By Angela Grant Buechner (December 13, 2022)

woman holding baby while working on computer in kitchen

The end of maternity leave is an emotional time that often brings on a mixture of sadness and relief. So much has happened over the past year, and as your baby’s first birthday and your return to work approaches, some important questions may come up for you, like:

  • Do I need an elaborate theme for a Pinterest-worthy 1st birthday?
  • Will any of my pre-pregnancy work clothes ever fit the same?
  • Do I have to stop breastfeeding if I’m going back to work?

My answer to all of the above questions is no, you do not.

One of the most common questions I get as a lactation consultant is,“How do I prepare for going back to work if I’m breastfeeding?”

In Canada, with 12 to 18-month maternity leaves, there is time to establish breastfeeding in the early weeks and months. We also go through very different phases and many babies have never had a need to drink from a bottle.

Many people think that it’s expected that they will just stop at a year because they’re going back to work (and we’ll talk about how to approach that if it’s your choice) but MANY parents decide to continue breastfeeding once or twice per day or more, even if they are going back to work full time.

Breastfeeding an older baby is very different from breastfeeding a newborn. Often, many day-to-day things are intertwined with breastfeeding, including nap time, meal time as well as the need for comfort and for connection. Many moms don’t know that they can absolutely continue to breastfeed, even if they also want to make sure that baby can drink from a bottle, sippy cup or straw. Full-time work and daycare is compatible with breastfeeding.

Here are five tips to help make the transition to full-time work while breastfeeding easier on both you and your baby:

1. Figure out YOUR perfect plan.

What would your ideal scenario for nursing/pumping/bottle/cup/weaning be?

There are many ways to continue breastfeeding even if you are going back to work full-time. Some people breastfeed first thing in the morning, right when they pick up baby or get home, or at bedtime. Some babies will nurse once overnight or in the early morning instead, and some will do any combination of these. There is no one correct way, so think about what will work for you and your baby.

2. Don’t panic!

Many breastfeeders imagine they will have to plan MONTHS ahead of time for their return to work but that’s really not necessary. I typically recommend taking between four to six weeks to transition from your current breastfeeding schedule to where you want to be when you return to work – even if you want to drastically reduce the number of nursing sessions per day.

Some of my clients continue to nurse as usual right up until the first day of daycare/return to work. They may practice with a cup or bottle ahead of time so they know their baby will be comfortable taking liquids in another way. 

Recommendations show that a one-year-old child doesn’t necessarily need replacement ‘MILK’ (pumped/cow/formula, etc.) as long as they are breastfeeding two or more times per day. Water and food can be enough while you’re at work, and baby can nurse and make up for it when you’re together again. Get ready to be tackled!

3. Be ready to pump or express as needed.

If you skip a regular feed then you may become very full and uncomfortable. Pumping or hand expressing just a little bit (not to empty the breast fully) can be helpful and necessary to prevent painful engorgement and even mastitis.

If you want to maintain your milk supply, or collect and provide expressed breastmilk for baby while you’re away, then you may want to pump once or twice for 10-15 minutes, and collect as much as you can.

4. Introduce baby to another way of falling asleep.

If you nurse your baby to sleep, it may be helpful to give them a chance to learn another way of falling asleep. I never stopped nursing to sleep whenever I was home, at bedtime or on weekends, but I made sure that during the few weeks before my return to work, my babes were able to practice being rocked, walked in a baby carrier, or back rubbed to sleep.

If possible, ask your daycare provider what they are able to do for nap time, and what the usual routine is. Will they be willing to provide individual care? Rocking babies, etc? Then have another member of your family give it a try a few times. At around one year, most babies are able to figure out that when mom is here they get to breastfeed, but when dad/partner/nana/friend/caregiver is here, they get another way.

5. Know that it will get better with time.

Everyone needs time to learn something new and to adjust to a big change. Just like we can feel sad or nervous, babies will have big feelings. Nursing when we are with them can be a wonderful way to reconnect. Research shows that nursing even a couple of times per day can be very helpful for reducing illness during the transition to a new daycare situation, a benefit worth considering. Your body and your baby will adjust to the new routine.

My Parental Leave includes valuable information, guides and downloads on breastfeeding and your return to work. Plus our monthly ‘ask me anything’ expert sessions are there to address your specific questions! Get the course today.

This article was originally published on September 25, 2018 on

About the author

Owner and Founder of Nutmeg Consulting, Angela Grant Buechner, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Registered Nurse, Birth Doula and Educator, who has spent over 20 years supporting new parents and babies. Angela has worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at a major Toronto teaching hospital as a nurse for over 20 years, as a Childbirth Educator for Peel Public Health, and since 2009 as an NICU Lactation Consultant and owner of her own Private Practice. Angela is a published author of a textbook chapter on Breastfeeding Challenges in the NICU, is the current President of the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association, is a Breastfeeding Educator for Health Care Professionals, and has presented at the International Lactation Consultants Association Conference.

Angela is committed to providing practical, NON-JUDGMENTAL support to help clients reach their feeding goals, and has built a team of professionals to support parents throughout their pregnancy and early parenting journey.