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Going back to work after having a baby comes with many challenges. Pumping is one that can be cumbersome and awkward. More and more women are choosing to work or continue to work after having a baby and becoming a new mom. Some places of work may be very supportive for working moms, but others are slow to provide the comforts and resources that can make your breastfeeding journey easier. To help make this transition smoother, I’m here to give you real working mom pumping hacks from a mom that has been there and done that.
In this article you will learn:
- What you need to know about pumping at work to be successful
- How to you can prepare for success
- My best pumping at work hacks from an experienced working breastfeeding mom
Table of Contents
How Do You Survive Pumping at Work?
As your maternity leave comes to an end many new moms start to feel a little anxiety around returning to work and managing how to feed their newborn. A large majority of working moms choose to continue to breastfeed their child for a multitude of great reasons. Going back to the rigorous work schedule and now trying to carve in the time to pump every 2-3 hours may be a daunting task. I want to help you feel like this is something you can tackle if it is your preferred choice.
Every work environment is a little different, but with some customization on your part we can help you to be an expert at balancing work and pumping in no time.
Why is Pumping at Work So Challenging?
I’ve been there and done that with two babies. Being a nurse it was hard to balance my job duties and patient needs along with the pumping needs for my child. I would often go 6-7 hour in-between pumping depending on the conditions of my patients.
A lot of that was because I didn’t know my personal rights, and I didn’t feel empowered enough to speak up for myself. This led to me quickly losing my supply and having to supplement with formula.
I don’t regret any of my decisions, but I wish I would have been armed with more knowledge. I know if I did it again I would do things differently.
You may also have a demanding job that fulfills you in many ways. Stepping away from your career or switching to formula are not your only options. Even with a demanding schedule using these pumping at work hacks can help you make time in your schedule and still be the employee you need to be.
Pumping at Work Hacks to Alleviate the Stress
First, take a deep breath. Get some much needed oxygen to your brain. Whether work is fulfilling or not we are going back and we want the logistics of how we are going to successfully navigate pumping at work to be the least of our worries. So let’s get into some solid actionable tips for success.
1. Find a Lactation Consultant
A lactation consult or lactation specialist is one of your best tools to breastfeeding success at work, and they are often covered by your health insurance. These specialist work every day with working moms just like you in a variety of work environments.
They have so many tips and tricks that can help you keep your milk supply during this big transition. I chose to meet with a lactation consultant and she educated and helped me transition my daughter to a bottle, build a freezer stash, set up and use my breast pump, and develop a pumping routine.
2. Understand Your Rights
It is essential that you know what your legal right is in the workplace so that you can advocate for yourself. If you don’t advocate for yourself no one will (believe me). It doesn’t mean you have to create a confrontation, but if you know your rights you can confidently request the things you are entitled to have.
The PUMP Act recently passed at the end of 2022, which improved the provisions given to working mothers from the previous Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. Now over 9 million more working mothers including teachers, registered nurses, farmworkers, and many others can receive these protections. Employees now have the right to sue their employers if they are not compliant with the law.
- Federal law requires that employers provide reasonable break time to express milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.
- Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
- Pumping counts as time worked when calculating minimum wage and overtime if an employee is not completely relieved from their work duties during the pumping break.
- States may have protections for working mothers that will be provided as an addition to the federal laws. So look into your states particular laws.
**There are some employees that are exempt to the above laws so please look into your federal and state laws to ensure you are covered.
3. Find a Place to Pump
Remember you have the right to have a private place to pump at work that is not a bathroom. It doesn’t have to be a designated lactation room, but a place that you can feel comfortable and private. So work with your employer to find a solution that will work for you prior to returning to work.
- Be open and honest with your employer about your needs. Work with them to suggest some locations and alterations that can be made to allow for a space that meets your needs.
