The Ultimate Guide to Survive Breast Pumping at Work
Are you heading back to work a few short weeks after you have your baby?
Are you sweating out the idea of pumping milk at work?
If so, you aren’t alone. So many women have walked in your shoes when it comes to this issue. I know because I was one.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, the thought of taking my breast pump to work and finding a place where I could use it had me so nervous. The office I worked at wasn’t kid friendly and that wasn’t going to change just because I had decided to have one.
But, as nervous as I was, I knew I wasn’t going to stop breastfeeding my baby just because I was worried. I had to power through my discomfort and be the best mom I could.
So I talked to other moms and did some cyber searches until I had a plan in place that made me feel slightly better about my situation. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned to spare any other moms from the dread I felt.
Know Your Rights
Breastfeeding at work can be uncomfortable, but if anyone gives you a hard time about it, remember it’s your right.
I felt so uncomfortable when I had to discuss breastfeeding options with my boss, but I had another co-worker who was fearless about it. She insisted that they provided the time for her to breastfeed and that she be allowed to use a room that wasn’t the bathroom where they initially wanted to put her.
I wish I had fought that hard for my rights, but I was way more timid than she was. If you don’t have someone in your office like that, you may have to assume that role whether you’re comfortable with it or not. Some bosses and companies just don’t value the role of breastfeeding yet. Hopefully that will change someday, but until then we need to keep fighting.
Here’s what you need to know about the rights you have as a breastfeeding mother under the federal law, “Break Time for Nursing Mothers.”
Who is covered: Sadly, not everyone is. It covers hourly employees who are already under the Fair Labor Standards Act (source).
How it helps breastfeeding moms: Since health professionals have backed breast milk as being nutritionally superior to formula, this law was created in an attempt to help working moms continue to breastfeed. It forces employers to give their employees a break so they can breastfeed during work hours. It also requires that they give them a place where they can have some privacy while pumping.
Are there any rules or conditions: The private room you’re allowed to pump in can’t be a bathroom. No one should be able to see into the room while you’re breastfeeding so if you have any known office perverts, you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Who enforces this law: The watchdog of this law is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. They have a general toll-free number you can call if you’re experiencing any problems. The number is 800-487-9243.
How long can I pump for: The time portion of the law is open to interpretation -- it requires that you be given a reasonable amount of time to pump. This time isn’t necessarily paid though, unless your boss already has paid breaks for everyone. You shouldn’t milk this time for all it’s worth though -- you should pump and get back to work. During lunch, you’ll want to eat while pumping to save time.
Your Timeline Checklist
Here’s what you’ll want to do before your first day back at work arrives.
One Month Before Returning to Work:
Start stockpiling breast milk in the freezer. You should have at least enough milk for one day of feedings, which may be about 25 to 30 ounces. You can easily have enough stored if you begin pumping your breasts a few minutes after your baby nurses. You’ll usually be able to get an extra ounce or two every time. That’ll be more than enough to stockpile 30 ounces in a month.
Talk to your boss to figure out what room you’ll be pumping in when you return to work. Figure out any adjustments you have to make to your schedule.
Choose a daycare provider so you know who will be feeding your baby when you’re away. When selecting someone to watch your baby, you’ll want to consider whether they are a smoker and if they’ll follow the precise instructions that you’ll likely have for them. (source)
One Week Before Returning to Work:
- Make sure you have all the equipment you’ll need and go over your plans for the week you go back to work.
- Give your plan a trial run. You can even invite your caregiver over to do a test while you’re out of the house. That will help you identify any possible flaws in the plan.
Your First Week Back at Work:
Be prepared for an emotional week. Leaving your baby isn’t easy, even if you’re looking forward to going back to work. You may struggle with guilt -- just know that’s totally normal.
Make sure you’re still pumping regularly to produce enough milk and ward off any milk supply issues like clogged milk ducts. (source)
There will probably be some last minute curve balls you’ll have to deal with. Just keep your chin up and realize this first week will probably be your hardest one.
Setting Up a Workable Schedule
Finding a schedule that works for you at home and at work can be a challenge. But just remember that you’ll learn as you go. And with practice, you’ll get better at juggling everything.
Here’s a checklist of things you’ll want to remember to do at various points of the day.
Clean your pumps and bottles.
Sanitize them if you choose to do so.
Make your lunch and pack any snacks that you’ll need at work the next day.
Before going to work in the morning:
Breastfeed your baby before you leave.
If you have time, pump any remaining milk if he doesn’t fully drain your breasts.
Put your pump, storage containers and ice packs in your breast milk cooler.
Double check that there’s enough breast milk already in the refrigerator for your baby while you’re at work and that you don’t need to get any extra from your freezer stash.
When you’re at work:
Try to pump on time, according to the schedule you’ve set up. It should be around every three hours, and you should never let it extend past four hours. Otherwise you risk dealing with embarrassing engorgement at work.
Make sure to keep things as sterile as possible, including washing your hands.
Try to relax, which can be hard at work when you’re pumping. Keep a set of your baby’s clothing in your purse so you can smell it or look at a picture of your baby to trigger letdown.
Make sure to run hot, soapy water through your pump parts every time after you pump so it won’t need a thorough cleaning for your next session.
When you first see your child again, whether it’s at home or at a daycare:
Breastfeed your baby as soon as you can. If there isn’t a quiet place to do it at the daycare, you might want to do it in the car before you head home. That’s especially important to do if you have a long commute.
Label and refrigerate the breast milk you pumped at work as soon as you walk through the door.
If your baby will need that breast milk the next day, put it in the refrigerator. Otherwise, it should go in the freezer.
Continue breastfeeding your baby throughout the course of the evening whenever she’s hungry..
Make sure that you carve out a lot of one-on-one time for you and your baby. That time should include plenty of skin-to-skin contact. Remember, your new working schedule is a huge adjustment for your baby -- not just for you. She might need some extra attention.
What’s a Good Schedule for Pumping at Work?
Any sample schedule will have to be tweaked to fit your specific needs. But this is a good general schedule that you can revise to fit your life:
- 6:30 a.m. -- breastfeed your baby at home before you leave for work in the morning.
- 8:30 a.m. -- breastfeed your baby at child care. If you have a babysitter who goes to your house, give your baby one final breastfeed before you leave for your work day.
- 11:30 a.m. -- pump during your lunch hour at work in a private room.
- 2:30 p.m. -- pump during a break at work.
- 5:30 p.m. -- pump one final time at work, or if you’ve already left for your work day, hold off on the pumping. Instead, breastfeed your baby when you pick him up at childcare.
- 8:00 p.m. -- breastfeed your baby right before you put him down for bed.
Tips to Help You Make the Transition
Even for the most prepared women, going back to work while still breastfeeding is a huge challenge. You have to think ahead and troubleshoot problems as they crop up.
It took me weeks before I felt like I wasn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown at all times. I would go to bed at night, unable to sleep because I was running through my plan for the next day and getting up because I was sure I forgot to do something before I crawled in bed.
The schedule does get easier with time. You’ll get there. Just remember the first few weeks will be the most difficult ones for you and for your baby.
To make it an easier transition, you may want to consider these tips.
1. Make Sure You Pick Your Breast Pump Carefully
Your breast pump can either be your greatest ally or your biggest foe. It depends on how wisely you choose when you’re buying one.
If you’re pumping at work, you should go with a double electric breast pump because you’ll be pumping so frequently.
When choosing the right breast pump for work, there are several things you need to consider.
How loud it is: It can be embarrassing when you’re pumping in the workplace and your co-workers hear a loud, suction noise coming from the other room. Some machines are definitely quieter than others.
Does it operate at more than one speed: Having adjustable speeds can be a huge benefit to you. Some women have problems pumping at a lower speed, but can whiz through pumping when there’s a higher speed involved (source).
Is it portable: You can have the greatest breast pump in the world, but if it isn’t easy to take from place to place it won’t be a good choice for the workplace.
How does it get its power: Does the breast pump operate on a battery or does it come with a power cord? If you have a designated breastfeeding room, but there’s no power outlet, you’ll be in trouble when you go back to work.
2. Stick To Your Game Plan
Make sure you’re keeping up your milk supply because if you’re starting to dry up, it can make pumping at work way more difficult and stressful than it has to be.
The best thing you can do to help yourself while pumping at work is to relax. It’s hard to do, but it will make your milk flow faster and easier.
You can distract yourself by the fact you’re at work and from the dozens of tasks you still need to complete as soon as you walk out of the door. Try looking at some magazines while you’re pumping (source).
3. Find Unique Ways You Can Multitask
If you find it’s too hard at the office to multitask, you can try taking some shortcuts to help you stay on track.
You can use a hands free pump, which will allow you to eat lunch or snacks while you’re breastfeeding. Nutrition is an important factor in breastfeeding and breastfeeding women need more calories than other moms, so finding time to eat is important.
While your hands are free, you can also create a to-do list that will help keep you on track.
4. Invest In a Portable Cooler
You can buy a portable breast milk cooler that will let you transport your breast milk so you don’t risk it going bad before you can get it home.
Since you aren’t planning on using that breast milk until the next day, you’ll want to start chilling it immediately (source). Just put it in your portable cooler and use ice packs to keep it cool until you can pop it in the refrigerator. If your office has a refrigerator, you can use that to keep it cool too.
5. Store Your Pump In the Refrigerator
You can save the step of sterilizing the breast pump for when you’re at home at night.
6. Find a Comfortable Spot to Pump
If you aren’t happy with the room your workplace has picked out for you to use for your pumping needs, try talking to the human resources department or your boss to see if another room is available.
You shouldn’t expect four-star accommodations, but if your breast pump has a power cord and there’s no outlet in sight, they may be able to figure out something that will work for you.
Be polite but firm about your needs. Since my first baby, I’ve learned the importance of speaking up for myself. That’s hard sometimes for a lot of women, but we need to keep working to get better at it.
7. Keep Everything Organized
It helps tremendously if you have one designated breastfeeding bag that you take to work. It’ll be just like a diaper bag, but this bag is for all the tools you’ll need during the day to stay on top of things.
You’ll want your pump, the accessories and your cooler to all fit inside it. You might also want to go old school and throw a notebook in there so you can quickly jot down what time you pumped throughout the day.
8. Maintain Your Milk Supply
You’ll want to make sure you aren’t skipping any pumping sessions and that you’re fully draining each breast during your pumping sessions.
Make sure you’re eating enough and taking in enough liquids too.
If you’re struggling to achieve letdown at work, bring a memento in your breastfeeding bag that reminds you of your baby (source). That reminder won’t be the same as having your baby with you, but it should do the trick.
When I was pumping at work, I liked to bring my phone with me so I had short videos of my baby I could watch. Letdown was a breeze after watching a few seconds of my adorable daughter.
9. Manage the Stress
Going back to work when you have a baby can be enough to put you over the edge. Everything seems so hard at first.
There’s a few things you can do to manage the stress you feel and continue making healthy choices that will benefit you in the long run.
Ask for help from your partner, whether it’s getting your lunch ready for the next day or washing the breast pump at the end of the night.
Try to get some regular exercise. That’s a great stress buster.
Make sure you plan ahead. We sometimes can create our own avoidable stress by putting things off until the last minute. As a mom now, you need to plan for two, not just one.
Get to work a few minutes early so you can set up your pumping area (source). You won’t have to lose precious lunch minutes during the day to do it.
Make sure you’re eating plenty of healthy snacks with a lot of protein in them.
10. Manage Your Travel Schedule
If you travel for work, you can always ask your boss if there is someone else in the office who can take the occasional trip for you. If you’re a valuable employee, many employers will want to work with you to find a schedule that works for you.
You’ll want to make sure that you continue to pump while you travel, even if you’ll be gone so long that the milk won’t be good by the time you get back. It’s better to pump some bottles of milk that you’ll end up dumping than risk your milk supply drying up.
11. Use Your Downtime to Stay Healthy
Downtime? What’s that? As a new mother, downtime is a rare commodity. There just never seems to be enough hours in the day to find time to relax.
But finding time for relaxation and adequate rest is still a priority. While it may be tempting to stay up later than you should at night to fit some extra hours in the day, that’s a bad idea. You’d be better off getting a good night’s sleep.
Make sure you’re cutting down on the caffeine after 5 p.m., or better yet, don’t have any at all after that hour (source). That’ll help you go to sleep quickly when you go to bed.
