Breastfeeding can be a challenge for working moms. Read everything you need to know about pumping at work and maintaining your supply.
I have yet to meet a mom who loves pumping at work.
Breastfeeding already comes with its own challenges—trying to keep milk supply up when we’re away from home and the baby is hard.
We’re also transitioning back to the workplace after a difficult few months with the baby. It’s not always easy to get away from your desk to pump milk multiple times during a work day. And sometimes, we don’t have a private space to pump, succumbing to pumping in the bathroom or the car.
Still, it’s possible.
I was able to meet my goal of pumping at work until my babies turned a year old. Fellow moms at work were also able to express milk for their babies.
What you need to know about pumping at work
The key is to come prepared before you return to work after maternity leave or even during your pregnancy. Don’t let coming back to work deter you from meeting your breastfeeding goals.
Even if not exactly a favorite task, pumping at work is possible with these simple hacks:
1. Contact your boss or HR before your first day back
Finding the pumping room or building a makeshift area shouldn’t fall on your shoulders, especially on your first day back. Instead, call your supervisor or human resources department a few days before your return to ask about the arrangements in place.
I emailed my HR staff one week before returning to ask about leaving a key to the pumping room on my desk so I have access as soon as I needed it. I also called another employee who also pumped, which helped me get a better sense of what to expect.
If your work is setting up a lactation room for you, ask for a:
- Small refrigerator
- Extension cord plugged into an outlet
- Table and comfortable chair
- Folding screen near the door to prevent a possible intrusion (even with a lock)
- Computer and phone if you prefer to work while pumping
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2. Pack the essentials
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There’s nothing worse than going to work and realizing you’d forgotten to pack something. Keep a list of these essential items to bring:
- Your pump. Carry your breast pump in a proper container so it doesn’t break. You wouldn’t carry your laptop in a flimsy tote bag, so don’t subject your pump to a light-weight bag either. Mine came in a huge suitcase so big someone thought I was carrying a light box (but hey, at least it was well-protected).
- The pump parts. If you use Medela like I did, bring a few of these white membranes and leave them at work. Some of mine had torn, and thankfully my husband bought new ones at the store and dropped them off at work for me.
- Bottles or milk storage bags. Bring enough for all your pump sessions. You might even want to keep a box of storage bags at work so you have one less thing to bring. I prefer storage bags over bottles since they’re more compact to travel with and make for an easy freezer stash.
- Ice pack and insulated bottle bag. While you’re at work, you can store the milk in a fridge, but you’ll need a way to keep it cool during your commute. The milk can stay at room temperature for a limited amount of time, after all. Keep your milk fresh by packing an ice pack and storing the bottles in a cooler bag.
- Hands-free pumping bra. This was one of those “How did I live without this before?” purchases. I used to rely on my nursing tops or bras to keep the pumps in place, but this hands-free bra is much more convenient.
- Breast pads. These will help you avoid possible leaks when you’re not pumping.
- A breastfeeding cover. Bring a breastfeeding cover or a large receiving blanket. You never know if someone might accidentally walk in, or if you have to share the room with another mom.
- A smart phone, book, or magazine. If you don’t plan to rest or work while you’re pumping at work, bring some form of entertainment. You can also use your phone to set a timer or look at photos or videos of your baby while you pump.
3. Pump efficiently
One of the biggest downfalls of pumping at work is how time-consuming it can be. With a busy schedule and coworkers to talk to, working moms can find it difficult to squeeze in pumping sessions. Here are a few tips to make that time more efficient:
- Treat your pumping sessions as work commitments. Schedule time blocks on your calendar and treat it like any other meeting. Refer to these sessions as commitments if people ask if you’re available at this time.
- Save time and use a double pump. Whether you rent or buy, get a double pump—this will halve the time you spend pumping at work. I made the mistake of using a single pump at first, which doubled the time I needed to pump than had I gotten a double to begin with.
Tip: If you only have a single pump, maximize milk flow and time by alternating between breasts. Instead of pumping 20 minutes on one breast then another 20 on the other, start with one and continue pumping until milk slows down. Then switch to the other and do the same.
4. Keep your supply up
Pumping moms swear by many methods on increasing and maintaining your pump supply.
Eating oatmeal and drinking Mother’s Milk Tea in addition to a lot of water are some of the methods I used. Consume enough calories to produce milk. An extra 500 calories a day is best (or 1,000 for twin moms like me).
And pump at least 20 minutes for each breast, even if milk flow stops towards the end. Pumping—even if no milk comes out—signals to the body to produce more.
5. Stick to your nursing schedule
How often should you pump at work? Pump as often as your baby would nurse. If she feeds three times while you’re gone, schedule in three pumping sessions while you’re apart.
And try to pump at the same times she would be nursing with you. You’ll have about the same amount of ounces to supply for the next day. Your schedule also remains the same—come the weekend, your body will continue to produce milk and nurse at about the same times.
I felt giddy the last day I had to lug my pump to work, and no wonder—it can be a hassle to schedule in pumping at work.
Still, with discipline and preparation, pumping at work can also be a rewarding experience. You’re saving a lot of money, getting a reasonable break time, and reaching your goals to give your baby breast milk.
With the guidelines above, you’ll develop routines and habits to make pumping at work smooth and successful.
Get more tips:
- The “How Do You Do It” Working Moms Guide
- Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Pumping at Work
- How to Spend Time with Your Kids when You Work Long Hours
- 6 Ways Dads Can Support Breastfeeding Moms
- 12 Breastfeeding Secrets Every Mom Should Know
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab Time Management Strategies for the Overwhelmed Mom below—at no cost to you: