Here’s our top tips and tricks on how to pump at work to make the transition back to work while pumping as smooth as possible.
Pumping at work will ensure you can continue breastfeeding your baby by keeping up your milk supply. However returning to work after having a baby is hard enough but finding a way to simultaneously continue the breastfeeding relationship with your baby can feel impossible.
The good news is that with a bit of determination and a lot of organization, it is definitely do-able!
Tip 1: Plan well in advance of returning to work
zPumping is not as effective as a baby at extracting milk from the breasts. Work stress and fatigue can also affect lactation. If you are relying on what you pump at work to feed your baby, you may not be able to meet your baby’s demand. Unless you are intending to supplement with formula, you should try and build up your freezer stash of milk before you return to work. That way you won’t be as stressed if you pump less at work than your baby is actually eating.
It is also a good idea to introduce your baby to the bottle well before you return to work as well as practicing pumping in the privacy of your own home. You definitely don’t want to be figuring out how to use the pump for the first time at work.
If you are returning to work full-time, you might want to considering starting mid-week for the first week. That way you will have the weekend to recover. If the baby will be going to daycare, it might also be an idea to start them a week or so before you start back at work. This will give you both a chance to get into the daycare/ pumping routine without the added stress of working.
If you are planning to get your insurance company to cover the cost of the pump, be sure to check with them well in advance of your returning to work as to whether they will cover the cost of your choice of pump and the processing time of your application.
Tip 2: Organize a private space to pump at work
If you have a dedicated private space to pump at work (such as a lactation room or an office with a lockable door), consider yourself very lucky! If not, have a conversation with your employer about how they can accommodate you before you return to work. The last thing you want to be doing is pumping in the work bathrooms because your employer was unaware you will be pumping.
Did you know employers are obliged to provide nursing moms with a private space to pump that is not a bathroom? The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow mothers to pump at work until their baby is 1 years old. This includes:
- allowing women time to express milk during the workday; and
- providing a private space for women to pump.
The above does not apply to employers with less than 50 employee who are able to show it will be an undue hardship to accommodate pumping.
The US Department of Labor has some great information about an employer’s breastfeeding obligations.
Check out your state’s breastfeeding laws also – they may be even more generous than the Federal legislation.
You might also want to make a sign to hang on the door when you are pumping so no-one inadvertently interrupts you mid-pumping session. Check out Pinterest for some cute ideas. You might also want to sit with your back to the door when you are pumping just in case someone walks in on you!
Tip 3: Learn to multi-task like never before
There is nothing like having a baby to make you an expert at multi-tasking. Never will you need to rely on those skills more than when you are pumping and working.
Even the best breast pumps aren’t as efficient as a baby at extracting milk. A good double breast pump should be able to get the job done in about 10 – 15 minutes. Add to that the extra time it takes to sets up all the breast pumping parts and clean them afterwards and you are looking at around 20 minutes per pumping session. That time could easily increase to half an hour if you are using a less effective pump or pumping each breast separately.
Some ideas to maximise your time include:
- using a hands free bra to do the early morning pumping session, so you can pump while getting ready in the morning. You could also nurse your baby on one breast and pump on the other.
- if you commute to work by car, consider getting one pumping session done in the morning while driving to work. Pumping on the way home can also build up your freezer stash. To do this you will need an adaptor, nursing cover and a hands free nursing bra in addition to the pump but this can be a definite time saver. You may want to practice in a stationary car or while someone else is driving a few times before attempting this.
- plan your day so you can make the most of your pumping time. Can you pump while checking emails or returning phone calls while pumping for example? Or maybe you prefer just zoning out during this time and making it as relaxing as possible. If so, plan how you will spend this time so it doesn’t feel wasted or like one more chore you need to plough through in the day.
Keeping a photo of your baby handy or watching videos of your baby on your phone can also help trigger letdown and speed up the pumping session.
Tip 4: Get super organized
- Keep everything you need to pump in one bag. This is includes not only the pump itself, but all the parts, plus snacks and any entertainment you want for when you are pumping.
- Plan your outfits. Skirts or pants with a shirt that can be easily unbuttoned are a great idea. If your colleague accidentally walks in on you, at least the bottom half of you will be covered!
- Plan snacks and lunch. If you need to keep your energy levels up, remember to keep a stash of snacks handy. You might also want to bring your lunch to work if you don’t already, so that you don’t have to rush out to buy something during that precious window of time you are trying to pump.
Tip 5: Choose your pump wisely
Consider buying a super quick, efficient pump. A double electric breast pump will get the job done in about 15 minutes.
