There’s no other way to say it. Pumping at work is a pain in the ass! I know… I’ve now been doing it for 16 months.
Despite the serious love hate relationship I have with my pump, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It enables me to provide breastmilk for my baby when we’re apart. For that, I’m very grateful, especially as a working mom.
So, to the working, breastfeeding, pumping mamas, here are the tips and tricks I have learned on my journey. I hope they help you so you can achieve your breastfeeding goals!
Wear pump friendly clothing
Wear outfits that make it easy to access your milk-makers. I wore a zipper-free dress one day, and the only way to pump was to take the whole thing off. It was a pain, and I was freezing cold while I pumped in nothing but my undies. Lesson learned.
Invest in a hands-free pump bra
A hands-free pump bra is a necessary investment, making it possible (and easy) for you to multi-task while pumping. Your hands are free to do whatever you need: type, take a conference call, play on your phone, scratch an itch, and whatever else you want or need to do.
Get your pump bag ready the night before
Mornings are always super frantic, so make it easier on yourself by getting your pump bag ready the night before. The only thing you’ll need to add in the morning is a freezer pack or two for your transport bag. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Large bag to carry all your stuff
- (2) Breastshields with valves and membranes
- (4-6) Bottles with lids
- Insulated bag for storing your milk in a fridge at work and transporting home
- Two ice packs for your ride home (and for storing your milk throughout the day if you don’t have access to a refrigerator)
- Hands free pump bra
- Something to hold your breastshields/bottles in between pump sessions – a large plastic bag, a reusable container and a large baby wipe dispenser all work.
- A little bin of coconut oil (tip #6)
Keep an extra set up pump parts at work
At some point, you’ll likely forget to pack something you need – bottles, membranes, bottle lids, etc. The best solution is to keep extras of everything at work so you’re always prepared.
Pump when you would normally feed baby
Breastmilk production is based on supply and demand. Pump sessions are intended to replace feeding sessions. This may be hard to calculate for moms who feed on demand rather than on a schedule, so look at it this way:
Baby needs 1 to 1.5 ounces of breastmilk for every hour you’re away (less than many realize they need). If you’re away for ten hours, baby needs 10-15 ounces of breastmilk.
I returned to work when my daughter was three months old. She is at daycare for about ten hours each weekday. This is how I prepared her bottles:
- 3 – 6 months old: 2.75 – 3 ounce bottle every two to three hours – four bottles total
- 7 – 12 months old: 3-4 ounce bottle every three hours, plus solid food – three bottles total
- 12 months old and up: 3-4 ounce bottle with meals, usually two, and an extra cup of water
I pumped three times a day at work, until Maddie turned one, at which time I dropped to two pumping sessions per day.
Put coconut oil on before you pump
Rubbing coconut oil on your nipples and areolas before you pump will make pumping more comfortable, and it’s safe for baby if it gets in your milk. Rub some on afterwards while you’re at it. It will keep the area healthy and hydrated.
Experiment with different pump times
A half an hour may make a huge difference in pump output. Experiment a bit to find what times of day your body responds best to the pump. Just make sure you don’t wait too long between sessions. Also, it’s totally normal to have a stud and a dud boob, so don’t be surprised if you get uneven amounts from each side when you pump.
Lock the door
Three times, I’ve been walked in on mid-pump. Whoops! I think they were more embarrassed than I was… The site of me in my faded pink hands-free pump bra hooked up to a contraption that looks and sounds like a torture device is not exactly attractive. So it’s better for all if it’s done without an audience.
Lean forward a bit while you pump
Not so far forward that milk spills, but leaning forward just a bit will assist gravity with getting the flow going.
Use pictures of your baby as inspiration
Want to have a letdown? It doesn’t always work, but there are certain things you can try to initiate one. Look at pictures of your baby, watch home videos (try one of your baby crying), or smell a blanket or onesie with your baby’s scent.
Muffle your pump with sound
Pumps are noisy. If you don’t want anyone to hear you pumping, play music on your phone, or use one of you white noise baby apps. It will help muffle the sound, and it’s very soothing.
I know. That’s like saying “Don’t breathe.” It’s really hard not to stress sometimes, but nothing will inhibit your flow like stress… Especially if you’re stressing out about not producing enough milk. Take a deep breath. Take a break from work and look through pictures. Read a magazine to take your mind off of pumping. Do whatever you can to ease your mind. Just find your Zen place, keep calm, and pump on.
Secure your milk before you do anything else
Whoever came up with the expression “Don’t cry over spilled milk” obviously never pumped and spilled. It’s heartbreaking. Don’t take the chance of spilling any of your precious milk. Before you get dressed, clean up, or do anything else, secure your milk when you finish pumping. If you’re storing it in a bottle, screw the lid on right away. If you store in bags, seal those baggies right away.
Pour your milk directly into baby’s bottles
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. For months, I stored my milk in pump bottles and then transferred the milk into baby bottles when I got home. Eventually, I realized that (for me) it’s easier to pour your milk directly into baby’s bottles after you pump so they’re ready to go the following day. And, it’s one less step when you get home from work.
If you do this, you’ll have to adjust the contents of your pump bag (tip #3) so you have three or four baby bottles, but you’ll only need two pump bottles, since you’ll be able to reuse them each pump session.
Look down before you walk out
You don’t want to give your coworkers a peep show, so look down before you walk out of your office/pump room to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.
Don’t bother washing parts between pump sessions during the work day
Don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be. Pump parts do not need to be washed or refrigerated between sessions. It is completely safe to keep them at room temperature. If you’re worried about it, you can leave the pump parts in the fridge between sessions, but the cold flanges may impede your output, so warm them up before they touch your skin.