You can also use the weekends as a time to catch up on sleep. My husband would get up with the baby on Saturday mornings so I could sleep in late after a long week of pulling double duty.
12. Keep Your Baby Close During Your Home Time
To help you both still feel as connected as you were before you went to work, you should stay near your baby as much as possible in your off hours. You can still get plenty of skin-to-skin time.
Try to limit electronics as much as possible during that time as well. That can be a huge time sucker and that’s something that you don’t have much of at this point in your life.
How to Handle Awkward Situations
With the exception of my one trailblazing coworker, my workplace wasn’t a kid-friendly one. It was filled with men who didn’t have kids and many of the women there didn’t either. So perhaps they didn’t understand why breastfeeding is so important or that they shouldn’t mess with a stressed-out mom.
Here are some of the uncomfortable situations you might encounter at work.
When You Spring a Leak
Your breasts can have a mind of their own when you start to push back your pumping session. You can become engorged and before you know it, milk will leak out, making your shirt wet.
This is one of the most embarrassing parts of being a mom. Your best bet is to stay on time with your pumping sessions and hope this doesn’t happen.
But you should be prepared just in case. You can wear breast pads in your bra to absorb any leaks. You may also want to toss an extra work shirt into your breastfeeding bag for any emergencies you’ll have.
Rude or Insensitive Coworkers
Some people just don’t get it. Whether they’re socially awkward or just have no sense of proper boundaries, you might have a coworker or two who makes you uncomfortable with their comments.
Some things they say may just be a lame attempt at a joke, but other times they make inappropriate, creepy comments.
If it becomes a problem for you, talk to your human resources department or your boss. You shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of harassment in the workplace.
A Squeaking Pump
Breast pumps don’t fade into the background -- they let people know they’re there. Whenever I would pump at work, I would do everything I could to muffle the sound, but I still felt like it was so loud that everyone was annoyed with me.
To avoid so much noise, search for a quieter breast pump and keep the door closed in your private pumping room. If your pump is still too loud, try lightly draping a baby blanket around the pump to somewhat muffle the sound.
If you want your pumping session to be successful, you need to relax as much as you can. Oftentimes, that means being the only one in the room.
So if there are any other breastfeeding moms in your workplace, you may want to consider a sign-up sheet for the private room so it won’t be double booked. That would defeat the purpose of a private room.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before I went back to work, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out the answers to the big questions I had. Here are the ones I was most concerned with.
How Frequently Should I Pump When I Go Back to Work?
In order to keep your milk supply up and express enough milk to feed your baby, you should pump every three hours while you’re at work (source). That can work out to be twice per work shift or three times per work shift, depending upon how long your work day is and how long your commute is.
You’ll need to work out an exact schedule with your boss, but it helps to use your lunch break for one of the pumping sessions. The other pumping times will depend upon what your busiest work hours are or if you have any paid breaks you can take advantage of for pumping.
How Much Milk Will My Baby Need Every Day?
You’ll need enough milk to feed your baby for a full day. The exact number of ounces will depend upon how old your baby is and how much he’s drinking.
But, on average, you’ll need about 25 ounces of breast milk a day (source). If you’d like to aim a bit higher just in case your baby is a big eater, 30 ounces should keep you covered.
How Should I Contain Breast Milk and Store It?
The night before you work your first day of every week, you should take a container of milk or two from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. You can divide it up into a day’s worth of bottles the next morning so your baby’s caregiver is ready to go.
The breast milk you pump at work the next day will be kept in the refrigerator until your baby needs it the following day.
The milk you pump on the last day of your work work will be frozen until it’s needed.
You've Got This Momma
Welcome to the weird world of pumping breast milk at work. While it may feel strange at first, you’ll eventually think it isn’t a big deal at all. By the second or third month, I no longer felt strange about it and I don’t think anyone else did either.
My milk supply never suffered and my baby was successfully breastfed through the first year of her life. I can’t stress enough, though, how important organization was during this time in my life. If you stay on top of things, it will make your life much easier.
When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, just keep in mind why you’re doing this. It’s for that sweet little baby who is counting on you to be strong and fearless.
Let me know how you’re doing with your goal of pumping at work and if there’s any other questions I can answer for you.