The new mom’s guide to pumping at work

If you’re planning on breastfeeding, then at some point in the near future, you’re going to need answers to the following questions. Some of the answers may vary depending on your individual situation, but here’s what every mom should know before pumping in the workplace.

Where will I pump?

If you’re in the U.S., you can find comfort in knowing that there are laws in place to help support and protect you as you pump. For example, most employers are legally obligated to provide you with a reasonable amount of time (not necessarily paid) to express milk. However, there are exceptions under the law for certain exempt employees, such as teachers. Your employer is also legally required to provide you with a private place to pump that is not a bathroom. You can read about these laws here. And for a handy PDF that you can download and print, follow this link. Other breastfeeding laws tend to vary by state, and you can research your state’s laws here

With regard to your specific employer, if you didn’t have a conversation with them about these details before your leave, you should reach out to HR to find out what is offered in the way of pumping space and amenities. Is there a designated lactation room? Can you pump in your own office? What do other breastfeeding moms in your office do? Many employers are happy to support breastfeeding moms – the support they provide just might not be known to you yet because you didn’t have to think about it much prior. There could even be a secret pumping room you’ve never noticed before!

>If you’re a member of a collective bargaining unit, be sure to check your contract and ask your union leadership if you have any questions or concerns.

What will my pumping schedule be like?

While Baby is less than six months old, you’ll need to pump every three hours or so. It will probably take you about 20-30 minutes to pump each session. When planning your schedule, make sure to factor in your commute time; an 8-hour workday usually requires some additional time getting back and forth to work and home. Once you figure out how long a typical day is for you, it helps to schedule – yes, schedule – time in your daily calendar so that a fixed time is decidedly yours. You’ll want to speak with your employer about these details too, just so that any necessary parties – bosses, coworkers, and the like – know that your pumping time is a priority.

What will I need to bring to work?

If you’re not the kind of person who plans their outfit the night before, it’s time to try and pick up this habit! Here are the pumping essentials you’ll need to pack ahead of time. (Tip: you might need a separate bag).  

  • Pump and pump parts
  • Soft cooler, labeled with your name, for storing milk
  • Ice pack for keeping milk cool during your commute
  • Bottles or bags for storing milk, also labeled if they’re not going in a cooler
  • Ziploc bag for wet pump parts
  • Nursing or pumping bra, milk pads, and nipple cream
  • A sweater, shawl, or small blanket
  • Amenities like paper towels, an extension cord, wipes or hand sanitizer
  • Your own lunch and a water bottle (or two – hydration is super important while breastfeeding!)
  • Snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. You’ll be hungry.

Where and how should I store my milk?

One you return to work, plan to use clean containers that are sturdy and have no chance of leaking (your breast milk is precious!). Label your expressed milk with the day and month, and then store it in a fridge or in an insulated cooler bag if you don’t have an available fridge – so you’ll want to know ahead of time if you’ll have access to an office fridge.

  • Fridge: Put the bottles or bags in a soft cooler bag and store it in the back of the fridge. If you have to keep it in the freezer part of a refrigerator, it will still be safe, but try to put it in the back so that the temperature doesn’t fluctuate if the door opens.
  • Insulated cooler bag: You’ll want to make sure there are plenty of ice packs in the bag, and that they’re physically surrounding the milk to keep it cold all day.

How will I keep everything clean?

To prevent germs from being spread to your breast milk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you always wash your hands before pumping, hand expressing, and touching or moving breast milk. In between pumping, you’ll need to wash the parts in an available sink, or wipe them with a sanitizing wipe – so you’ll also want to know if you’ll have access to a sink. And you can keep the cleaned parts in a Ziploc bag in between pumping.

What should I do with everything at the end of the day?

On your commute home, keep your milk sealed and cold in an insulated cooler. Once you get home, freeze your milk (make sure it’s labeled with the date!) and wash the pumping parts thoroughly. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, this means:

  • Washing your hands
  • Taking all the parts apart
  • Rinsing each part with running water
  • If hand washing: using a clean brush and a clean wash basin to scrub with hot water and soap, and regularly cleaning the wash basin and brush
  • If dishwashing: putting in the dishwasher (carefully, so as not to let any small parts get lost in the machine) and running in a hot water and heated drying cycle
  • Air-drying very, very thoroughly
  • When they’re dry, sanitizing (this means steaming or boiling) pump parts at least once a day

Tips that all moms should know

  • It gets easier. Just like with breastfeeding, for many women pumping starts out hard and then gets easier as time goes on. This is really important to remember if you find yourself struggling in the early days and wonder if it’s just not meant for you. In those times, it could really help to enlist the aid of a lactation consultant or to ask your healthcare provider for assistance or support.
  • Be your own advocate. If you find out that you don’t have a room or suitable space to pump in, be your own advocate and ask HR for what you need. Sometimes it’s the case that an employer has never been asked about a pumping room before, in which case you’d be doing the other parents in your office a huge favor. Again, to have these conversations before you return is important so the details of where and when you will pump are clear and you don’t face any surprises once you’re back. And once you do return, be stubborn about not skipping pumping breaks or going an extra thirty minutes before pumping because of someone else’s request. Baby needs that milk, and you’ll be uncomfortable or even engorged if you skip pumping sessions. 
  • HR is your friend. Once you’re back on the job and pumping regularly, go to human resources if you have any issues with coworkers, your time, your space, your milk storage – anything! Maybe people keep barging into your pumping area, they aren’t respecting your blocked-off time for pumping, or someone says something that just rubs you the wrong way. A lot of people unfortunately just don’t understand what pumping entails. These are worst-case scenarios that you hopefully won’t have to deal with, especially if your employer is family-friendly and understanding. But if anything like these things come up, be in touch with your HR representative – they’re there to help. 

What you can do, right now, to prepare for your return

Whether you plan to return to work next week or next month, here are your next steps for preparing to pump at work.

  • Get the necessary equipment. If you haven’t got a breast pump yet, now is the time to do so. While U.S. law mandates that new moms get free breast pumps through their insurer and some women can get them while pregnant, others won’t ship pumps until after a little one is born. So get the pump you need, as well as any extra accessories you’ll need to safely transport that liquid gold from your workplace to Baby back home – such as ice packs, a soft cooler, and such.
  • Practice pumping at home. If you’ve been exclusively breastfeeding Baby thus far, make some time to get familiar with all of your pumping equipment, since you don’t want to be using it for the first time when you return to work. The more practice you get using it now in the comfort of your home, the better shape you’ll be in when you are doing so at work.
  • Tell your employer your plans. If you’re planning on breastfeeding, make sure that your employer – possibly HR – has provided you with information on where you will pump and what sort of extras – like a fridge or a sink – will be available to you. You should also explain the basics of what breastfeeding will entail to your supervisor before you return to work so that expectations about taking breaks to pump are clear. And make sure to go into these conversations with confidence; you’ve got it under control!
  • Find an office buddy who is also breastfeeding. When you return, team together with any other new moms or pregnant women at your job. You can advocate for each other and if necessary, switch off pumping times so you can cover for each other. If you’re friendly with these folks, you might even be able to start these conversations and share info on pumping at work before your return to work.

It’s not always easy, but breastfeeding while working is doable. Stressful? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. The benefits of breastfeeding are enormous, so if you are planning on breastfeeding and going back to work, know that you’ve got this in the bag. The breast pump bag, that is!

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