The idea of going back to work as a breastfeeding mother seems to be a real cause of stress for most women. Many women are afraid of pumping at work when they really shouldn’t be.
Pumping sucks, I’m not going to lie about that, but pumping at work doesn’t have to be as stressful as we make it out to be.
There are ways to pump at work successfully so that you can still continue providing your baby with breast milk.
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What are the Laws for Pumping at Work?
The laws for each individual state may differ slightly, but the general rule is that your employer must provide a location for you to pump that is NOT a bathroom as often as you need it and up to a year.
I repeat, NOT A BATHROOM!
I see so many women feeling bullied into either pumping in an unideal location or being forced to wean because they do not know their rights. Don’t let that happen to you.
The location also has to be shielded from view, and free from intrusions by coworkers or the public. (You can find more information about that HERE)
The best thing that you can do is to be in communication with your employer and/or your human resources department early on.
Let them know that you will need a location and give them an opportunity to make arrangements.
Are Pumping Breaks Paid?
Though your employer is required to provide you breaks to pump, they do not have to pay you for them. If you are stopping work to go and pump, then that is something to keep in mind.
You are able to use the breaks that you are already allotted to pump if that’s how things are set up at your business.
If you get two 15-minute breaks and an hour for lunch, then you can go ahead and use those times rather than taking extra if you need to.
Where to Pump at Work
Talk to Your Employer
The type of business that you work in, may have some influence on where you are able to pump. The most important thing though is to talk to your employer.
Make sure that he or she understands that you will be pumping and that you need a place to do that. You might end up with a really nice spot.
Lock the Door
I know it sounds simple, but I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure the door is locked.
I promise, it will happen, you will be in the middle of hooking up with your boobs hanging out and a coworker will just barge right in.
Believe me, it happens. Make sure the door is locked.
Make a Sign
In addition to making sure that the door is locked, you can also make a sign to go on the door letting people know not to bother you.
This can be especially useful if you are using an office that people are used to walking in and out of.
If all of the sudden the door starts being locked and they don’t know why, your coworkers are more likely to bother you. That’s just not relaxing.
Pump in Your Car
If there is NOWHERE feasible that you can pump in your building, then you can always pump in your car.
It’s a much better alternative than trying to pump in the bathroom or in the middle of your coworkers.
How Often Should You Pump While at Work?
Your pumping schedule at work will have a lot to do with how old your baby is and how much milk you are producing.
If your baby is 12 weeks old and you have an oversupply, then you could probably get away with pumping less often than someone that has a newborn and is a just-enougher.
Before Your Milk Supply Has Regulated
Around 12 weeks postpartum, your milk supply will regulate. This means that your supply is no longer primarily hormone based, but instead supply and demand based.
Once you regulate, your supply is less likely to largely fluctuate as long as you are still emptying at every pumping or nursing session.
Until then, though, you are still in the supply building stage and your pumping schedule should reflect this.
It is likely that your baby is still eating 8-12 times a day, you should continue pumping on this schedule.
If at all possible, try to pump at work every time your baby will feed when away from you. That will keep your body on a schedule and it will keep your milk supply up.
If you start dropping sessions too early, you are essentially telling your body that you don’t need the milk. If you tell your body you don’t need the milk, then your body will stop supplying it. It’s that simple.
After Your Milk Supply Has Regulated
Once your supply has regulated, it is easier to drop pumping sessions without damaging your milk supply.
Go slowly with it. You can start cutting a little time off of the session that you want to drop until you feel comfortable enough getting rid of it completely.
Don’t cut more than one session a week so that you can see what your body does.
If you get to a point where you aren’t producing enough milk, then you can always add a session back in.
Also keep in mind that three pumps a day typically triggers weaning. Be careful dropping too many sessions unless you are a massive oversupplier.
Work Pumping Schedule
While your pumping schedule will be largely dependent on what kind of job that you have and how flexible your days are, there is always time to pump. You might just have to get creative with it.
Fitting in Pumping Sessions When You’re Busy
One of the best things that I did while working, was to pump in the car to and from work.
This is especially useful if you have a long commute. You can get an entire pumping session in and possibly even throw in a power pump as well.
I also found it most beneficial for me, to pump twice while I was at work. I would generally take my lunch a little early so I could pump, and then take a break in the afternoon.
If you feel that you need to pump more often (I sometimes did), then do so.
