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10 Tips for Pumping at Work

How working Moms keep it pumping

By Jen Garcin

It happens in a flash. Your little one is transitioning from a newborn into a baby, you have your childcare lined up, and the journey back to work is coming into focus (which can come with a lot of mixed emotions). It might feel like you just nailed down breastfeeding and now on the horizon is a whole new element in feeding your little one—pumping.

We understand how overwhelming it can be to transition into your new normal. Preparing for pumping at work ahead of time can make your return a little easier. To help, we’ve put together our top ten pumping at work tips!

Kate Dunham, picture by Kelly Callahan Photography

1. Practice Practice Practice

Even though breastfeeding is one of the most natural things on the planet, it doesn’t always come naturally to moms. From latching to positioning and everything in between, there’s a lot to learn. This is even more true when it comes to pumping. It requires practice.

Start pumping at least a month before you go back to work, even if it’s just once per day. You can pump directly after baby feeds once a day for a few minutes, or if baby is starting to sleep for longer stretches at night you can add in a pumping session before you head to bed. (If you feel like you’re producing too much milk or you never feel “empty,” you might be experiencing oversupply. Check with a lactation consultant before you start pumping).

You can save everything that you pump (even if it’s only half an ounce or ounce per session) for about four days in the fridge. If you don’t think you’ll use it within four days, freeze it right away and add it to your freezer stash where it’s good for at least six months. (Check out the Center for Disease Control’s guide to storage and preparation of breast milk for more guidance). Experts recommend building a stash of about 32oz before you return to work. This is a good full day’s worth of milk (probably even a little more unless you have a hungry baby). This stash is for your first day back to work, an extra feeding for when your baby is extra hungry or an emergency backup bottle when you spill that precious liquid gold you worked so hard for (or worse, when your partner spills it).

You can also use the milk you’re pumping to help your baby start practicing too! It’s a good idea to have different people give your baby bottles at least a month before you head back to work. This gives you time to try different types of bottles to find the right fit for your little one and it gives them time to get used to the idea that not all meals come from mom.

2. Invest in a Good Pump

Sometimes the right pump can be the difference between a two-ounce and four-ounce session. Most insurance plans will cover some or all of the cost of a breast pump, but which ones and what models are limited. There are so many options so it’s worth doing a little research to find the right fit for you. I personally went with the Spectra S1 and am very happy with it. It’s rechargeable, so I’m not tethered to a wall or outlet and it has many different modes and great suction.

There is also a lot of new technology out there, including whisper-quiet pumps such as Willow and Elvie that are cordless and slip right into your bra. These can feel way less awkward at work, because you aren’t sitting with your nipples out attached to a big contraption (but don’t worry, you’ll get used to that!). Some moms swear by these pumps, while others feel that they aren’t quite as effective as traditional ones.

Remember that the parts are just as important as the pump itself. “Make sure that your flanges are the right size,” Kate recommends. “They can hurt and affect your output if they’re too big or small. Hopefully your pump came with more than one size flange, but if it didn't, shop around and find flanges that fit—it’s worth the extra money.” (Here’s a flange sizing guide if you’re not sure how they should fit). For comfort, you can also try some lubricant around the rim for fit and to combat friction. Lanolin and coconut oil are safe bets so long as you and baby aren’t allergic to any ingredients.

3. Plan Your Schedule

The best time to pump is when your baby would normally nurse. This is typically every 3-4 hours for most moms, or 2-3 times per day if you work a 9-to-5 job. If you have a long commute, getting to work 15-20 minutes early for a quick pumping session might relieve some fullness.

Give your boss and/or team an approximate pumping schedule and block your calendar accordingly so they know you’re unavailable during these times. “Don’t feel shy about pumping. And DON’T sacrifice your pumping time for a meeting or a task that can wait,” says Kate. “It’s natural to feel awkward talking about pumping, but the more you do it the more you (and your teammates) will get used to it. While your pumping schedule is always front and center in your mind, others will forget. Remind them that you need time and please, please take the time you need. People will understand.”

4. Know Your Rights

Hopefully your company is supportive of breastfeeding mothers returning to work, but it is never a bad idea to know your rights. Arm yourself with the law and then head straight to Human Resources if anyone tries to give you a hard time. There are federal and state laws that protect pumping mamas.

Both Massachusetts and New York have very good laws for breastfeeding employees; in New York, all employers are required to give all breastfeeding employees time and space to pump at work for up to three years after the child is born. Also, the pumping room cannot be a bathroom. In Massachusetts, employers with six or more employees must provide all breastfeeding employees with the time and space to pump. Massachusetts law stipulates that the room cannot be a bathroom and must include at a minimum, electrical outlets, a table, and a place to sit. Some states, like Alabama and Alaska, however, have no protection beyond the more-limited federal law.