Things to look for when buying a pump for work (besides price) include:
- how quickly the pump gets the job done;
- how noisy the pump is (if you are concerned about your colleagues hearing the pump);
- how heavy/ portable the pump is;
- whether the suction is adjustable;
- whether the pump can operate on a battery if you know you won’t have access to a power outlet. Check the battery life also.
A good quality pump doesn’t come cheap- the top of the line ones can be several hundred dollars. If you want to use a hospital grade pump or the initial outlay on a pump is too expensive, see if you can lease one from a hospital or a pharmacy.
Remember to also check if your insurance will cover the cost of the pump, although insurance may not cover all brands or models. Your insurer may also have rules about where the pump can be purchased and when it can be purchased (some insurers will make you wait until after the baby is born). It is best to check with them well in advance of your planned return to work.
Tip 6: Using the communal fridge
If you are storing pump parts and milk in a communal fridge and are concerned about your colleagues having issues with your pumping paraphernalia and milk, consider keeping everything in a discrete, insulated enclosed bag. If it is insulated it can then be easily transported home.
Tip 7: Save time on washing pump parts
The CDC released guidelines advising that pump parts need to be washed after every use to avoid contamination. Obviously this can get extremely time consuming and not all that practical if you are pumping multiple times at work. You also may not be everyone’s favourite colleague either if you are always at the sink when they want to use it.
Some women, especially with older babies, just store the pump parts in the fridge after each use and then give the parts a thorough cleaning/ sterilization at the end of the day.
If you are particularly concerned about contamination, you could also buy additional pump parts to use throughout the day. These could then be batched washed when you get home.
To see how to wash your pump parts, check out this great video:
Tip 8: Set yourself an end date
Expect that pumping at work is going to be a hassle. Be mentally prepared for it to be hard. Know that there will be many times when you want to give up. Setting yourself an end date will help you reach your breastfeeding goal. Even if you get to the 3 month mark, know that you’ve done incredibly well by your baby. It may also help to keep the reasons you are breastfeeding handy so you can refer back to them when you want to quit.
Frequently asked questions
What equipment do I need to pump at work?
Besides the pump and the pump’s parts, you will need:
- milk storage bags or collection bottles if you aren’t going to pump and dump;
- a cooler bag/ insulated bag for transporting your milk;
- if you won’t have access to a refrigerator, ice packs to keep the milk cold;
- nursing pads and a spare top in case of leakage;
- hands free nursing bra; and
- sign to hang on the door.
How often should I pump at work?
The aim is to mimic your baby’s feeding schedule while you are at work. So if your baby is eating every 3 hours for example, unless you have built up a decent freezer stash, you will need to pump every 3 hours. A typical schedule when pumping for a baby under 3 months is as follows:
- feed baby at 6.30am;
- pump just before you leave for work or on the way to work in the car;
- pump at lunchtime;
- pump in the afternoon; and
- pump in the car on the way home or feed the baby as soon as you get home.
How long does it take to pump at work?
Depending on how efficient your pump is and whether or not you are pumping on both sides simultaneously, expect each session to take around 10- 15 minutes. You of course also need to add on time to set up the pump, bag the milk and refrigerate it and the pump parts.
Can I skip a pumping session if I get busy at work?
Ideally you should be mimicking your baby’s feeding schedule while you are at work.
You might be tempted to skip a pumping session if you get busy at work. However in addition to not being able to meet your baby’s needs, you are also setting yourself up for a decrease in your milk supply. Mastitis, clogged ducts, engorgement and of course leaking breasts may also occur.
Can I continue breastfeeding without pumping at work?
If you have built up enough of a freezer stash of breastmilk to feed your baby or are augmenting with formula, you can definitely continue breastfeeding your baby in the mornings before you go to work and in the evenings without having to pump at work. This is called “partial weaning”. Your body will adjust and stop producing so much milk.
Know your baby is still getting the benefits of breastfeeding even if you are supplementing with formula. Be aware however that your baby may eventually get frustrated with breastfeeding once they have experienced faster flowing bottles.
Do I need to sterilize my pump parts after each use?
The gold standard of hygiene is to wash the pump parts after each use, using a bucket of hot soapy water – see these guidelines. You can also buy sanitizing bags that can be popped in the microwave to steam pump parts. Washing the pump parts after each use however may not be practical at work. Many women save time by storing unwashed pump parts in the fridge in between pumping sessions. They then sterilizie the parts thoroughly when they get home.
Are pumping breaks paid ?
No, your employer is not required to pay you during pumping breaks – see section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act — Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision.
Some employers will not keep a record of the time spent away from work to pump. If you’re not that lucky, options to accommodate pumping include:
- taking lunch breaks etc, at a different time to coincide with when you need to pump;
- asking your employer if you can come in early or leave later to cover any additional breaks you need;
- making up any additional time at home; and
- taking unpaid leave for any additional breaks.