Tips for pumping at work: What you’ll need & how to get in the right frame of mind

The thought of pumping at work can seem daunting, especially if you’ve never done it before. But there are steps you can take to make it easier on yourself. (Having a job with some flexibility, a supportive boss, and a designated place to pump also helps.)

I’m currently pumping three times a day for my 6-month-old son Tucker. I pumped and breastfed for 13 months after my daughter Madelyn was born, but worked from home at the time. Pumping outside of the home, I’ve found, requires a different level of preparation and planning,

Here are some related tips to help you feel better prepared…

What you’ll need:

A space. Before going on maternity leave, let your employer know that you will need a place to pump upon your return. Having this conversation ahead of time will give you greater peace of mind going into maternity leave and will save you the hassle of trying to figure out it at the last minute.

Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act are required to provide break time for women to pump for up to one year after their child’s birth. They’re also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,” according to Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Sometimes, employers have rooms but not enough space to accommodate mothers at the times when they need to pump. If this is the case, see if there’s another room that you might be able to use. It might not have all the amenities that the designated pumping room does (i.e. a mini fridge, sink, couch, etc.) but at least you’ll be able to use it on your own time. All moms deserve a predictable, private, and comfortable place to pump.

A pump (and ideally two). Friends often ask me which breast pump they should get. I’ve only used Medela’s Pump In Style, and I highly recommend it. I’m a big fan of Medela’s products and have found their pumps to be reliable and durable.

I got this pump for free through my insurance company. Most Marketplace plans are required to provide breastfeeding equipment for pregnant and nursing women. I recommend calling your insurance company and ordering one a month or two before your due date because the pump can take a few weeks to arrive. If it’s not your first pregnancy and you already have a breast pump, order a second one. I did this when pregnant with my second baby and am so glad I did. Having two pumps means you don’t have to lug your pump to and from work every day.

Pumping on the go isn’t ideal, but some days it’s the best option.

I leave one pump in my car, along with a special car adapter. On days when I’m running late or have meetings during my typical pump times, I pump during my commute. I usually just drape a jacket over myself, and I keep my nursing cover in my car as an added alternative. Pumping while driving isn’t ideal, but it does save time and helps ensure that you don’t miss a pumping session.

I also rely heavily on my hand-held Medela pump, which I use in the early mornings. It’s super efficient and a great option for when you need to pump quickly/on the go and don’t feel like setting up your electric pump. It’s also a great option if you’re running an event or a day of meetings and don’t think you’ll have easy access to your electric pump. It’s always comforting to know you have a backup.

Two pairs of pump parts. Know where the nearest Target is in case you forget your pump parts or need new ones. I find it really helpful to have two pairs of pump parts. I use one pair during my morning pumping session and the second set during my midday pump. After the midday pump, I clean both sets of parts using these Medela wipes. Twenty four wipes come in a pack, so I only end up needing to buy one package (about $7) per month. I find it much easier to use the wipes as opposed to lugging my pump parts to the bathroom to clean them. Check the space where you’re pumping; it may have a sink, in which case you won’t need wipes.

Extra membranes. Pump parts are pretty durable, but membranes – those little white pieces that attach to the valves – are known to rip from time to time. I always keep extra ones on hand at work, just in case.

Pumping bras. When I pumped for my first child, I wore a special pumping bra that I would put on and take off every time I pumped. With my second child, I knew I needed something more practical. I bought a few Rumina bras, which act as regular bras and pumping bras, and I love them. They’re comfortable (no underwires) and they do a good job of holding the pump parts in place. I always use them with empty bottles; if you use bottles from a previous pump and they have milk in them, they’ll sag a bit in the bra and the suction won’t be as strong.

A cooler pack with four bottles. I’m often spotted roaming the halls with my Medela cooler, which I use to transport and store my milk bottles. It’s not the most attractive thing to be carrying around, but it’s relatively discreet and serves its intended purpose.

Extra milk storage bags. I keep a small stack of milk storage bags in the office where I pump in the off chance that a.) I pump a lot of milk and run out of space in the bottles that I pump into each day or b.) I have to stay at work late and need to fit in one additional pumping session. These scenarios are rare, but I’m the type of person who likes knowing I have a backup.

A pillow. During a recent pumping session, I had to call my car insurance company. The woman on the other line asked, “Do you have your windshield wipers on?” It was a funny, and somewhat off-putting, question. (Truth be told, the pump does sound like windshield wipers!)  “Nope, I’m pumping milk for my baby,” I told her. I could tell the woman was embarrassed for asking. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” she said. “More power to ya.”

In general, I try not to make work calls while pumping so that I don’t have to run into awkward encounters like this. If you need to make a call while pumping and you’re worried about the noise, put a pillow over the pump to muffle the sound. Companies that manufacture breast pumps are working to create quieter pumps, and some already have. If the noise of the pump is an issue for you, look into some of the newer, quieter ones.

