Going back to work after having a baby can be nerve wracking for parents, especially if you plan to continue breastfeeding, and will therefore be pumping at work. You want to keep breastfeeding for the bonding and nutritional benefits it provides your child, but there’s a bit of logistical and schedule wrangling that needs to occur to keep your supply steady.
Pumping at work doesn’t need to be a source of stress for new moms. We’ve put together pumping at work tips, so you can plan ahead and have a successful transition back to work.
Read on to learn:
- How to prepare for pumping at work before you go back to the office
- How to schedule pumping at work
- How to make sure you have enough milk
- What the best pumping at work schedule is
- How to make pumping at work easier
Preparing for pumping at work
Before going back to work, you want to make sure that you're comfortable operating your breast pump and that you and the little one are ready for the change.
A breastfed baby needs time to transition to drinking from the bottle. A few weeks before returning to work, start with introducing pumping and bottle feeding. Have your spouse or other caregiver start bottle feeding, replacing a feeding a day with the bottle. Don’t worry about “nipple confusion” – as long as you’re not bottle feeding sooner than three weeks, your child will easily switch between breast and bottle. That being said, have your spouse or caregiver be the one bottle feeding. This eases the transition, as your baby is more likely to resist the bottle if your breast is close by. It also gives your spouse the chance to bond with your baby through feeding. Of course if you’re exclusively pumping, the transition to pumping at work might be smoother.
Another thing you can do before your maternity leave ends is establish an extra supply of frozen breastmilk. You can either use the pump or manually catch the letdown from the breast your child isn’t feeding from. Having an extra supply of breastmilk will go a long way in easing your mind.
Make sure you’re well acquainted with how your pump works and how to clean all the parts. The last thing you want on your first day back at work is to struggle with getting the pump to work. Getting familiar with the pump before going back to work will also go a long way in getting your body used to expressing milk in this way.
Lastly, try to establish if you have any breastfeeding opportunities when picking up and dropping your child off at daycare. This will reduce the stress of leaving your baby in the morning, as well as the rush to get home in the evening to breastfeed.
How to pump at work
These pumping at work hacks will help your transition to work go that much more smoothly.
What you need to bring to pump at work
Setting yourself up for success starts with making sure you have everything you need.
You’ll need to of course bring your pump. A double electric breast pump, like the Medela, is highly recommended. Not only does it cut down on pumping time because it pumps both sides simultaneously, you’ll produce milk that’s higher in energy-rich fat. You may want to opt for a hands-free pumping bra for ultimate convenience. You can get most pumps on Amazon without ever leaving your house.
Double breast pumps can run upwards of $200, but oftentimes your insurance can cover the cost. Another option is to rent a hospital-grade pump, which runs about $30-$60 a month. Investing in a double breast pump pays off in the long run because it cuts down the time it takes to pump (which adds up if that time is unpaid), and is less expensive than formula.
You’ll also need milk storage bags and a cooler with ice to transport your milk to and from work. Carrying extra pump parts like flanges is a good idea, too, as it can cut down on the time you spend cleaning parts at work.
Leaking does happen, so some extra breast pads and an extra shirt can be useful. It’s also a good idea to wear comfortable clothing for easy pumping access. For days when that’s not possible, throw an extra shawl or scarf into your bag in case you want some extra coverage.
Finding a place to pump at work
The Fair Labor Standards Act requires your employer to provide a private space for nursing mothers to express milk. This room cannot be a bathroom, and it has to provide for breastfeeding mothers privacy from other coworkers and the public — as well as a chair, an outlet, and a small table on which you can put the pump. That being said, your employer may not be aware of this obligation or might’ve never had to figure out the logistics of a pumping room in the office.
Communicate with your boss and HR before returning to work to ensure that you have a space to pump, and to set expectations for low long and often you will be pumping. Will you be pumping throughout your child’s first year, or just the first few months? Remember: pumping is not a job perk or negotiable break time. Pumping at work laws dictate that pumping breast milk at work is your right, and no one can deny you the time and space to do so. You also are not obligated to work during the time you are pumping.
Where to store your milk
Another detail to iron out is where to store your breastmilk. You need to refrigerate breastmilk to keep it safe to consume. Can you store your milk in the shared fridge? If so, make sure to clearly label the milk. If your space allows, you can also think about investing in a small, personal beverage fridge to keep at your desk. The bonus is that when you’re done breastfeeding, you’ll have your own fridge to keep drinks and snacks in! If you don’t have access to any refrigerator, then be prepared to store your milk in a cooler, and ensure that you have plenty of ice packs to keep it cold throughout the day.
Pumping at work tips
What should you do while pumping? It’s entirely up to you. Some people prefer to check emails or continue working while pumping, and others need to relax. It’s important to not plan on being productive during pumping sessions, because the most important thing is that you’re able to pump to provide food for your baby.
If you’re having trouble getting a steady milk flow, try some simple relaxation techniques, like closing your eyes and breathing for a few minutes, or a short meditation session. Another thing that can help with letdown is to look at pictures or videos of your baby, or sniff a shirt that your baby recently wore. Your body will use these stimuli to release milk, thinking your baby is near.
The good news is that the gentle whirring of the pump often encourages letdown, and once you establish a routine it will get easier to get into the flow of things.
