Question: I went back to work when my baby boy was 3 months old. He is now 6 months old, and just starting to eat solid food. He still nurses several times a day, especially at night. I’ve been pumping at work twice a day to maintain my milk supply, and so far, I haven’t had to supplement with formula. He has been getting bottles from his caregiver for several months now, and has had no problem with nipple confusion.
I just found out that I have to go on a business trip 2 months from now. He will be 8 months old, and I plan to nurse him for at least a year or two. I have to be away for several days, and I’m afraid that my supply will decrease and that he’ll wean himself while I’m gone.
I don’t know whether I’ll have the time or place to pump while I’m away. Do you think I’ll be able to resume breastfeeding when I return from my trip?
Answer: It is going to be very difficult to maintain your milk supply so that you have the option of nursing your baby when you return from your trip unless you pump at least a few times while you are gone. If you were only going to be away for a day, it would be a little different.
As a rule of thumb, babies younger than 9-12 months will almost always start nursing again after a separation of a few days. Older babies who are mobile and eating a lot of solid foods will sometimes self wean during an extended absence, but others will pick up right where they left off.
A lot depends on how often your baby is nursing when you leave, as well as how much milk you have. If you have a good supply of milk and your baby is still nursing often when you leave for your trip, then you stand a chance of getting plugged ducts and possibly a breast infection if don’t remove any milk from your breasts for several days, so it’s important that you pump and empty your breasts as often as you can.
Unless you wean him completely before your trip then you will need to pump some while you are gone, even if you use a hand pump or manual expression just a few times a day, or whenever your breasts become engorged and uncomfortable. If you absolutely can’t use an electric pump while you are away, then you could at try manually expressing and discarding the milk a few times a day.
If your baby is still nursing often when you leave, then there is a good chance that he will resume once you return, as long as there is some milk there for him. Your supply will drop during the time you are gone if you are only pumping minimally, but if your baby decides to keep nursing when you return, then it will build up quickly again.
I hope that you can find out a way to pump at least a little while you are gone, and that your baby decides to keep nursing when you return. It sounds as though you are committed to giving him breast milk for as long as possible, and there are so many advantages to extended breastfeeding that it is well worth to effort to maintain your supply as much as you can while you’re gone.
BTW, when you said you were going to nurse for a year or two? I’ve nursed six babies, and they all weaned when they were ready. The three oldest (all thumb suckers) weaned themselves by the time they were a year old. The youngest three nursed from 2 1/2 to 5 years.
Believe me, there is no way to make a baby nurse if they decide they’re done. I hope you reach your goal of continuing to nurse for years, but don’t be too disappointed if your little one has different plans.
He’s the boss!
Anne Smith, IBCLC