Pumping at Work

It’s no secret that maternity leave in the United States is tragically lacking. The American Association of Pediatricians and the World Health Organization recommend exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months. However, American mothers are sent back to work within weeks of their delivery dates. For breastfeeding and pumping mothers, however, this quick return to work presents a logistical challenges. What do you need to do to prepare for pumping at work? Can I make it pumping at work?

I was “lucky” enough to get four months of maternity leave. Back at work, I pumped for 10 months, including the month it took me to “wean” off my pump. Over that time I went through a range of emotions, everything from “I’ve got this in the bag, so easy!” to “I HATE THIS”. Below I’ve detailed my daily pumping at work routine and some handy tips.

Pumping at Work

According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, most employees are entitled to “reasonable” break time and a space other than a bathroom to express milk. Check out Kelly Mom for a great breakdown of your legal rights. You can also consult the Department of Labor for more nuanced questions.

Several weeks (or months) leading up to your return to work

Start pumping and giving a bottle. Because of my daughter’s latching problems (which you can read all about and our use of a nipple shield here), we had been bottle feeding at least once a day since she was a week old. If you haven’t been using a bottle, start introducing one as early as you can before returning to work. Make sure you’re pace feeding. Leaving the room while another caretaker gives the bottle is often necessary. If baby rejects the bottle, keep trying the same bottle (with mom out of the room) for several days before switching to another.

Also, start pumping. Adding in an extra pump a few times a week will help build a strong supply and build a small stash so you don’t have to be so stressed out before your return to work.

Pumping in the weeks leading up to your return to work

Spend too long on the internet and you may become concerned with building a “stash”. In reality, you only need enough for the first day you go back to work and some for “emergency” situations. My Lactation Consultant said about 40 ounces, or 10 bottles, was a good goal. A few weeks before I returned to work, I started adding a pump session every morning. Not only did I build a small stash, I also boosted my own supply. Since your supply is strongest in the morning, this also helps to get a lot of “bang for your buck”.

How much milk do I leave?

The best resource to help you answer this is Kelly Mom’s website. The rule of thumb is 1 – 1/5 ounces per hour you’re gone and never more than a 4 ounce bottle. (Your boobs don’t get bigger as your baby gets older, so your bottles don’t need to ether. The composition of your milk will change.) I had done weighted feeds at my lactation support group meetings so I knew approximately how much my daughter would drink. Still, I left 3 ounce bottles with little 1 ounce “toppers” in case she wasn’t completely satisfied. After about 2 weeks I hit the magic amount to leave per bottle.

Caretaker telling you that baby still seems hungry after his or her bottle? Make sure they’re pace feeding. Bottle feeding a breastfed baby is different than a formula fed baby because the compositions of the two are very different. 10 months of pumping and I only increased my daughter’s bottles once, after she started solids and her tummy grew a bit.

My Daily Routine for Pumping at Work

5:30 a.m. – Dream feed.

6:30 a.m. – Pump on my drive to work.

11:00 a.m – 12:30 p.m. – Pump at Work.

3:00 – Pump Again.

4:00 – Bottle and store expressed milk.

8:00 – Wash bottles and parts.

9:30 – Bed time for mama.

You can check out my step-by-step explanation of my routine here.

Cleaning tips…

  • Fridge and freezer – Utilize whatever fridge and freezer space if available at work so you don’t have to wash after every pump. If your LO was premature, has health issues, or is a newborn, you should always clean with hot soapy water after every pump. If not, try the fridge method.
  • Extra pump sets – Utilizing a second or third pair of pump parts will help you cut down on nightly washing. We run our dishwasher about every other day, so we could have two sets of parts and bottles in there and run the washer over night. Our washer also has a sanitize setting, so I only did a separate sanitize on the weekends once I went back to work.
  • Storage containers – I started off packing bottles for every pump session throughout the day. However, I eventually found that I liked having one large container to poor everything in and use one set of bottles to pump with. In a pinch, I would use my pump bottles for backup storage.
  • Get your spouse involved – Having my husband wash my pump parts was really essential in my pumping success. Sometimes my daughter would nurse for 45 minutes to an hour at bedtime, and if I had to come out and then wash bottles and pump parts, I would have lost my mind…and my motivation.
  • Dishwasher – Going to the dishwasher for washing and sterilization really helped. We’d do a soak in hot water, then a good rinse with light scrub, and load everything in the washer. In the morning, everything was clean and sterilized.