- Make sure it has a flat surface that you can place your pump and transfer your freshly pumped milk into milk bags. Trying to do this without one can lead to some major fashion disasters. (like milk all down your pant leg, been there done that)
- Ensure there are outlets to plug in your pump or look into using a cordless pump or battery pack if that is not an option.
- A lock on the door or a sign that can be placed on the door to avoid unwanted intrusions.
- antibacterial wipes to clean off surfaces to reduce risk of contamination and disease control.
- A sink to wash hands and clean pump pieces if possible.
4. Get a Quality Pump
If you want to maximize your time pumping get yourself a quality breast pump. This will decrease the amount of time you are pumping and allow you to get back to work faster. There are a lot of different options out there with features that can meet your particular needs.
Under the Affordable Care Act your insurance company must provide breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of their breastfeeding. This includes marketplace plans, all other health insurance plans except grandfathered plans (which are pretty rare, they must let you know it is a grandfathered plan).
They will must cover the cost of a breast pump either a new pump or a rental pump. Check with them to determine what they will cover and how much is covered. You should be able to pick what you want from a variety of options. If you want a pricier option often they will cover a portion of the pump and you will pay an additional cost.
**I purchased mine through aeroflow breast pumps site through my insurance and got a free breast pump bag to go with it. I used that as my diaper bag for about 2 years until the bag kicked the bucket. Just another tip to save you some cash!
Here are things to consider when choosing your breast pump:
- Manual Breast Pump: These can be a great option to have as a backup. My favorite is the Medela Hand Held (~$30), which I would recommend you buy just to have.
- Electric Breast Pump: This are often much more effective and powerful. They will reduce your time as they are battery or electric powered. They often have multiple power modes and setting to increase efficiency and productivity. There are multiple kinds of electric pumps.
- Single-Electric Pump: You can pump on one breast at a time. They are often more powerful than the manual pump, but can only pump one breast at a time. The Medela Swing is a great compact option.
- Double-Electric Pump: You can pump both breasts at the same time. One of the frequent top choices are the Spectra S, which you can choose from the S1 or S2.
- Hospital Grade Pump: This is going to be your most powerful option. Most people rent these as the price for hospital grade is pretty high. So buying one for yourself doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you plan on reselling it or renting it out in the future (typically doulas or lactation consultants will do this as part of their business). One of the most popular options is the Medela Symphony Plus.
5. Be Prepared & Have Backups
The last thing you need at work is the stress of realizing you forgot an essential part or piece to use your pump. Being prepared and having an extra set of pump parts can reduce unwanted stress surrounding pumping at work.
- I like to have a manual pump in case something goes wrong with my pump or I forget a part.
- Extra breast pads, breast pump parts, breast milk storage bags, nipple cream, and anything else you typically need.
- Another pair of clothes in case there are any spills. (I say it because it’s happened.)
- Snacks and water (pumping is exhausting, you need the fuel).
- I have a general rule for myself to drink 8 oz of water and eat a snack each time I pump.
6. Have a Place to Store your Liquid Gold
You want to know that your breastmilk will be safe to feed your baby at the end of the day so you will need to have a place to store your milk. Some employers will have a staff lounge with a communal fridge. For others you may be out of the office or on the go and need to come up with your own storage option.
Please make yourself familiar with safe storage practices. It’s important to know how long you can safely leave breastmilk at room temperature before it needs to be refrigerated.
- I often used something simple like a canvas lunch box and placed it in the communal work fridge. It’s inconspicuous but gets the job done.
- Consider buying a small mini fridge to place under your desk. This gives you quick easy access to a cooling method for your fresh milk to keep it safe until you can get home to your little one, without having to run to the employee break room.
- Have a cooler or insulated cooler bag with frozen ice packs if you work out of an office to keep your breastmilk cold throughout the day.
- Use reusable storage bags or disposable storage bags to avoid any unnecessary spills.
7. Have A Schedule & Stick to It
You have to be protective of your pumping schedule. To keep your production up and continue to meet your babies needs you need to guard it. These tips should help:
- Pump every 2-3 hours or however often your baby is feeding at home.
