In order to breastfeed your infant for one year while maintaining your busy professional life, you will need to be prepared with the correct supplies before you return to work. All breastfeeding mothers, working or not, need the right bra and nursing pads. Working mothers will also need a double-sided electric breast pump, milk storage bags, and maybe even an extra freezer.
The best kind of bra for everyday use at work is a hands-free two-layered nursing bra. When you use an electric breast pump, the outer layer of this bra is folded down and the inner layer holds the cup and bottle combo onto each breast. Each cup/bottle then attaches to the pump itself with plastic tubing. With this bra, you can actually sit at your desk and pump milk from both breasts simultaneously while typing. There are also nursing sports bras for breastfeeding women for when they exercise.
Re-usable woolen nursing pads are infused with lanolin. Two pairs of these pads (at approximately $15 per pair) will last for an entire year of breastfeeding. Usually the larger pads are less noticeable under clothes although sometimes size large is really, really large (think Frisbee). While you are using one pair of pads, the other pair can be drying. When washing reusable pads, you must not use liquid fabric softener as it can impair the pads’ absorbency. Disposable nursing pads are effective in the short-term but are less absorbent and sometimes more abrasive. In the long run, they are also a lot more expensive if you use them regularly at around $0.14 per single use pair of pads.
Breast pumps are either manual or electric. Both manual and electric breast pumps are durable medical equipment (DME) that can be prescribed by your physician. Increasingly, health insurance companies are covering breast pumps as necessary medical devices for women who are separated from their infants either for medical reasons or work or school. Before you purchase a pump and pay for it out of pocket, be sure to ask your doctor, your baby’s doctor if different from yours, and your insurance company about this potential benefit.
Manual breast pumps are relatively inexpensive ($30-50), unilateral devices that are good for infrequent or short-term use. It may be useful, but not necessary, to have a manual pump for short trips or other brief separations from your infant. If you are returning to work either full-time or part-time and plan to continue lactating for any length of time, you will definitely need an electric breast pump. These are more expensive devices ($250-500) than the manual pumps but virtually essential for women who will regularly be separated from their infants. The bilateral electric pump usually comes in a discreet carrying bag which has a place for freezer packs and storage of cold expressed milk. Unless you have a specific medical indication as determined by either your or your baby’s doctor, you should not need a hospital-grade breast pump.
Milk storage bags are four- to six-ounce plastic bags for storing breast milk that has been pumped from the breast into a bottle. With some pumps, you can actually pump the milk directly into a storage bag. These bags can also be used inside most disposable bottles, so you don’t have to change bags or lose precious milk. As recently as five years ago, milk storage bags were available primarily on the internet. In 2008, they can easily be found in most local pharmacies.
If you plan to pump and store a significant amount of milk before you return to work, you may need a small deep freezer for two reasons. First, you may run out of room in your regular freezer to store frozen breast milk. Second, frozen milk can be stored for much longer in deep freeze than in a regular freezer. Milk can be stored at room temperature for four hours, in the refrigerator for five to seven days, in a self-contained refrigerator-freezer unit for three months, and in deep-freeze for six to twelve months. You should never refreeze thawed breast milk.