I always found that the number of pumps a day was generally more important than following a rigid schedule. I did that for an entire year of pumping and it worked out so much better.
How Long Should You Pump?
You will often hear that you should never pump more than 15-20 minutes at a time. That is only if you are nursing and then pumping afterwards.
Without the nursing session, you need to make sure that you are pumping long enough to fully empty your breasts. That may be 20 minutes, or that may be an hour. Every woman is different.
Leaving any milk in there is just telling your body to make less, and no one wants that.
When your breasts are soft, there are no more hard spots, and there are no more streams of milk coming out, then you are empty.
Also keep in mind that you are never truly “empty”. Your body is constantly making milk. So don’t be surprised if you can still squeeze some out after pumping. That’s normal.
I would suggest pumping for at least 20 minutes or until the milk stops flowing, then an extra 5 minutes on top of that.
The extra time is to tell your body that you still need more milk. This is very useful if you are trying to increase your milk supply.
A Short Pump is Better than No Pump
If you work in a very busy environment (like a hospital), then trying to find the time to get a full pumping session in can be tough.
It is ALWAYS better to do a short pump rather than no pump at all.
You want to keep that milk moving. If it sits too long then it slows down your milk production.
Even if you can only do 10-15 minutes at a time, a few of those throughout your working day are definitely better than nothing. Just make sure that the next time you can get in a full pump it is a long one. You want to get out all of that good, fatty, hindmilk.
Supplies for Pumping at work
First and foremost, you need a breast pump. If you haven’t already chosen your breast pump, then make sure you check out this guide on choosing the best breast pump. That is a good place to start with your decision.
From there, fill out this form with Aeroflow to see if you can get one paid for by your insurance company.
Most insurance companies will pay for one since it is considered a medical device. You’ll just need a prescription from your doctor, but Aeroflow can take care of that whole process for you.
If you really want to make pumping at work a breeze, then get a second pump. If you have your own office that you can pump in, then you can leave your pump and supplies there and just travel back and forth with the milk.
If you don’t, then you can still just leave the pump in your pump bag to save yourself the hassle of moving it back and forth every day.
Though you can definitely make it work with just one pump (I did), having two would make the process so much easier.
Whether you leave the portable one at work for ease of transport, or at home so that you can multitask, having the option to not be attached to the wall at all times would make your life so much easier.
Get a Good Pump Bag
Having a pumping bag big enough to hold all of your supplies, yet small enough to not be obtrusive is definitely important.
I got a shoulder bag that came with my Medela pump that works perfectly for me, but there are SO many others out there on the market.
Get a bag that you will be comfortable carrying around for a while, especially if you plan on breastfeeding for a year or more.
I would also use it as your purse rather than having to carry two bags, so make sure that it has all of the compartments that you would normally need.
I never carry a purse these days. I bought a phone case that can carry my ID and my debit card and that’s pretty much it.
Anything else either goes in the diaper bag or the pump bag, so get a bag you like.
I got one for my Medela Pump in Style Advanced and never looked back.
I pumped in the car all the time. Especially on the drives to and from work. That was the easiest way for me to ensure that I got in all of my pumps for the day without having to take too many actual breaks at work.
I love my Freemies for this or pumping at work in general. I don’t think they’re quite as “discrete” as they claim to be since I always look like I have Dolly Parton boobs when I’m wearing them, but it’s so great being able to be completely covered and not have to deal with bottles hanging from you.
Dress For Success
They say to dress for the job you want. Well in this case you need to dress for the job you have. You are a breastfeeding mama and you need to dress like one. That means you need to have easy access to the milk makers.
I’m sure you have some cute dresses that you would love to show off at work, but you don’t want to have to completely undress just to pump. I would suggest loose blouses and button downs for this.
I would always wear a tank top underneath as well. That way when I lifted my shirt my whole stomach wasn’t exposed. They make some great nursing tanks for this, but I found that a tank, especially a spaghetti strap, with a stretchy strap generally worked just fine.
Pack Extra Supplies
Have an extra set of all of your supplies ready in your pumping bag. That way all you have to do in the morning is grab your pump and go. This will make your mornings so much easier.
I mean all of it. Bottles, bags, cleaning supplies, flanges, tubes, everything. If you don’t, you will probably forget something and then your day is going to suck.
