Think you can’t breastfeed because of your work schedule and/or lack of place and time to pump, so why even bother starting? Are you ready to throw in the towel? Here is a breakdown of how to best combine breastfeeding and formula feeding to make it work for you. Remember, it is not all or nothing-any breastfeeding is better than none! How long you should breastfeed and pump is something only you can decide based on many factors, such as your work environment, schedule, possible deployments, and level of support you receive. No matter what, your attitude and commitment to breastfeeding is vitally important to whether you will be successful at breastfeeding on active duty for however long you choose to continue.
Having a goal in mind for both breastfeeding and pumping (they may differ) will help you stay determined and focused.
- Birth to Six Weeks – This is the most difficult time due to the initial hurdles of learning to breastfeed. These are the critical first few weeks that provide immunities to disease and illnesses that will last a lifetime. If nothing else, do it for these 6 weeks while on convalescent leave before making any long term decisions.
- Six Weeks to Four Months – Excellent first goal after your return to duty, breastfeeding to 4 months provides many more important health benefits. It can be really tough though due to juggling your return to duty, milk supply issues and baby’s growth spurts.
- Four to Six Months – Baby’s intake is high and some mothers experience a slump in production at this point. Check out the Supply Issues page for tips to boost your milk supply.
- Six to Nine Months – AAP recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding to realize the majority of health benefits. Baby can start solids now which eases your pumping needs.
- Nine to Twelve Months – Breastfeeding still provides nourishment but also closeness during the peak time for separation anxiety. At this point your baby is taking more solids and nursing less, further reducing the need to pump.
- Over a Year – Congratulations! You’ve made it to the recommended time by the AAP to maximize the benefits of breastfeeding for yourself and your baby. Continuing to breastfeed after this point is easy as there is no need to pump, just breastfeed when you are home until you are both ready to wean.
Combining Breastfeeding and Pumping
When deciding how long to breastfeed and pump, you also should consider how to combine breastfeeding and pumping in your workday. There is no right and wrong variation to this. Your decision will be based on the type of work you do, hours you will be away, what kind of time and place you have to pump, future deployments, and other factors. Whatever choice you make about pumping, you’ll be surprised at how fulfilling it can be to nourish your baby with your milk. The decisions you make about expressing your milk will be as individual as you, your baby, and your work environment. Here are some various ways to combine breastfeeding and active-duty work that other mothers in the military have used successfully.
- Exclusive breastfeeding: With exclusive breastfeeding, you go to your baby at daycare or your baby is brought to you during the workday. There is no pumping during the day or use of expressed breastmilk or formula while at daycare. Exclusive breastfeeding is a luxury afforded to very few active-duty mothers, as it is just not practical given the work environment and hours.
- Full breastfeeding and pumping: Full breastfeeding and pumping means you will breastfeed at home and provide pumped breastmilk to your baby while at daycare. There is no formula use at all. You will need to pump at least two to three times during an eight-hour shift, if possible; more often for longer shifts. This combination of breastfeeding and pumping is most suitable for those military mothers who can pump on a regular schedule while at work.
- Partial breastfeeding and pumping: Much like full breastfeeding and pumping, with the exception of some formula given at daycare, in addition to pumped breastmilk. Mothers in this situation pump as often as possible at work and breastfeed while at home (a single pumping session at night can also yield extra milk for the next day). This combination is most suitable for those military mothers who cannot pump very often at work due to their schedules or environment. Mothers with a small storage capacity may find that their milk supply falters without regular expression.
- Partial breastfeeding: With this combination, mothers breastfeed when at home and give formula while at daycare. There is no breast pumping or use of pumped breastmilk. This is the most practical option for those military mothers who cannot pump at work at all. It is important that breastfeeding remain unrestricted when at home to maintain a milk supply and generally only works for mothers with a large storage capacity.
- Reverse-cycle feeding: Reverse-cycle feeding is a change in some babies sleeping and nursing patterns to better reflect mom’s availability. You may find that your baby breastfeeds more in the evening and during the night, while taking fewer feedings during the day when he is separated from you. It is very normal for babies of working mothers to reverse-cycle and shows a deep, well-adjusted attachment between you both. Most often, babies do this naturally by breastfeeding much more frequently when home with mom and sleeping when they are at childcare. A nice perk of reverse-cycle feeding is that you need to pump less, or maybe even quit pumping completely. If you are finding that day after day your baby is not drinking all the pumped milk you leave with the daycare provider, you may be able to adjust your pumping schedule. By five to six months, with the addition of solids foods, you may be able to reduce pumping further or quit pumping altogether. Reverse-cycle feeding works, in part, due to the higher hormone levels at night for milk-making. So it may or may not work for those whose shifts are on nights or mids. It is important that you practice unrestricted breastfeeding when you are with your baby, and co-sleeping facilitates mom getting some sleep and letting baby nurse often during the night (see Co-Sleeping and Reverse-Cycle Feeding for more information).
Remember, when it comes to breastfeeding in the military, any breastmilk your baby receives is better than no breastmilk at all. It is OK to supplement and keep breastfeeding. It is not all or nothing. Your breastfeeding and pumping goals should be what works for you and your situation, both at home and at work. Set a goal that is doable for you, and then meet it.