This page has ideas for making your first days back on duty easier, including a typical schedule schedule for the military pumping mom, checklist for packing the right stuff and tips on how much milk to leave.
Your First Days Back
Your first days back on duty are going to be hellish. There is just no way around this fact. Remember that you are hormonally bound to this little person which makes the separation harder. Go easy on yourself and realize that there are going to be some tears for both of you.
Start with a Short Week
The first couple of days are the hardest, so try to schedule your return to work on a Thursday or Friday. This allows you a chance to get back in the swing of your new schedule and pumping at work, and learning to deal with the tiredness, emotions, and hormones for only a few days, rather than have the whole week looming ahead of you.
It is also a good idea to give it a trial run a few days before your return to full duty. Take your baby, with a bottle of expressed milk, to your caregiver and leave him for just a couple of hours the first day. Go run errands or go to the Starbucks on base and relax (remember that?) for a few hours. This gives your baby and caregiver a chance to get to know one another. And you can still be “on call” if he really isn’t handling it well. The next day you may want to leave him for a longer period of time, or even the full day, and pump on a schedule you think will mimic what you can do at work. This will give you an idea of how much milk you can express and how much your baby will take in the course of a day.
Typical Military Pumping Schedules
Because the military is such a unique work environment, there is no one-size-fits-all scenario for pumping. Returning to duty when your baby is six weeks old will require expressing milk approximately every three hours when separated. For example, during an 8-hour shift you will be separated from your baby for about 10 hours (commute, lunch break, duty). Over that 10-hour period, you should plan to express your milk at least three times. For a 12-hour shift, you’ll be separated for about 14 hours and should plan to pump at least four times. I’ve included some sample pumping scenarios that take into account the various workplace environments of the military and availability or lack of pumping breaks. I have also added in morning (pre-work) and evening (post-work) expression sessions as well as the all-important nighttime sessions. These are to assure that you have enough milk to provide for the time separated and also designed to your keep supply high. Some mothers may find that they are able to breastfeed their babies before they leave for duty/PT and again right when they get home, while others may not be able to. It is always a good idea, if possible to breastfeed at drop-off and pick-up from daycare as this lessens the amount of expressed milk you need to pump and boosts your milk supply. Once your baby is taking solids, you may be able to reduce the number of pumping sessions each day. It is easiest to begin by removing the session that is the least productive for you. All pumping sessions should empty the breast – approximately 15 minutes pumping time is usually enough. This chart is only meant to give you a general idea of how you might want to schedule your pumping sessions, you can adjust it to suit your circumstances.
Checklist for Duty
Here is a list of useful items to be sure you have in your bag.
- Breast Pump with all parts and tubing
- Extra set of flanges, tubing, membranes
- Two bottles or collection bags for each pumping session
- Extra set of bottles/collection bags
- Power supply, extension cord, batteries
- Adapter if overseas
- Hand pump
- Ice packs and tote or cooler
- Breast pads or Lily Padz©
- Cleaning supplies
- Steam bags
- Ziploc bag with water & dish soap
- Extra set of uniforms
- Hands-free bra/bustier or Pumpin Pals strap (optional)
- Baby pictures
- MP3 player or iPod with music/photos/baby’s sounds
How Much Milk Does My Baby Need?
This is tricky to answer as every mother and baby pair is different. In general, during a typical 8-12 hour day at childcare, most breastfed babies will take anywhere between 8 and 15 oz of milk. Breastfed infants consume approximately one ounce (30ml) per hour when separated from their mother from age 6 weeks until age 6 months. So, if you are separated for 8-12 hours Monday – Friday, I would recommend providing the caregiver with 8 – 15 ounces of breastmilk in small 2 oz amounts. That way very little is wasted at a time and if your baby needs more it can always be given. It is also important to review appropriate feeding cues with caregivers so breastmilk is not offered at every cry or fuss. In the long run only you and your baby can figure it out. The best guideline is to pump once for each missed feeding, see how much milk you get, and then send that amount the next day. Remember too that this is only one third to one half of the milk your infant will consume each day – the rest of your baby’s consumption should be directly from the breast when you are at home. At that time he will take what he needs when you are back together. Some infants of mothers who are on active duty will reverse cycle feed and receive the majority of their calories during the evening and night. You should be aware of this and welcome it as a fantastic method for maintaining your supply.
Here are some resources for further information on returning to work and the first few days (they are created for civilian mothers, but have good info nonetheless).