Pumping at Work: Everything You Need to Know

I feel fortunate to say that I nursed my first daughter until she was a year and am currently 10 months in on the nursing journey with my second. Around the clock nursing sessions and giving up dairy with my second daughter made me want to throw in the towel several times in the first month. Throw in the fact that I work full time, which means I’m pumping several times a day, and I even more so have wanted to quit many times. I’m glad I’ve stuck it out, but it’s been one of the biggest commitments I’ve made in this motherhood journey.

Returning to work when my first daughter was twelve weeks old, brought on new territory of pumping when I was away from her. I had no idea how pumping worked, when to pump, how to store milk or even how to wean from the pump when my goal of twelve months was up. We’re shown how to nurse our baby, but no one really talks about pumping “rules.” Everything I learned was from local Facebook nursing groups and friends. I’m here to help you by providing all the tips and tricks for pumping at work in one place!

Pumping at Work: Everything You Need to Know


Where to Pump

You will need to pump for your baby at work, so make sure to have a discussion with your supervisor or boss before returning. Explain to them how often you will need to pump (we’ll talk about that in a minute), and work out a place to pump if you don’t have a private office. Since 2010, federal law requires employers to provide a nursing mother reasonable break time to express milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth. The law also states that employers provide a place for an employee to express breast milk, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from coworkers and the public.

There are exceptions to the law. For instance, employers with 50 or less employees are not subject to following the law if it will put undue hardship on their work or production. Also, some women find that their employers aren’t as understanding of the law as others and women may find themselves in bathrooms with little to no time to pump. Make sure to know your rights and consult human resources if there are issues. A supportive employer is key to your breastfeeding journey being successful after maternity leave.

How Often to Pump

You want to try to pump as often as your baby eats (every 2-3 hours) to maintain supply. I would always nurse my babies in the morning right before work and then pump in 3 hour increments after that. I only pumped two times at work and would then nurse them right when we got home. You want to pump as long as your baby usually nurses and milk is no longer coming out. This can be different for each woman. I usually pump for 20 minutes, but block my calendar for 30 minutes to allocate for setup and tear down of supplies.


How Much Milk to Expect

The amount of milk you’ll get out is dependent on each woman, too. The goal is to pump the same amount your baby ate at daycare that day. The general rule is to expect 1-1.5 oz per hour since you nursed or pumped. Some women may pump more than what their baby drank, which means they can store it in the freezer for later! I’ve always pumped exactly what my kiddo eats (around 5 oz for each bottle).

Pumping at Work: Everything You Need to Know

Cleaning & Storing Supplies

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released new guidelines on keeping your breast pump and parts clean. In theory, the guidelines sound wonderful and it makes sense to have your parts cleaned after every session. In reality, many women in the breastfeeding community agree that there isn’t enough time after pumping to thoroughly wash and dry everything. Demands of a meeting, time with students, or a presentation often allow for little time to even pump, let alone thoroughly clean everything.

I use Medela wipes to wipe out my parts between sessions, store them in a gallon ziplock bag, and pump into new bottles for the next pumping break. I’ll wash them all with soap and water each night and let them air dry overnight. Some women will rinse their parts with water, dry and store in a ziplock bag in the fridge. Do what is easiest for you.

Storing Milk

My pump came with a cooler bag and freezer pack, which I use to store the pumped milk. You can use a fridge if you have access to one, but a freezer pack works just fine too!

Maintaining Supply

Keeping up your supply can be the hardest thing about pumping at work for some moms. Try not to stress! Stress makes things worse. Set little goals of how long you want to breastfeed. Look at pictures or videos of your baby while pumping and try to relax. I try not to look down at the bottles to see how much I’ve pumped. Make sure to drink lots and lots of water. I usually drink over 100 oz of water each day. Oatmeal, flax seed, and brewers yeast also have been known to increase supply. Check out these nursing friendly snacks using these ingredients. Watch your calorie intake. Breastfeeding moms usually need an additional 500 calories a day. I’m constantly eating different snacks throughout the day. You can take fenugreek supplements like these. Many women claim they help maintain or increase their supply. Don’t be discouraged if you have bad pumping days!

Pumping at Work: Everything You Need to Know

Bottle Feeding

Many women worry that their baby will prefer the bottle over nursing when they go back to work. While this can happen, it’s not the norm. Make sure your provider is familiar with pace feeding. Pace feeding has the provider hold the bottle at an angle which won’t allow the milk to flow fast into the baby’s mouth. It mimics the position and flow of breastfeeding. Bottle nipple flow is also important. My kids have never gone higher than a size 1 bottle nipple. Size 2 and 3 are generally for formula fed babies because the flow is faster.

Some women struggle with their baby not wanting to take a bottle. Don’t get discouraged if they won’t take one at first. Try different bottles, warm up the milk, or have someone else give your baby the bottle. Don’t give up. They will eventually take a bottle and won’t go hungry when you’re at work!  

Weaning from the Pump

So you’re ready to end your relationship with the milk machine? Where do you even start?  You can go cold turkey and just stop pumping completely, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you go this route, expect a few days of discomfort and rock hard boobs. When I weaned from the pump the first time, I decreased the minutes I pumped each session, each day. I did this until I was only pumping a couple of minutes and then dropped it all together. Then I moved on to my other pump session and did the same thing. I had very little discomfort.

Other Tips

The biggest tip I can give someone who pumps at work is to keep an extra set of parts and bottles at work. With my first daughter, there were many times I forgot parts at home and had to run home to get them. This causes panic, stress, and limited time to pump. Now, I keep an extra set at work plus a couple extra bottles. Ironically, I’ve never forgotten my parts this time around, but it’s nice to know I have some just in case!

Also, find something you enjoy doing when you’re pumping. I’m able to pump hands free because of the Freemie cups (awesome product) and often respond to email or do other work, but I also take a couple of minutes to read a book or scroll through Facebook. It’s my time to unwind and relax, which I think helps with milk production, too! Also, don’t be ashamed of what you are doing or talking about it with your coworkers. It’s all for your baby! Finally, I’ve found the Facebook groups Cedar Rapids Leaky Mamas and Beloved Bonds Breastfeeding Mommas extremely helpful for information and to receive support.

Do you have any tips or tricks for a working mom who’s pumping?

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