How to Pump Breast Milk at Work: 12 Tips to Make it Possible

Returning to work after maternity leave – no matter how long or how short – can be difficult for any mother. Transitioning to a routine where you are away from your baby for long periods of time can be emotionally, mentally and physically straining. There is so much to consider, including BREASTMILK! Whether you are looking forward to going back to the office or having hesitations, I hope this post will help relieve the “how to breast pump at work” question!

As a mother who works outside the home myself, I found that after the first few weeks I adjusted well back into the world of adults/work and figured out my routine pretty happily. That doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful or painful some days or weeks to run a busy household and miss my children- but overall I am happy to be working and love my job. I think I am setting a good example for my children and providing for them financially the best I can. Alas, the first time I went back to work, one of my biggest stresses was how I was going to PUMP at work. What, what, how?! I know that experiences and access to privacy, appropriate breaks and equipment differs across the board – but here are my personal takeaways:

1. Seek to Understand Your Pump Space

With my first born, I had the luxury when I returned to work to utilize a “mother’s room” which was a lockable, dedicated, small, private room in my department. Amazing! It had a sink, mini-fridge and a chair! I know how lucky I was because lots of mothers do not have such a thing. I have plenty of friends who were forced to pump standing up in dark storage closets, in the parking lot in their car, in bathrooms and even one who draped their cubicle with a sheet to pump twice a day. On social media, I’ve seen the viral posts about mothers running a small store solo and forced to close the business doors so they could break to pump or others crammed under their desk.

Honestly, the modern workplace is still not modern enough. Keeping up to speed with the needs of professional, working (and nursing) mothers returning to their positions is not something we as a society have been excelling at. That for another time.

For the time-being, let’s concentrate on what is possible. Reach out to your manage/HR department before returning to work to understand the space/place you’ll be able to pump. Is there already a “mother’s room”? Is there another space they can offer you? Is there a way to make your own office private? If you travel for work, drive around for sales, or otherwise work in a location or job that doesn’t have a space for you – understand your options. Your car when out doing sales calls? Airport nursing pods? Is there a mother friendly space near by like The Wing, The Wonder or more?

Do your research on what your city, state and company is required to provide. The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding mothers at work. However, this law varies for the size of the company, etc. Talk to your Human Resources/Manager before returning to work and ensure there will be both space and time for you to attend to your pumping needs.

2. Get Your Pump Ready to Commute

Figure out the best way to carry your pump easily to and from work. Your pump may have come with a bag that works well, but may be not. I used a Baggu for all my stuff, and a tupperware container (more below on that). Do you have a spare power cord to keep at work for your pump? Do you require any new accessories like a converter for powering it up in the car for your commute? Does your pump need batteries? Can you afford spare parts to make life easier?

Critical: Write down a small checklist of things to have in the bag every morning before you walk out the door! I can’t tell you the tears I cried getting to work and realizing I left the tubes, or silicone flaps, or bottle tops, at home.

3. Bring Your Privacy With You

If you aren’t sure what the set-up is going to be like, or you already know it won’t be that great – throw in a cover-up (scarf or lightweight swaddle) to drape around you. At least if someone walks in, you won’t be forever embarrassed about your co-worker getting a grand view of your pumping in all its glory.

4. Keep it Cool

Check out Packit Freezable Lunch boxes or other insulated bottle-friendly totes that you can pack with reusable ice packs. Even if you have access to a fridge, you’ll need a way to bring your pumped milk home and keep it cold during the commute. I tended to put my pumped milk into my bottle tote (with freezer packs) and then place it in the fridge, grabbing it quickly on my way home with everything still (really) cold! It protected my milk bottles from other people touching them (in the communal fridge) and made it easy to pack-up at the end of the day.

