Planning for Separations from Your Baby

picture of pumping room makeover

As a new mom, being consistently, physically close to your baby is needed for bonding and to establish and maintain a sufficient milk supply. That said, there may be times that you need to be away from your little one. Time apart might be for work, weddings, date nights, health care visits, exercise, errands, or time for yourself. You may feel a range of feelings about separating from your baby. It is normal to feel anxious and sad about this time as well as excited and happy.

Baby’s Readiness for Separation

Babies have strong emotional and physical needs for their mothers. Babies also need stability from their caregivers. If separation is planned, introducing your baby to the selected caregiver as soon after birth as possible can help ensure that baby can develop a trust with the caregiver which will ease stress for baby during the periods of separation. 


Mother’s Readiness for Separation

It’s important to check in with how you feel about both occasional and consistent separations. 


Occasional Separations

  • The opportunity to leave home and do personal activities by yourself or with loved ones may reenergize you. The end result might be that you have more patience for and ability to focus on your baby.
  • On the other hand, if you feel a sense of dread about your separation from baby, talk to a friend and share your feelings. Acknowledging your feelings out loud can help you move forward. Other times, saying it out loud may make it clear you need to think through other options. Know that it is okay to prioritize your baby. It does not make you any less of a friend, co-worker or spouse, just a mom who loves her baby and wants the best for your family.


Consistent Separations

  • Before going on maternity leave, you may have decided you were going to go back to work full-time, but now that you are postpartum, you may feel worried and stressed about being a breastfeeding, working mom. It’s normal to wonder after parental leave how you are going to manage both work and home life and also if there will be enough time at work to pump. Many moms also rethink their work arrangement altogether and opt for part time or remote options or not to work at all. Planning financially for all eventualities can take stress off the family and allow mom to make a decision that works best for everyone.

Preparing for Separations

You may have different needs based on the circumstances of your separation. If you are away once in a while, prep time and equipment might be different than if you return to work full-time or have other regular long absences. Below are a few tips to help you in making this time smoother for you and your baby.


Occasional Separations

Short separations, up to 3 to 4 hours based on your baby’s feeding schedule, may not require you to have pumped milk available for baby’s caregiver. You’ll know your baby’s feeding patterns and what he or she might be able to tolerate when waiting for your return. If you feel that a feeding of pumped milk will be required or if you are separated for more than 3 or 4 hours, you should plan to provide your baby’s caregiver access to your pumped milk. 


If you plan to miss a feeding while separated from your baby, it is important to express your milk while you are apart to prevent engorgement and inflammation of your breast tissue.  


Consistent Separations

Before going on maternity leave, you should try to identify a separation schedule and new routine that will be most compatible for your milk supply, work requirements, and your baby’s needs. Each mom’s circumstance is different so her separation solutions will be different too. Here are some suggestions:


1. Finding Your Pump: Some pumps have personal pump preferences, such as a pump app to record milk output. Research to find the features that would be most helpful during separation.


    • Learn what your privacy level will be while pumping. Will you have a private space to pump, will you be using a company lactation room, or will you have no privacy? Wearable pumps might be preferable if there is no privacy at all. Your pump rep can help talk you through scenarios to help you decide which pump is best for your location.
    • For a shorter workday or remote work when you can sometimes break to be with baby (5 or less hours away from baby), you may only need a standard pump with minimal features to have on hand for the occasional use. For a longer workday (6 or more hours), you should expect to pump once every 2-3 hours, and you will need an efficient pump with features that are important to you. Some pumps in this category require supplemental payment.
    • For a long commute, a pump with a rechargeable battery and/or battery pack to pump in the car or train might be essential. Choose the pump that meets most of your needs, fits your life, and is within your insurance plan and budget.


2. Talk with Your Supervisor:  Chat with your boss about how you want to pump at work and how your work place can help you with your goals. Specifically, let your boss know if your overall schedule needs to change to accommodate your new duties as a parent. Tell your boss your anticipated pump schedule and the needs you have for your pump break times. Ask what the lactation spaces contain (e.g., sink, privacy screen, fridge) and where the nearest lactation space is.


Talk with a friend who has pumped at work about what helped and what did not. There are state1 and federal laws2 that protect moms' workplace lactation rights including the right to have a safe and private space to pump milk that is not in a restroom. If you have to travel for work, please check out the information for traveling while breastfeeding with or without your baby. Communication is important during this time. Set expectations and set boundaries with your boss when you come back to work, so everyone has clear expectations of what you are able and willing to do.


3. Preparing for Childcare: Talk with your childcare provider about the fact you will be providing breast milk for your baby. Create a feeding log for caregiver to use. Practice using your pump before returning to work so you know how to put the pump together and how it works. Prepare a several day frozen milk before your first day back to work to store for emergencies and a one day supply of refrigerated milk to give to your childcare provider on the first day. 


Before going back to work, give your baby a bottle of your milk so they can practice. It is recommended that direct breastfeeding be well-established before offering a bottle.4 Your baby may like to be fed with a bottle from someone other than you. When you pick up your baby and it is their time to eat, you can feed them at the childcare home or center before going home.


4. Part-time or Full-time: Not everyone has the option to go back to work part-time or have a flexible work schedule, but for some new moms it might help to go back to work two to three days a week for a few weeks to allow for a smooth transition. Talk with your boss before returning from maternity leave about your options when going back to work (e.g., flexible hours, working virtually at home, job share options). Plan your first day back for mid-week (e.g., Wednesday or Thursday) as this can help for a smooth time as there will be less days away from your baby.


5. Test Runs: Returning back to work will come with a whole new set of to-do’s (e.g., where is the diaper bag?) before you get out the door. The first day you go back to work should not be the first day you drop-off your baby at a new daycare or childcare facility, or leave them at home with a new caregiver or babysitter. Having a few test runs will allow some practice time so everyone gets as comfortable as possible with the new schedule. 


6. Support: Support during this time from your partner, family, friends, and coworkers is important. Ask for help as you prepare to return to work. Check to see if your workplace offers any resources for new parents. Join an online support group, or a new mom or parent group. Research has shown breastfeeding, American moms who have supportive partners and supportive communities feel more confident in their ability to provide milk to their babies.


What If I Have Questions?


Being away from your baby can be a scary and exciting time. Our Aeroflow Breastpumps Specialists can help you determine the best pump for you based on your needs and your health insurance plan. Please visit us today so we can help. If you are interested in learning more about how to prepare for your time away from your baby - short or long, you can schedule a one-on-one appointment with an Aeroflow lactation consultant here


Aeroflow Breastpumps has partnered with Canopie, an app that offers mental health support for new mothers by providing evidence-based programs to prevent and address symptoms of anxiety and depression in expecting and new mothers on a digital platform. If you experience any elevated anxiety or depressive symptoms while managing your separations from your baby, it is very important you contact your trusted healthcare provider to get the help you need.


About the Author

Dr. Alena Clark is the Clinical Writer for Aeroflow Healthcare Lactation and an Instructor at Colorado State University, and has worked in lactation support for over 20 years. She is recognized as an outstanding educator and leader in lactation support in Colorado. She  developed the Toolkit for Establishing Lactation Support on University and College Campuses. She also wrote, published, and presented multiple papers on lactation support and nutrition education.

Information provided in blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical care or consultation.