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Are planning to pump at work and need help preparing? Or maybe you have already started and need some ideas for how to improve the flow of things? If so, I think this post will help you! This is the first in a series where I will share what you can do to prepare for pumping at work, give you some example pumping schedules, walk you through how to efficiently manage the whole process, and even provide a tool for calculating if and when you can stop pumping prior to your goal AND still reach your goal!
Before I get into the details, I just want to mention that this post is based on my own experience as a mom. I’m not a certified lactation consultant or a doctor. I’m a mom who went through some of the same struggles as you, learned from some amazing women, and come out the other end with more knowledge than when I started. I’m trying to pay it forward and share what I’ve learned in the process.
Alright! I promised a complete guide, so here goes…
What Can You Expect as a Pumping Mom At Work
I don’t know about you, but I finally felt comfortable nursing (like REALLY comfortable) when my little one was about 2 or 2 1/2 months old. I was extremely fortunate and was able to stay home with him for nearly 3 months. Right around when we got our breastfeeding groove, I had to start thinking about going back to work and that terrified me! How was I going to handle pumping at work? Would he adjust well to drinking from a bottle? Would I succeed at my job while pumping? Was I going to start leaking during meetings? Oh my gosh! The list went on. I was so scared!
But guess what?
With some amazing advice from others, posts like this one, and forums… Not only did I get through it… my baby and I thrived! I excelled at work. I nursed my little one exclusively for a year and then continued to breastfeed him until he was 17 months old. Plus, I didn’t completely lose my mind. (Somehow…)
If you’re not already familiar with the “Breaktime for Nursing Mothers” law, I definitely recommend taking a look at it! The law went a long way towards making pumping at work possible for many women. In a nutshell, this law requires companies of any size to allow women to take time out of their day to pump if they are an hourly employee. The law also requires companies to provide a space for nursing women to express milk.
Thanks to this law, many companies now have “Mother’s Rooms” for nursing women to use. These spaces don’t need to be permanently dedicated to nursing mothers but they must be created as needed. A bathroom is not an acceptable space. Further, the room must be private. Women no longer have to pump in their cars or in the bathroom!
What does this mean for you?
If you’re planning to pump at work, you should let your manager and/or human resources know so that they can prepare a room for you if it doesn’t already exist. If one does already exist, they may need to make you a key or setup your badge so that you can access the room.
Do you really need to prepare for pumping at work?
You sure do! Here are some stuff you’ll need to do before you go back to work:
- Make arrangements with your company (as mentioned above)
- Establish your breastfeeding goals and motivations
- Buy or acquire a breast pump and the supplies you’ll need
- Learn to use your breast pump
- Introduce your little one to the bottle
- Establish a small “freezer stash”
- Block off time to pump on your work calendar
Let’s go through some of these starting with the second bullet since I already mentioned the first above!
Establish your breastfeeding goals and motivations
Breastfeeding in general is difficult for so many reasons. I personally feel that the biggest reason is that your baby is LEARNING to breastfeed. Yes, it is natural. Yes, it is instinctual. But so much of it is still learned just like crawling and walking is learned. Even if you’ve breastfed other babies before, THIS baby is learning to breastfeed for the first time. That alone leads to lots of challenges.
That’s why establishing your breastfeeding goals and knowing your honest reasons for wanting to achieve those goals can be so important. It will help you maintain perspective and get you through the tough days when you begin to wonder why you are even doing this. As a nursing mom at work, you will definitely have those days. You’ll be rushing from one meeting to another and wonder why you are adding this stress. Even if you are determined to breastfeed, you will still have those days.
So… just be honest with yourself and don’t beat yourself up too much if you’re struggling. It’s also okay to revise your goals!
In my case when my second son was born, I was determined to nurse him until 12 months. After trying to exclusively nurse my first son and completely switching over to formula only a few months in, my goal to nurse the second for 12 months sometimes felt like a crazy goal. I was determined!