After pumping, you should clean the pump and all its parts. When pumping at work how often should you clean your pump parts? The CDC recommendation is to fully clean every single pump part with warm soapy water (in a wash basin separate from the sink for sanitary purposes) and then fully air dry each part before storing. It’s not always possible, however, to fully commandeer the office kitchen to lay out all of your pumping parts. If your pump parts are dishwasher-safe and there’s a dishwasher for you to use, then that can be a great option.
Some people have a full set of pump parts for each session, and clean them all once they get home. There are also special pump wipes you can use to quickly wipe down parts, or you can refrigerate the parts until you can get home and clean them thoroughly. Whatever method you use to clean your pump parts, make sure to factor in cleaning time when setting aside time to pump.
It’s important that when you’re pumping at work you keep well hydrated and make sure to eat plenty of snacks. Lactation takes a toll on the body, and it’s important that you nourish yourself so you can nourish your baby.
Our top tip for pumping at work?: Be kind to yourself. Working full time while also raising a child and breastfeeding is an amazing accomplishment. It’s okay if you struggle a little bit at first.
What is the best pumping at work schedule?
As a breastfeeding mom, you know that milk production is all about supply and demand. The best pumping at work schedule is one that allows your milk supply to stay steady. That changes according to your body and what your baby needs, both of which evolve over time.
It’s important not to wait until you’re experiencing prolonged engorgement or excessive leaking to pump. Once the breasts are engorged, the body will cut down milk production, which can have a lasting effect on your milk supply. To keep your supply up, it’s important to pump regularly and avoid engorgement.
How many pumping breaks at work should you take? A good rule of thumb is to pump as often as, and according to, your baby’s feeding schedule. For most moms, that means pumping two to three times during an eight-hour period.This is typically every 3 hours for babies under 6 months, twice during the workday for 6-10 month olds, and once during the work day for over 10 month olds. Pumping when your child would usually breastfeed will go a long way in ensuring a steady supply of milk, and successful breastfeeding during the weekend and nights.
Plan for each pumping session to take 20-30 minutes, which includes the time you need to relax for letdown to occur, and time to clean the pump afterwards. Remember: your pumping schedule is non-negotiable. If you are not given adequate time to pump according to your body’s schedule, you risk losing your milk supply.
Reach out to your colleagues and see if anyone else is pumping at work. It can be incredibly validating to have a “pumping buddy” for support. If there are any other pumping moms, see if you can line up your pumping schedules. You never know what kind of friendships or even collaboration can occur in the pumping room. This can be especially helpful if you can’t take a separate lunch break, as it can provide some socializing during lunch even if you can’t take the full hour.
The last thing you want is for someone to schedule a meeting during your pumping time. Clockwise automates you and your team’s schedule, so you can ensure you’re given the time you need. Focus Time is a block of uninterrupted time during which no one can schedule meetings. We recommend that your Focus Time block start when you need to pump. Pumping at the start of Focus Time is ideal, because the time you take to pump can help trigger some ideas, and you can be more productive during the rest of your Focus Time knowing that pumping is out of the way. To protect your pumping time, mark your other meetings as flexible with Clockwise. We'll move any conflicting meetings marked flexible to the least-interruptive time for you and your team while respecting everyone's preferences.
Another way you can protect your pumping time is by blocking off pumping breaks on your shared calendar. You can label that time as “private time” if you’d rather your team not know that you’re pumping during that time. Clockwise integrates with Slack to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb mode so you’re not constantly hearing the pings of Slack messages while you’re pumping.
Here’s a sample pumping schedule for a nine hour shift, so you can get an idea for how to squeeze pumping time into your work schedule. Keep in mind that every person is different, so be sure to adapt it to your own needs!
Sample pumping schedule for nine hour days:
7:30 am Breastfeed at daycare
8-10 am Meetings
10-10:30 am 1st pumping session
10:30am-12:30 pm Focus Time
12:30-1:30 pm Lunch and 2nd pumping session
1:30-3 pm Meetings
3-3:30 pm 3rd pumping session
3:30-5 pm Focus Time
5 pm Pick up baby and breastfeed
How much breastmilk should you pump at work?
How much milk you pump will ultimately depend on your milk supply and your baby’s age. The important thing to remember is not to expect to express as much milk as when your baby is breastfeeding. This is completely normal and not a cause for concern.
That being said, .5-2 ounces of milk per pumping session is a normal amount. As you get used to pumping, you might express up to 4 ounces. If you find you’re often stressing about how much milk you’re producing, it might be helpful to focus on something other than watching the bottle fill up. Remember, your body needs to relax in order to effectively express milk, so try distracting yourself by scrolling through social media or looking at pictures of your baby to trigger oxytocin (the hormone that aids milk flow).
As you start getting used to pumping, you might produce less milk. Starting your freezer stash of milk before you go back to work will help ease your mind, knowing that you have some extra on hand. You can also use a manual pump when you’re at home to catch extra milk from the side your baby isn’t feeding on, to bolster your backup supply. If your milk supply is severely dwindling due to pumping at work, speak with a certified lactation consultant for tips on effective pumping.
Pumping at work doesn’t have to be stressful for postpartum working moms coming back to the office from maternity leave. By protecting your pumping time and preparing what you need to pump, you can find time to pump and continue to be productive at your job.
It’s important to ensure that your employer is providing you with a safe and comfortable place to pump, and that you set expectations with them about how often you’ll need to pump. By positioning your pumping time as a non-negotiable, you can be sure to continue providing nutritious breast milk for your child, and a smooth return to work.