The Decision To Wean Partially Instead Of Fully

Many working moms decide to wean away from the feeds that would occur during their workday, only to breastfeed in the evenings and on the weekends when they're at home. This type of weaning is considered partial weaning. Partial weaning is an excellent option if your gut is telling you that it's not the right time to wean fully. (As a note, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.  After those 6 months, a child can be given complementary foods along with breastfeeding. Then, breastfeeding may continue for at least 12 months or for as long as you and your child would like it to continue.)

Try To Take A Gradual Approach To Weaning

As you prepare to return to work, the best way to go about weaning is to do it gradually.

Ideally, you will start to wean your baby and your body well before your first day back.  You can begin eliminating breastfeedings a little at a time as your return to work date approaches.  As a general rule, start to cut feedings or pumping sessions out one-at-a-time, giving each dropped feed 3 to 4 days to settle in (being very conservative, you could wait an entire week).

Gradual weaning will allow for your supply of breast milk to go down slowly. The progressive decline in breast milk helps to prevent discomfort and the severe engorgement that can occur from weaning suddenly.  

Provide Age-Appropriate Alternative Feedings

Whether you wean your child fully, partially, gradually, or suddenly, you will need to replace each feeding that you eliminate with another source of age-appropriate nutrition.  If your child is under one year of age, you can give him your pumped breast milk or an iron-fortified infant formula.  Children over a year old can continue taking expressed breast milk or infant formula, or they can move on to a toddler formula or cow's milk.  Talk to your baby's doctor for advice and guidance as you wean your child.  

If you have an infant younger than 9 months old, you can offer your pumped breast milk or infant formula in a cup or a bottle.  If your child is older, it may be easier to go straight to a cup.   

With planned weaning, many moms choose to stockpile their breast milk in the freezer well ahead of time to make the transition easier for the baby.  

Be OK With Your Decision

The decision to wean your baby may be stressful and emotional.

 However, it's important to remember that whatever choice you make is the right one as long as it works best for you and your family. You should not feel pressure from anyone at work or at home to wean if you don't want to, or to keep breastfeeding if it's overwhelming.  It is ultimately your decision and it's OK. 

Edited by Donna Murray

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