Guess what happened? About 6 weeks in, I found myself having so many challenges and being so distraught and unsure about myself that I revised my goals from 12 months down to 6 months. I’m not sure that I ever told anyone that but I told myself. In the end, I passed the 6 month mark, got to the 12 month mark, and then continued nursing him until he was 17 months old!
I feel strongly that giving myself the okay to stop at 6 months and reducing my goal went a long way towards helping me achieve the success I had. It took a lot of stress off my shoulders and it felt more attainable. As I’ve mentioned in some prior breastfeeding posts, I also gave myself permission to loosen up a bit on a few occasions. I consider my son to have been “exclusively breastfed” until 12 months old. That said, there were a few occasions where I could not find a good place to nurse or I needed my husband to feed the baby and I didn’t yet have pumped milk. We fed him formula. He had maybe 12 oz of formula total. At the time, I felt like a failure for it, but giving myself the permission to do that when I really had to (for whatever reason it was) helped me reach my goal. A few ounces of formula – feeding my baby in the way I felt I needed to when he was hungry – does not in any way take away from our breastfeeding relationship. While he wasn’t “officially” exclusively breastfed, I think 12 ounces out of who knows how many is close enough for me!
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box on that topic for just a moment, but I think it’s important to point out. Even if you are a huge breastfeeding advocate, and absolutely plan to exclusively breastfeed… You need to do what’s right for you and your baby and no one should judge you for it. So you shouldn’t judge yourself either. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Do what you need to do to feed your baby and take care of yourself too.
Want to read a bit more on this? I’ve got some other great posts:
- My 2 part post with my top breastfeeding tips
- 6 Things you need to consider when struggling to breastfeed
Buy or acquire a Breast Pump and the supplies you’ll need
Getting your pump before you go to work may seem obvious but here’s the thing… The supplies may take time to get. For example, your insurance may cover the cost of a breast pump. Most will require that you order it within a certain amount of time after having the baby, and require that you order it from a specific place. That usually means that it will get shipped to you so you need to build that into your schedule.
You may also buy the supplies and realize you don’t like the brand or model breast pump you have. You don’t want to be figuring that out after you return to work.
Here’s a list of supplies you will likely want to get (and why):
Please note that many of these links are affiliate links which means that I may receive compensation if you choose to make a purchase using these link. That in no way influenced my recommendations though! These are all products I LOVE! Further, anything I make from that helps me keep this blog alive so… If you do use any of these links, thank you for your support! You can learn more about this on my disclosure page.
Yup! You’ll definitely need a breast pump. I’ve heard of people trying to use a manual one, but you’ll learn pretty quickly that an electric one is key!
There are so many brands out there and so many different models that it can be hard to pick. that’s why I have put together detailed a Breast Pump Comparison post! Click here to read it before ordering your pump.
Hands-free Pumping Bra
Unless you want to spend all day and night in the office, you’re going to want some way to multi-task while you pump. There are tons of pumping bras on the market, but I really didn’t like them. I would have had to wear them all day which I really didn’t want to do.
The Medela Freestyle pump I mentioned earlier has some hands-free attachments that work great, but only if you’re wearing a nursing bra with hooks – again, I didn’t always wear one of those. So… my favorite quickly became the Simplicity Hands-Free Bra Kit!
It was so silly easy to use and only costs $14! You can use it with any bra and any pump. It doesn’t require you to take your shirt off or remove your bra… You just pull your shirt up, pull the bra flaps down, and the clasp it around your neck and back. I get cold easily so this was a perk. I’d often put a sweater on while pumping too… Either way, this hands-free option was so convenient and inexpensive that I ended up having two! One for the car and one for the office.
Milk Storage bags
If you plan to pump at work long-term, you are going to want to build what’s called a freezer stash. This is basically a bunch of milk that you store in your freezer as backup. The backup is GREAT because if you have an off day and don’t pump enough, you accidentally spill some (It’s okay to cry when this happens by the way!), or you just have something unexpected come up, you will still be able to give your baby breast milk and not need formula.