- This can be a flexible schedule as there will be work commitments you can’t get around, but try to treat it like any other important meeting. Put it in your calendar and work around it.
- If you miss a pumping session make it a priority to pump as soon as possible, and start your 2-3 hour schedule from there.
- If you have a long commute, investing in a car adapter might be a great idea to allow you to utilize that extra time in the car and cut down on your pumping time at work. Make sure you choose a hands free pumping device or wear a pumping bra that can hold the flanges in place.
8. Always Empty
This is important to avoid unwanted clogged ducts or mastitis. It’s also important to continue to send the right signals to your body to produce more milk. Breastmilk is created based on supply and demand. If you aren’t emptying it tells your body you don’t need to make as much next time. This can reduce your overall milk production over time if done too often.
- Every time you pump make sure you empty your breasts. This will allow your body to keep up with the needs of your child and lengthen your time between pumping sessions.
- This can also help you to avoid developing mastitis.
9. Consider the Fridge Hack
This is a hack that many working moms use. You can read more about it here and the pros and cons associated. It can be a huge time saver to place all your pumping parts in a ziplock bag in the fridge in-between pumping sessions instead of washing them after every pump session. You can also bring a sterilization bag to pop your parts in the microwave to sterilize in-between each pump session or just sterilize at the end of the night when you get home.
- Saves significant amount of time
- Great if you don’t have a sink handy to wash all your pumping parts
10. Stay Hydrated and Fed
This will not only help with your breastfeeding experience, but improve your performance at work. Your body needs to stay hydrated and fed in order to meet your breast pumping needs but also your body’s needs.
- Keep a large water bottle at your desk and while you are pumping. Breast milk is mostly water so it is essential to keep up that supply.
- Make sure you have easy to access and quick snacks at the ready. You will burn about 200-500 calories pumping everyday. I recommend granola bars, nuts, fruit, yogurt, or cut up vegetables.
- This isn’t just so you can provide milk for your baby. You probably aren’t sleeping much so keeping that mental sharpness at work is going to require you to be well hydrated and well nourished.
11. Have a Trial Day
Practice makes perfect right? The first day will probably be a disaster. Remember you have never had to balance all these things at once. Most likely work was demanding before you had a baby, and now you have to balance pumping and worrying about your child at daycare. Starting slow can make the transition much easier.
- Attempt to get your return to work day as a half day or the middle of the week. This will give you time to trial it out before attempting a full week back.
- Start introducing a bottle once a day a few weeks prior to your return to work so your child can get comfortable with a bottle (Its often easier to have someone else give your child the bottle).
- Spend longer periods of time away from your child. Like running to the grocery store or getting your nails done. A little self care will benefit you in a lot of ways!
- If your trial doesn’t go well. Re-evaluate. Work with your employer, childcare, and spouse to come up with a plan that works for you.
12. Evening Routine
There is nothing worse than waking up and rushing to get everything together before you head out the door. This is when you are most likely to miss that all important item. Set aside some time and a reminder on your phone to take 15-20 minutes to get organized and prepare everything you will need for the next day. This will decrease your stress and help things to go more smoothly.
- Get a bag that is just for your breastfeeding supplies. This will help you stay more organized and ensure you have everything you need every time.
- Share this task. Just because you make the milk doesn’t mean you have to do everything related to pumping. Have your spouse help out by washing and sterilizing all your parts for you at the end of the night.
- Make a checklist of what you need and go through that checklist every night as you pack your pumping bag. It may seems silly, but with the amount of sleep you are probably getting you are bound to forget something.
The most important thing is to figure out what works for you. Everyone has different needs and we are all working in different environments. What works for me may not work for you. Remember you are your own best advocate. I hope this leaves you empowered and knowledgeable to transition into pumping at work with ease.
Please leave a comment with your questions, concerns, or success stories!
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.