The Working Mother’s Feeding Options:

What options do I have for feeding my baby when I return to work?

Returning to work after having a baby is always a daunting thought. Mothers often find that the most difficult choices to make are about finding a caregiver and how to continue feeding their baby.

Always keep in mind that:

  • Implementing your feeding option can be left until a few weeks before you go back to work.
  • You can start with option one and follow through to option four over a period of weeks or months once back at work.
  • Keeping as many breastmilk feeds as possible will benefit your baby – even a single breastmilk feed makes a difference.

Allow your baby’s caregiver to spend plenty of time with your baby before you return to work and ensure that she fully understands how you want to continue feeding your baby.

There are four feeding options to consider when going back to work:

1. Continue Breastfeeding

Mothers who work close enough to where their baby is being cared for have the option to continue to breastfeed their baby.

Continuing to breastfeed is often possible for moms who:
  • Work from home
  • Live close to work
  • Work provides a crèche
  • Work near a suitable crèche
  • Having a flexible employer is beneficial
How many feeds your baby would need during your working day depends on:
  • How many hours you are working
  • Your baby’s age
  • Your baby’s specific needs

The shorter your working day the easier it would be to continue breastfeeding.

Even during an 8 hour working day you would nip away to breastfeed your baby once, twice, maybe three times, depending on your baby’s age and needs.

Number of breastfeeds required on average in 24 hours (your baby’s needs may differ somewhat):
  • At three months: at least 6 feeds in 24 hours
  • By 6 months:  4 or 5 feeds in 24 hours.
  • Time constraints do put pressure on moms but why not give it a try and give yourself the option of deciding whether it works for you or not?
  • You may feel more confident if you put the idea into practice a few days before returning to work.

2. Continue Breastfeeding and Expressing

This is an option for moms who would prefer their baby to continue on breastmilk even when they cannot be there themselves to breastfeed.

Continue to breastfeed your baby:
  • before leaving for work in the morning
  • after work
  • at least once during the night (depending on your baby’s age)
  • over weekends (avoid using bottles)
In addition, express breastmilk for your baby.

There is an art to expressing, so it would be preferable to decide what method of expressing you are going to use and practice it before hand.

Methods of expressing are:

  • Hand expressing
  • Using a breastpump:
    • hand operated breastpump
    • battery operated breastpump
    • electric breastpump
      • single electric pump (express from one breast at a time)
      • double electric pump (express from both breasts at the same time)

Expressing and freezing breastmilk:

An advantage of practising this method beforehand is that you then have the opportunity of expressing and freezing milk for later use.

  • Breastmilk can be kept in the freezer for a healthy, full term baby for:
    • Front opening freezer: 3 months
    • Chest freezer: 6 months

Expressing at work for your baby:

The principle would be that once at work you would:

  • Express during the day.
  • Store thatmilk in a cool place (fridge or small cooler bag with an ice brick) for use the next day.
  • When home, freeze any expressed milk that your baby will not require the next day.
  • Use previously frozen milk for your baby should you not be able to express enough milk for the next day.

3. Continue Breastfeeding, Expressing And / Or Using Formula Feeds

Important to note:
·        Mixed feeding can only be practiced safely in the absence of HIV infection.
·        Mixed feeding as described here is not ideal but some breastfeeding is preferable to none.
·        Cow’s milk is not suitable for babies under 1 year of age.
·        It is imperative that formula is strictly made up according to the instructions on the tin.

Perhaps expressing at work does not suit your particular circumstances, or you are not expressing sufficient breastmilk to meet your baby’s needs while you are at work.

Your third option offers a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding.
a.    Continue to breastfeed your baby:
  • before leaving for work in the morning
  • after work
  • at least once during the night (depending on your baby’s age)
  • over weekends.
b.    Express, what you can and when you can, at work.
  • The younger your baby, the more important expressing during the day would be to maintain your milk supply.
  • From three or four months onwards, your milk supply may be well enough established and you could start to express less frequently during your working day.
  • Store this expressed milk in a cool place for use the next day.
c.     Use formula when there is no breastmilk available while you are at work.
  • Avoid mixing expressed and formula milk in the same feed.
  • Choose a suitable baby formula for your baby.
·        Not suitable for babies under 1 year:
  • Cow’s milk
  • Goat’s milk
  • Rice milk
  • Other milks that are not formulated specifically for babies.

A baby over 6 months, who is eating three solid meals, is likely to need only one milk feed while you are at work.

To maintain your milk supply it is important that:
  • You breastfeed when at home in order to maintain your milk supply – no bottles.
  • Over weekends offer breast only as this will help build up your milk supply for the coming week.

4. Weaning onto Formula

Should you decide to wean your baby off the breast before returning to work, you need only start the weaning process a week or two before hand.

Where possible avoid using medication to suppress your milk supply.

The gradual weaning method is preferable for both mom and baby.

The gradual weaning method:

  • Start by substituting one feed with a formula feed, e.g. the mid-morning feed.
  • 3 to 4 days later your breasts should no longer feel uncomfortable at the time of the missed feed.
  • The time is then right to substitute another feed with a formula feed, e.g. the late afternoon breastfeed.
  • Again wait 3 – 4 days until your breasts are no longer uncomfortable and again replace one more breastfeed with a formula feed.
  • Continue replacing one feed at a time.
·        You have the option of stopping or delaying the weaning process at any stage.

E.g. You could keep the evening and, or the early morning feeds as breastfeeds while your baby has formula during the day.

·        Better for your baby:

it is better for a baby not to abruptly stop all breastfeeding, but to get a chance to adjust to the new way of doing things.

·        Better for the mother:

It gives the mother time to adjust emotionally and physically to not breastfeeding.

I do not have time to do charity work, nor do I have an abundance of money to donate to all those worthy causes out there, so this was my way of giving back to society.
Wouldn’t you hope that a mom out there would step up and do the same thing for your baby?
Lisa V., Breastmilk Donor - Cape Town

How Much Does My Baby Need?

It is recommended that the average baby needs: 120 to 150ml of breastmilk for every kilogram he weighs, over a 24 hour period. Some babies prefer more and others less.

For example: A 5kg baby would need: 120ml breastmilk x 5(as baby weighs 5kg) = 600mls over 6 feeds = 100mls per feed on average.

Please note: The same method can be used for working out how much formula a baby would need, but the maximum amount of formula baby should have in 24 hours is 1000ml. Consult your clinic sister who will guide you by taking into account your baby’s weight and particular circumstances.

How Do We Offer The Milk?

You could offer your baby the milk from a sterile cup or bottle.

One of the risks of introducing bottles is that your baby may reject the breast in favour of the bottle. For this reason you could use a cup.

It may also help if someone else feeds your baby. Your baby will then associate you exclusively with breastfeeding.


3 of top leading causes of death prevented by breastfeeding...
1 in 8 children in sub-saharan africa die before their 5th birthday. Three out of the top leading causes of death can be prevented by exclusive breastfeeding.