Breast milk storage bags are key to building a freezer stash. Anything you want to freeze you will want to put in a bag (rather than a bottle) and then lay flat in your freezer.
PRO Tip: Put a cereal box sideways in your freezer and then stack your freezer bags flat in the cereal box! They will freeze flat (which makes them quicker to defrost) and they will take up less space. Plus, you’ll always know that the oldest milk at the bottom! So convenient!
Freezer bags can get expensive. You can buy the Medela brand ones if you like Medela like me but the cost adds up. They are perfectly good bags but I’m frugal so I quickly switched to the Target brand ones!
I pumped for about 9 months straight with my second (maybe a bit longer) and built up a huge freezer stash. So much so, that I was able to stop pumping prior to my son’s 1 year birthday and still give him 100% breast milk the whole time he was at daycare until he turned a year old. I used these Up & Up Breastmilk Storage bags for most of that time and only had one or two leak on me. That was even better than the Medela brand ones! Best of all… These bags cost 50% less than the Medela brand ones! Needless to say, while both work great, I strongly recommend the target brand ones!
If you are pumping at work, there is a good chance that your little one is in full or part-time daycare. If your baby is in daycare, you will need to label your bottles with your baby’s name and the date that the bottle is for. Not the date that you pumped the milk, it’s the date that the bottle should be fed to your baby.
One of my very first blog posts on this site was my 2 Huge Time Saving Tips For Preparing Bottles for Daycare! If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend checking it out!
You’ll need some permanent way of putting your little one’s name on all your bottles and a way to put the date. To make your life a bit easier in the mornings, I strongly recommend these Waterproof labels which will never come off in the dishwasher! Guess what though? You can manually remove them and they won’t leave any residue. Crazy right? At less than $20 for 66, these are a great price!
For putting the date on your bottles, I love these Dry Erase Labels! Like the name labels, these will survive the dishwasher but can also be easily removed manually if needed. With these labels, you actually write the date using a SHARPIE (yes, seriously) and it will stay on all day! At the end of the day, just wipe it off with a paper towel and you’ll have a blank slate for the next day! It’s the easiest way to put the date on the bottles!
Another tip: The pack comes with lots of different sizes, so I actually used the larger sizes on my food storage containers and loved them! Such an easy way to write an expiration date on food items!
Lots of Extra Bottles
You will want to have lots of bottles. Think of it this way, your baby will likely need 3-4 bottles a day at daycare, you will need 4-5 at work while pumping (if you use my technique), and will probably need 4-5 extras because you likely won’t get around to washing bottles every single day. That means that you will need about 14+ bottles at a minimum.
Here’s the thing… Babies can be super picky about which bottles they like. My first for example was colic. We later learned that using Avent Bottles made a big difference and had to switch all our bottles over to Avent! We tried SO many bottles before finding that Avent was the brand that would work.
For my second, I didn’t buy any special bottles ahead of time. I had some Medela bottles from the breast pump I got and purchased a few cheap Gerber Bottles because they fit the Medela breast pump perfectly. They were a cheap fill-in for pumping purposes. My plan had been to then figure out what would work for #2 and stock up on those once we figured it out. My second wasn’t picky at all though! He took to the Medela and Gerber ones and had NO problems! So that’s what we stuck to.
Moral of the story – Just buy some cheap bottles that will fit your breast pump to start with. Nothing fancy. Then figure out what will work for your little one after they are born and start using bottles.
medela soap and wipes
Let’s face it. You’re going to have enough going on once you get home that cleaning and organizing pump parts shouldn’t be one of them. Chances are, you’re also going to inevitably drop a pump part in the middle of the day too. Bottom line – being able to clean your parts are work is amazing! That’s where breast milk specific soap and wipes come in. I liked having both handy. I’d use the wipes if it was something minor and mid-day. I’d use the soap at night.