Keep a spare set of clothes at work in case of spills
Yes, it can happen. You accidentally don’t screw the bottles on all the way and next thing you know, milk is all over your lap, looking like a big pee spot. Keep an extra outfit for just-in-case situations.
Staying hydrated is super important when you’re breastfeeding/pumping, preferably with water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink; that’s a sign that you’re already dehydrated. Keep a giant water bottle with you at all times and drink it throughout the day, hopefully refilling it a time or two. If you’re sick of water, add some fruit to enhance the flavor. Sport drinks like Gatorade are okay in moderation, but they’re full of sugar, so try to avoid them.
Eat healthy calories
One awesome perk of breastfeeding is that you burn calories while doing it (without having to go to the gym – YAY!) but that means you have to replenish your body with calories – preferably healthy, vitamin, nutrient, iron-rich food. Some good options are oatmeal, nut butter, avocados, pasta salad, smoothies, lentils, and hummus.
Keep snacks at work
It’s easy to get caught up in the workday and forget to eat. Keep backup snacks in your office so you’ll never go hungry. Good options are nuts, granola bars, trail mix, crackers, and instant oatmeal. Remember, in order to take care of baby, you need to take care of mommy first.
Skip the supplements
There are mothers who swear by lactation cookies, Fenugreek, and other supplements for increasing their supply. I tried Fenugreek for a while, and other than smelling like a maple syrup factory, I didn’t notice any changes in output. In fact, taking these supplements may do the opposite of what you want, so it’s better to skip them, and just drink sufficient water and eat healthy calories.
Invest in a car adapter
There may be days when you miss a pump session because you’re stuck in meetings. You can pump on your way home from work, of course, using your hands free pump bra. Also, if you’re on the road a lot for work, this is a necessary investment.
Consider a manual pump for emergencies
If you’re a worst-case-scenario planner, it’s a good idea to invest in a manual pump. It’s inexpensive and a great solution in the event of your electric pump breaking, a power outage, or if you need quick relief. It’s also a great solution for airport traveling if you’re without baby and not comfortable pumping on a plane.
Keep a blanket at work
Air conditioned office buildings can be really cold. Keep a blanket on hand to drape over your shoulders while you pump.
Keep your pump at work during the week
Since you’re pumping to replace feedings, unless you miss a pump session at work, you shouldn’t need to pump when you get home. Leave your pump at work during the week, and take it home on the weekend – not to use, just for safe keeping. That should eliminate five pounds from your pump bag.
Put your milk away as soon as you get home
Before you do anything else, put your milk in your fridge as soon as you get home. There’s nothing worse than realizing you left your milk out all night, and having to literally pour your hard work down the drain.
Side note: if that ever happens, don’t pour it down the drain. Instead, pour it in your baby’s bath. It’s great for baby’s (and your) skin.
Use Friday’s milk on Monday
Breastmilk stays fresh in the refrigerator for five days (source: CDC), so you can use the milk you pumped Friday on Monday. Just keep it toward the back of your refrigerator where it’s coldest. Another option is to freeze Friday’s milk, and give baby defrosted milk on Monday, so you’re refreshing your freezer stash on a weekly basis.
Keep your pump parts in good working order
When you finish pumping, leave the pump on for a couple minutes to clear the built up condensation in your pump tubing. Every night, wash your bottles, breastfshields, valves and membranes really well with soap and hot water to keep them clean. Examine your membranes to make sure there aren’t any tears, which will tank your output. If you see a tear, replace it immediately. If you don’t see a tear, they should still be changed every three months. Also, check your valves for mold or milk buildup.
Keep the Customer Service number on speed dial
Hopefully, you won’t need to use it, but if you have an issue with your pump (it stops working, makes a funny sound, etc.) call pump company immediately, so they can troubleshoot issues over the phone, and replace broken parts if necessary. Twice, I had new parts overnighted to me (at no charge) because my pump wasn’t working properly.
Consider upgrading your pump
I know this isn’t financially feasible for many – pumps are super expensive. However, because my crappy insurance-provided pump seriously malfunctioned twice, and I suffered a major dip in output as a result, I decided to ditch it and purchase a pump. It made a world of difference, and my output increased greatly. Yes, it was expensive, but I purchased it with money in my Health Savings Account, and in the long run, saved more money than I would have spent buying formula.
Know your rights
In the unfortunate event that pumping causes a problem for you at work, know your rights in your state. My heart breaks for pumping moms who are told they can’t have the time to pump, or that they have to use a bathroom because there isn’t an available space for them to pump.
I don’t prepare my meals next to a toilet, and I certainly won’t prepare my baby’s meals next to one.
Many states have laws in place mandating organizations to provide breastfeeding moms with the following:
- A private location – not a bathroom – to pump
- “Reasonable time” for pumping, which may be unpaid
This usually applies to organizations with 50 or more employees, but it may apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees, unless they can prove your pumping causes an “undue hardship.” Know your rights and stand up for yourself.
Be proud of yourself
Being a mom is hard. Being a working mom is harder. Being a working, breastfeeding, pumping mom really takes the cake!
As far as I’m concerned, moms who work and breastfeed are superheroes! You will have days where you’re tired, frustrated, and ready to quit everything. And when you do, remind yourself that today will pass, tomorrow is a new day, and you are doing everything you can to fulfill both of your jobs as a professional and a mom.
You’re putting your baby’s needs before your needs, which makes you awesome and a great mom. Be proud of yourself for everything you are doing. Even if you don’t hear it enough from your family or friends, know that you are amazing!
Do you have tips for pumping moms? Please leave them in a comment below. And if you like this article, please share it with your friends!
Click here to read Returning to Work from Maternity Leave: Ten Tips for an Easier Transition.