5. Keeping it Clean Between Uses

If you have easy access to a clean and efficient sink and drying space after pumping – great! Bring extra bottle soap and bottle brush to have at work. If you need to pump more than once a day at work and won’t have immediate access to appropriate gear/space to wash and store your pump parts between sessions there are three ways to handle it:

  1. Try the pump wipes
  2. Use microsteaming bags
  3. Tupperware. I used the big square one in this set religiously. I am sure it would be easy to find other perfect ones at your local Target, Walmart, or Bed Bath & Beyond. You just need to make sure your pump gear fits in well. I also could fit in at least one of my bottles (i.e. I would combine my milk into one bottle after pumping and then keep the second bottle cold for the next session). I stuck the entire tupperware of pump gear into the back of the fridge at work between sessions – pumped again with the same used gear- and then washed the whole thing at night when I got home.

**Disclaimer: All of the suggestions above should be followed with direction from your doctor or lactationist specialist. Milk safety is critical and personal. The decisions you make about safely storing and handling your milk and supplies should be made by YOU and the professionals in your world.**

6. Pack A Bag

Pick your “pumping bag” and make sure you have a LIST of everything that belongs in it each day! You will fully regret the day you forget something key!

7. Be Kind to Yourself: Breast Care

If you haven’t had to worry about nursing pads during your nursing days, you are lucky! I experienced so many leaks, oof. If you don’t have nursing pads already, invest in some! You’ll want to start wearing them at work to guard against leaks now that you don’t have a baby that nurses on-demand and gaps between pump sessions could get longer than you anticipate. I also really, really, recommend to use a little tiny dab of nipple cream for pumping to cut down on the painful friction chafing lots of pumping can cause. Earth Mama carries my FAVORITE kind.

8. Assess Your Attire

If you are going down the pumping route – especially at work – you’ll really want a hands-free pump bra that can double as a nursing bra. My favorite kind was this, but there are plenty of options. Try to pick something comfortable and preferably with straps. I did not like the strapless kind because I couldn’t wear this bra under my shirt so had to undress, remove my bra, put on a new bra, pump and then put back on my other bra, and get dressed again – ugh.

Save some time to inventory your wardrobe for what is going to work best for pumping at the office. Things that lift easily or button down make life much easier – than you can just move clothing aside instead of dressing and redressing to save time and effort.

9. Earbuds

Make sure you have a good set of earbuds or headphones. This will make dialing into calls at work much, much more efficient. If you’re not dialing into anything – listening to music helps pass the time while you type.

10. Understand Your Schedule

Once you return to work, you’ll be on a totally new schedule and so will your baby. Start dreaming up when you will nurse at home, get ready for work, and the time slots you’ll be able to pump at work. Consider if you’ll pump at home after work or simply nurse then.

Talk to your childcare providers about the baby’s feeding schedule so that they don’t give bottles prior to you returning to your children ready/eager to nurse.

Try to keep a consistent (as possible) schedule for pumping and nursing day-to-day and do your best to wean off too many night sessions once you return to the office. Hopefully the timing works out that you baby holds on to more milk in his/her tummy and sleeps a little longer at night!

11. Talk to a Professional

If your supply starts dipping once you return to work, talk to a lactation specialist for suggestions on bringing your milk supply back-up. They may suggest things like power-pumping at home, taking supplements, or changing your diet. Kelly Mom is a fantastic online resources.

12. Be Good to Mama

Pumping is a super hard job. It takes a lot of time, commitment, work and can feel overwhelming. You should do whatever is best for YOU and your baby. If that means weaning from breastmilk earlier than you thought – don’t be hard in yourself. Fed is best. Talk to your doctor, your child’s doctor and your spouse as you make decisions best for your family. See my post here about our journey to formula.

Summary: Things you’ll need to pump at work

  • Pump
  • Pump Accessories (tubes, flanges, power cord, batteries, etc. etc. as applicable)
  • Clean bottles or milk storage bags
  • If you use milk storage bags – add the attachment accessory that comes in the box to all of your necessary accessories!
  • Clean bottle lids (if using bottles and not bags)
  • Insulated tote with ice packs or freezable lunchbox
  • Nipple Pads
  • Nipple Cream
  • Pump Wipes, Micro Steaming bags or tupperware/ large reusable ziplock bag

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