Here was my pump part cleaning routine:
- In between pumping sessions, I’d wipe my pump parts down with a paper towel or wipe and put them in the fridge. (They’d be in a ziplock bag within my non-see-through bag). Many sources say that so long as your parts are refrigerated in between pumping, you can reuse them without washing. Again, though I’m not a doctor or microbiologist and can’t guarantee the safety of this practice, I did this without any issues.
- At the end of the day, I’d wash them at work. If I could do it discretely at the kitchen sink, I’d just fill a bowl up with water add a few drops of the of Medela Quick Clean Breast Milk Removal Soap, soak for a bit, rinse off, and then air dry on paper towel in the mother’s room. I was usually able to do this without anyone getting too curious.
- When I couldn’t do it discretely (I work with mostly men), I’d just fill up the bowl, soak them at my desk in the water and soap, take the parts out and replace the soapy water with plain water, rinse etc. A bit more effort but did the trick.
I was lucky to have the mother’s room mostly to myself, so leaving my pumps to dry there wasn’t a problem. In theory, you could let them dry anywhere that you are confident no one will touch them. It was so great to only have to worry about bringing my bottles each day. My pump and all my pump parts stayed at work so I never found myself without a specific piece.
Disposable sterilizing bags
I loved having sterilizing bags at work and at home. I found that so many countertop or microwave sterilizers (is that a word? :)) got really gross really quickly. I think it was caused by minerals in the water – I’m not sure – but I had many over the years and they all turned out really gross. The microwave one was the least problematic because I could throw the entire thing in the dishwasher, but it was still a pain. While I continued to use it at home so that I could cut down on waste, I have to say that I much preferred the disposable ones!
Personally, I used the Medela Quick Clean Micro-steam bags. They worked like a charm and were surprisingly cheap! For about $4 you can get a box of 5 and you can reuse each bag up to 20 times! Each bag even has a little chart that you can check off to track how many times you have used each bag!
At work I always had at least one of these bags so that if I felt like I needed to “super clean” (i.e. sterilize) my pump parts or a bottle, I could easily do it! So many offices have microwaves (and some mother rooms even have one) that these are just too convenient NOT to have handy! I also used to use these to sterilize the parts at the end of each week. Doing this, I was able to keep the parts at work most of the time!
This is likely the most obvious piece of advice but… You’ll need an insulated bag or cooler! If you don’t have a refrigerator to use, you’ll need some place to store your bottles and milk during the day. Even if you do have a fridge, you’ll want to keep your milk as cool and fresh as possible while in transit!
I don’t know about you, but breast milk really did feel like gold to me! I never wanted to take ANY chances that I’d waste any of the milk I had worked SO hard to pump! An insulated travel case of some sort was important to me!
Truthfully, I used anything I could get my hands on so I don’t have any specific recommendations on bag type. They all work!
Remember those dry-erase lables? You’ll need a sharpie to use them!
How about the microsteam bags? Same thing! You’ll need a sharpie to mark how often you’re using it so that you know when to throw them out.
Other Nice To Haves
While we’re on the topic of things you’ll need, here are a few things you will want to keep at work and handy when pumping:
Chances are that at least one of your pumping sessions will be during lunch. You’ll also likely get very hungry as you pump. It uses lots of calories! (I’ve seen estimates of 400+ calories). I always kept some homemade Lactation Cookies handy, and if I was in between batches, some sort of granola bar. Trust me, you’ll be happy to have something around to snack on!
Whether you’re going to keep bottled water on hand, or plan to fill up a reusable bottle, never sit down to pump without some water handy! You’ll definitely need to stay hydrated.