Handy supplies for the pumping bag…

  • a towel – to prevent spill on clothes and wipe up drips
  • a scarf – to cover up with in the car or if someone walks in on you
  • a laptop – to get work done if you need to while you have down time
  • a book – if you don’t have to do work, at least you can relax
  • pictures and videos of your baby – will help you relax, unwind and trigger a letdown (a video of your baby crying is amazingly effective)
  • extra lids – those suckers are magnetically attracted to your car mats and dirty floor
  • extra valves – same as above
  • $1.50 for the vending machine – sometimes even the best routine runs a fowl. When I forgot my storage bottle, I would grab a water bottle from the cafeteria, dump it into my reusable water bottle, and store my milk in the sterile plastic bottle.
  • snacks – pumping makes you hungry! I kept a few granola bars, packages or nuts, and cookies in my bag for emergencies. Don’t let yourself feel deprived.
  • reusable water bottle – Mama’s got to keep hydrated!
  • You can read here about more supplies I recommend for breastfeed and pumping moms.

It’s common to feel…

  • empowered – “I’ve got this! I’ve got pumping down to a science. I made a plan and I’m crushing it.”
  • that you’re not pulling your weight – “Everyone else is at working on X while I’m over here eating my emergency oreos and looking at pictures of my baby.”
  • at your wits end – “I can’t do this anymore! I hate this pump. I had washing everything.”
  • disgusted with your pump – “I hate this stupid pump.”
  • tired

Helpful tips

  • practice – Mentally rehearsing your pumping routine and writing out your schedule is great, but nothing replaces a real walk through. I thought I had packed my pump back efficiently. When it came to really pump, however, I found I had to unpack unnecessary items to get to necessary items. In the car, things that were easy to get to when the bag was in front of me at home, weren’t easy to get to when I had to twist to the bag in the passenger seat. A real walk through a few days before you start back to work will help you anticipate little road bumps.
  • sleep – Getting enough sleep is essential to producing milk. One reason a lot of women have a hard time producing enough when they go back to work is sleep deprivation. On Monday you may produce enough, buy may be falling behind by Thursday or Friday. Lack of sleep adds up.
  • hydration – Drink, drink, drink. I don’t drink soda, so I’ve always felt I’ve done a good job of drinking water throughout the day. Regardless, a breast feeding / pumping mama needs an additional 32 ounces a day. Set little hydration goals throughout the day and build drinking water into your schedule.
  • bags and storage – I pumped more than I needed every day. To help streamline my routine when I got home, I eventually started alternating making bottles with storing milk in the freezer. I’d also defrost a bag from the freezer a few times a week to help rotate my freezer stash.
  • Friday milk – On Friday’s I would freeze and store all my milk. I would then pump Saturday and Sunday in the morning for bottles for Monday. This was a great way to help build a freezer stash over time. The extra pump on the weekends also helped to keep my supply up.
  • 2 shirt method – If you’re not familiar with the 2 shirt method, it’s wearing a light shirt under your real shirt. When it comes time to nurse or pump, the top shirt goes up and the bottom shirt goes down. It allows for discrete nursing, and pumping. It made me feel a lot more comfortable when I was sitting in my classroom that I was still covered.
  • say buy buy to cute dresses – I had a few LuLaRoe dresses that zipped in the back. I’d wear them backwards (the zipper was then in the front), and just unzip when it was time to pump. Other than that and a few shirt dresses, say good bye for a while to your cute dresses. (Though I do love Latch Mama dresses and they’re generally easy to pump in.)

If you haven’t already done so, check out my Breastfeeding Must Haves. Also, read my short comparison between the two most popular (insurance covered) pump options here: the Medela Pump in Style or the Spectra.

-It goes by in a flash