5. Familiarize Yourself With Your Pumping Room

Find out where your room is and what accommodations it has; you’re going to be spending some quality time in there. If you are still pregnant and working, prepare by checking out the pumping room before you go on leave. If you’re on maternity leave, call a friend at work to scope out the room for you, or ask HR. This might end up being a good reminder for them that they need to prepare a space for you. Does the room have an outlet if you need to plug in your pump, computer, or phone? Is there a comfortable chair for you to relax in, or should you bring a pillow? Is there a desk or table to rest your pump or laptop on? Is there a sink to wash up afterwards? A refrigerator for storage? Running around looking for the room, scrambling to find a place to store your milk, or realizing that you don’t have a place to plug in your pump could lead to a hectic first day back. These are all good things to find out beforehand to remove some stress from your return.

6. Plan for Storage & Cleaning

Once you find out what is available to you in your designated pumping room, you can make a plan for how to store your milk and wash your pump parts. If there isn’t a sink in your room (or you don’t have the time), there are ways around washing your parts after every session. Kate wipes down her pump parts in between sessions with Medela’s Quick Clean Wipes. You can then store the parts in a plastic bag in the fridge or a cooler.
Kate recommends finding a great carryall bag. “The first time around, I had a pumping bag, my purse with my laptop, and a bag for my lunch. It was ridiculous. For my second baby, I’ve invested in a great backpack that was made specifically for pumping. It has space for my pump, an insulated pocket for transporting milk, a protective sleeve for my laptop, and tons of other great features. It's perfect for moms like me who commute. I'm obsessed.”

7. Dress For Success

At first pumping at work can feel like being naked at work, so dressing for success is crucial. You can also save precious pumping (and working) time by avoiding changing.

Kate recommends avoiding dresses until you feel totally comfortable. “When I came back to work after having my first daughter, I wore a dress on day one, and felt really awkward, like okay I’m just sitting here in the nude, don’t mind me. Flash forward to baby number two and I know the door locks and no one is walking in so dresses are back in the rotation.”
Our most important tip is to be able to have both hands free. I have found Kindred Bravely’s nursing and pumping bra to be great under my clothes and for holding my flanges securely in place. Kate, on the other hand, says, “Don't waste money on fancy pumping bras. My friend gave me an amazing tip—just grab a pair of scissors and cut holes in an old sports bra. Genius!”
Kate’s Pro-Tip: “Pack a towel. When you’ve completed your session and are removing all of your parts, some milk can drip off the flanges, and sometimes a little spills from the bottles. Having a towel across my lap has saved many outfits.”

8. Go For Empty

Some moms find that their supply drops significantly when they go back to work. This is likely because the pump will never be as good at extracting breast milk as your baby is. Your little one is the pro! Making sure that you pump until you are totally empty every time is extremely helpful for maintaining your supply. Try hands-on pumping, and after you remove your pump see if you can hand express a bit more into your bottles or bags.

9. Pack Snacks

Now that you’re nursing and pumping, your body is in overdrive. Make sure you stay well-fed and hydrated. This is key for healthy breastfeeding and successful pumping. “I found myself getting lightheaded when I started pumping,” shares Kate. “I now make sure to have at least a handful of almonds and a glass of water on hand. It’s really helped with making me feel better and helps with my supply as well.”

Try stocking the mother’s room, your desk, or your carry-all bag with some of your favorite snacks and drinks. I love little boxes of coconut water and PowerBars. But if Oreos are more your thing, enjoy!

10. Find Ways to Relax

The worst possible thing you can tell anyone, but especially a new mom, is to just relax. However, we’re going to say it this one time, because stress really can hinder your milk production and body’s ability to release milk. Kate says, “I know this sounds weird, but pumping is a very primal process. Hooking up to your pump and then diving into work is not going to help you produce milk. Bring pictures and videos of your baby to look at and watch while you’re pumping. This can help you relax, smile, and get your milk going!”

I also liked using a meditation app or enjoying a playlist of my favorite music. On days when I was really exhausted, I would set a timer to go off at the end of my pump session and close my eyes.

Pumping, like many other mom things, is not easy! Do your best to relax and take everything in stride. You got this!

Jen Garcin is a proud mom of a human baby and two kittens. She had an exciting and fulfilling career in criminal justice reform before transitioning to her favorite job ever, being a mom to her daughter & boss, Eloise. Jen is passionate about all issues related to motherhood, social justice, and works as a freelance writer and marketing consulting. She is also a certified yoga instructor, is super active in her local community, and hosts a monthly cookbook club.

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