The Institute of Medicine states “It is widely assumed that milk production requires a high fluid intake on the part of the mother, yet the evidence suggests that lactating women can tolerate a considerable amount of water restriction and that supplemental fluids have little effect on milk volume.” (Source)
That said, I personally felt dehydrated if I didn’t drink more than my usual amount and that, in turn, made me fear that I wouldn’t pump enough. So… I made sure to drink plenty and I would definitely suggest doing the same! Why not right? Chances are that most of us aren’t drinking our recommended 8 or so cups anyway.
I always have a roll of paper towel in my office anyway. This wasn’t a new item, but it certainly came in handy when I was pumping at work. Whether it’s for wiping your parts, laying them out to dry, or to (*shudder*) clean up spilled milk… you’ll be happy to have these on hand!
Establish a small “freezer stash”
If you plan to feed your baby breast milk exclusively after returning to work, then building up a freezer stash is key. There are many reasons, but here are just a few:
- Chances are that you won’t know exactly how much your baby will drink from a bottle each day at daycare. One of the easiest things to do during this transition period, is send your baby in with multiple (extra) bottles of milk. I personally sent my little one in with about 5 bottles with 2oz each. I also sent in a couple of bags of frozen milk just in case. You’ll need to pump all of this before you baby’s first day.
- During your first few weeks back at work, chances are that your hormones will be out of wack. You also won’t have baby around to help trigger let down. Pumping can be difficult during those first few days or weeks. So you’ll want to have extra milk in case you don’t pump enough in the beginning.
- Then there’s the occasional spilt bottle of milk…
- The return of aunt flow can affect your pumping output…
- Or the hectic day at work when you miss one of your pumping sessions.
Bottom line: Having some extra milk on hand to fill in the gaps will help you achieve your goal (if that is to only feed your baby breast milk).
When you start building your freezer stash really depends on you and when you go back to work, but here’s something to consider. If you are breastfeeding your baby the entire day and then suddenly add a pumping session (to build your freezer stash), chances are that you won’t produce very much. Furthermore, if you already feel you are having trouble producing enough or your baby is going through a growth spurt, you could have trouble pumping much. It will take a few sessions for your body to adjust to the extra “feeding” session. You may only produce 1 or 2 ounces the first few times you pump so you will likely need quite a few pumping sessions before your first day back at work.
Personally, I did not want to add more than one pumping session a day because I didn’t want to risk engorgement. As it was, I had over active let down and my baby occasionally had trouble from that. I decided that I wanted to start work with 4 days worth of milk for my little one – just in case – and guessed that I’d need to send him in with 10 ounces a day. So:
4 days x 10 ounces of milk = 40 ounces (This is how much I’d need in my freezer stash)
40 ounces / 2 ounces per pumping session = 20 pumping sessions
That meant that if I was going to limit myself to one pumping session a day, I’d need to start 20 days before my first day of work. And that’s what I did! Luckily, I managed to pump more than 2 ounces per session but I didn’t mind the extra milk. My freezer stash later grew to a few hundred ounces.
There’s another benefit of doing this and that leads me to my next section…
Learn to use your breast pump
You do NOT want to do learn how to use a breast pump while you’re at work! Pumps can be tricky. Making sure your parts fit you correctly (yes! There are different size parts!), and that you know how to set it up is really important. You also need to learn what settings are comfortable for you and what works. So it’s really key to do this beforehand. You’ll be learning to use your pump as you prepare your freezer stash!
Also, take advantage fo all resources at your disposal to make sure you’re doing it right. The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself… seriously!
Okay, so now you know what you need to do to prepare. What do you actually do at work? I’ve posted two great resources to my Resource Library in a file I call my “Pumping Mama’s Toolkit”! You will get my “Pumping at Work Schedule and Tips” printable and my tool for calculating when and if you can stop pumping early (but still meet your breastfeeding goal)! Click HERE to gain access to them and more in my Mommy Resource Library!
Did you find this useful? I’d love to hear back from you! Have any questions or have alternate advice? Please comment below. Your comments will help me continuously improve this post and site. Thanks!