A sign. Some women have to pump in rooms that don’t have locks, or that multiple people have access to. If that’s the case (and even if it’s not), put a sign outside the pumping room door. I have a simple handwritten sign that says “Room in use,” and I put it on the door every time I pump. I’ve seen some pretty creative signs online and from friends, so switch it up with a more direct message if you want or think it’s necessary. If your room doesn’t have a lock, see if it’s possible to get one.

Snacks & lots of water. As soon as you start pumping, you’ll likely feel thirsty. Drink throughout the day and have extra snacks on hand to eat in between meals. Research has shown that pumping and breastfeeding consume about 25% of your body’s energy and burns several hundred calories per day (about 20 calories per ounce of breast milk), depending on how much milk you’re producing. It’s no wonder I’m always hungry!

You need rest, too, to keep up your supply. But let’s be honest; sleep is pretty hard to come by with little one(s) at home. My son has been waking up multiple times a night to eat, meaning I get very little sleep these days and am always tired. Since I can’t control how much sleep I’m getting, I can at least try to control what I eat.

An extra shirt. At some point while you’re pumping, you’re bound to spill milk on yourself. Keep an extra cami or shirt at work for the day when this will inevitably happen. Doing so has saved me in the past.

What my countertop looks like every night! #BottlePrep

A sterilizer. Every night, I transfer my pumped milk into bottles for my son’s next-day feedings. I always pack one extra bottle, in the off chance that one of his bottles gets knocked over at daycare or I’m stuck at work late and can’t make it to daycare in time for his 5:30 p.m. feeding. (I’m fortunate to have a good enough supply to be able to pack an extra bottle each day, but realize it’s not a possibility for everyone).

After I get my son’s bottles ready, I sterilize my pump parts and the pumping bottles using this Munckin sterilizer. (These sterilizing bags are another good option if you’re on the go.) Afterward, I put the clean parts in a Ziploc bag and the bottles in my cooler bag so that I don’t have to worry about doing it in the morning. This can get time-consuming, so ask for help. Your partner (or friend or family member) may not be able to make milk, but they can certainly help you fill and clean milk bottles!

How to get in the right frame of mind:

Mentally plan out your pumping sessions for the day and do your best to protect those times. I’m transparent about the fact that I pump. It’s not something I talk about all the time, but I have no shame in letting colleagues know what I’m doing. I always work while I pump, but if your supply is low, and/or you find yourself getting anxious, try to relax by looking at photos of your little one.

Make sure you’ve been clear with your childcare provider about how you want your baby to be fed. Before returning to work, I gave my son’s daycare teachers specific instructions on when to feed him and how much. I like to be able to breastfeed my son at the end of the workday, so I spread out his feedings accordingly. Some moms prefer to have their baby fed at the end of the day so that it’s one less thing they have to worry about when they get home. It’s all a matter of preference. What works for you early on may not work a few months later, so allow yourself to be flexible.

My mini checklist, which I try to look at every time I leave the house in the mornings.

Put a checklist by the door so that you won’t forget anything (pump parts, bottles, cooler bag, etc.) I taped a checklist on the door when I first returned to work and found it super helpful, especially on days when I was frazzled and therefore forgetful. I don’t really need to look at it anymore, but I still like knowing it’s there.

Write yourself little pick-me-up notes. Before my first day back at work, I wrote myself an empowering note to help me get through my first week back.

Splurge on motivational mom cards and empowering mugs, which can help you feel loved and energized. (Paper Source is one of my favorite places for this type of stuff.)

Be gentle with yourself. Some days, you will feel like a total rockstar. Other days, you may feel defeated, alone, and even more exhausted than usual. It’s hard for anyone to fully grasp the challenges of being a working/pumping mom unless you’ve been through that experience yourself. Find a friend or confidante who you can turn to on days when you need to vent, cry, or laugh about the crazy/beautiful/messy aspects of life as a working mom.

I have multiple photos of my kiddos on my desk. Seeing them throughout the day helps keep me grounded, especially on days when work/life “balance” seems totally out of whack.

Reassess along the way. Yes, “breast is best” when it comes to feeding your baby, but it’s not the best option if breastfeeding and/or pumping are completely stressing you out, or if you’re struggling to find the time to pump. If pumping three times a day at work is too difficult, consider pumping at other times – maybe once in the early morning, once at work, and once at night, provided it doesn’t interfere too much with your supply. Seek encouragement from other moms who have been in your position and make a decision about what’s ultimately best for you and your baby.

Celebrate yourself. Strike a power pose while pumping and remind yourself that you’re awesome for making it all work — and for keeping your baby well-nourished and loved. When it comes to breastfeeding and pumping, food is love.

You’ve got this, mamma!

(To all the moms reading this: What tips do you have? Share them in the comments section!)

Related: Tips for pumping and preserving breast milk while traveling

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One thought on “Tips for pumping at work: What you’ll need & how to get in the right frame of mind

  1. I pumped at work the first year. I bought special pumping bras but didn’t like them all that much. Found out it was a lot easier to just snip a small slit in a comfy sports bra. Slip the nipple shields in from the inside, then connect to the pump. Much more comfortable than the strapless type things I had been trying. I used the Pump In Style as well!

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