Check out this guide for a complete list of items to pack in your pump bag.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Pumping Sessions
Those pumping sessions you’re squeezing in are nothing if you aren’t getting any milk out. There are some ways around that though
Massaging your breasts while you pump is a great way to get the milk moving.
Just gently rub on the firm spots in your breasts (these are the glands holding the milk) in a circular fashion towards the nipple.
Always move down and out. If you start massing the milk up your body then that is the way that it will go.
Once you finish pumping, try hand expressing to see if you get any more milk out.
If you can massage your breasts and get out another ounce or so, then you should pump longer, otherwise it might just be a little bit.
Either way, it is a great way to see if you are empty and to help entice any stubborn milk stuck in there to come out.
Think About Your Baby
Early on in my pumping journey, looking at pictures of my son on my phone or watching little videos of him really helped to get my milk moving.
This trick stopped working after a while since my son stopped being the source of my milk supply since I was an exclusive pumper. If you are still nursing your baby at home though, this is an excellent way to trick your body into letting go of the milk.
You can even carry a blanket or something that belongs to your baby so that you can smell it during your pumping sessions.
It may sound weird, but it totally works.
Drink Extra Water
Breast milk is 88% water. If you are dehydrated, then your milk supply is going to suffer.
I like to carry a water bottle around with me so that I always remember to drink enough.
I LOVE my Hydroflask water bottle. That thing is basically indestructible, which is great considering how clumsy I am. I carry it with me everywhere.
Stressing about your milk and how much you’re making is only going to cause you to produce less milk.
Just try to relax and enjoy the little break from work while you can.
Storing Breast Milk at Work
If you have access to a refrigerator at work and feel comfortable leaving your milk in there for the day, then by all means, do that.
I know that isn’t always the case though.
I was always a little nervous about doing that so I used to carry this cooler from Medela with me.
I never produced a huge amount of milk while at work, so I didn’t worry about space. This cooler also holds 4 5-ounce bottles, but you can fit almost 7 ounces in them.
It was great and it fit right in my pump bag.
Cleaning Your Pump Parts at Work
There are a few ways that you can handle cleaning your pump parts at work.
Soap and Water
If you have access to a sink (preferably not in the bathroom), then washing your pump parts is an easy thing to do.
I have a portable bottle brush kit that I absolutely LOVE. It has saved me more times than I care to admit and it is one of the best purchases that I made for my pumping journey.
I just keep that and a little bottle of soap in my bag and wash my parts when I need to.
If you have access to a microwave, then you can use the Medela Quick Clean Sanitizer Bags to clean and sanitize your pump parts in between pumping sessions.
They only take a few minutes and the bags are reusable. I just keep a couple in my pump bag so that they’re always available.
I love them.
Refrigerate Your Pump Parts
Another great trick, is to actually refrigerate your pump parts in between pumping sessions.
Just pop all of the parts (without rinsing) into a ziplock bag and put them in the fridge. Then you can just give them a good wash once you get home.
If you don’t have a refrigerator, you can still do this with a larger cooler and a couple of ice packs. Works like a charm.
If you have a very young, or an immune-deficient baby, then I would not suggest doing this just in case until your baby gets older. Though breast milk is anti-bacterial itself, there is still the possibility of bacteria getting on your pump parts that you are storing. Just a precaution.
When to Stop Pumping at Work
Deciding when to stop pumping is completely up to you. There are no hard and fast rules about it.
It is possible to stop pumping at work and still be breastfeeding, but that will take time. The further you are postpartum, the more established your supply will be.
When I finally decided to start weaning when my son turned one, I was still able to produce about 20-25 ounces a day at two pumps a day. I NEVER would have been able to do that at three months postpartum.
The important thing is to not feel pressured to stop before you are ready or to feel like you have to continue breastfeeding and/or pumping if you don’t want to.
The decision is yours and yours alone.
How to Pump While Working Full-Time
First and foremost, don’t stress.
It is common for breastfeeding mothers to notice a drop in supply when they first go back to work.
You can help to counteract this by keeping up your water and your calories, and by also sticking to your pumping schedule as much as humanly possible.
My supply dropped a couple of ounces when I went back to work, but after I got back into the swing of things it bounced right back. Just don’t freak out if that happens. Stick with what you’re doing and it will come back.
What about you? Are you heading back to work? Let me know how you’re preparing to pump at work. Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!