After 13 weeks, many moms are beginning to think about a major change in routine: returning to work. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the adoption or birth of a child for women and men who work for companies with more than 50 employees, if they’ve worked for that company for at least 12 months.
How do the United States’ maternity leave policies stack up to other countries? In truth, very poorly. Only a few countries in the world do not offer paid leave, including Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and the US. On the other end of the spectrum, 31 countries in the world offer a year or more of paid family leave.
If you or your partner are like many who are returning to work after 12 weeks, there are several ways you can smooth the transition as much as possible. These include:
- Schedule a time to speak with your boss, human resources contact, or other relevant representatives about scheduling flexible hours or making telecommuting a part of your new job if you didn’t do this before leave.
- Identify a place where you can pump. A workplace is legally required to provide a private room with an outlet for breast pumping. Some offices have a lactation room while others will work to find a location for you, such as a conference room or empty office (just make sure to leave a sign on the door!). A bathroom is not considered adequate as a pumping space, and if this is all you are offered, you have the legal right to better accommodations!
- Stock your breast-pumping insulated bag that you take to work each day (many pumps come with this, or you can use any type of insulated bag). Things to pack include your breast pump, containers, ice packs, at least 2 sets of pump parts, Ziploc bags to transport used parts home, and hand sanitizer.
- Keep your nights and weekends for nursing only — lots of skin-to-skin and cuddle time! Some moms notice a dropping supply by the end of the workweek, and this re-connection on the weekends can boost your supply back up again. Focus on the increasing value that you bring to your job as a mother. Moms excel at multi-tasking, planning, and communication. These are all extremely valuable resources in the workplace.
Supplementing with formula
Some parents may choose to supplement with formula when mom returns to work. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, sometimes supplementing with formula can be the best option for moms who may have a lower milk supply, who may not be able to pump enough to supplement their baby’s nutrition, or who do not want to use or have access to donor breast milk.
Remember that providing some breast milk to your baby is better than no breast milk at all. Doing your best to provide breast milk whenever possible can provide the nutrition your baby needs. The AAP recommends that a baby take in no more than 32 ounces of formula in a 24-hour time period. This is because babies who take in formula are at increased risk for excess weight gain. If you do supplement with formula, make sure to nurse first to keep your milk supply up.
Make your return to work as smooth as possible with Dr. Jen Lincoln’s insightful tips.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020