How to nurse while you work

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The Happy Mama Milk Mentors

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, most employers with more than 50 employees must offer their breastfeeding employees a comfortable, safe and private place (other than a bathroom) to take reasonable breaks for pumping up to one year after childbirth.

What to Know

  • Most employers must allow breastfeeding employees time and space to pump at work
  • Have a plan in place before you return to work
  • Prepare yourself, your baby, and your baby’s caregiver for your first day away
  • Be flexible as your (and your baby’s) needs will change

It’s important that you talk with your employer about your plan to continue breastfeeding (either before or during your maternity leave) so you can establish your options, expectations, and any supports you’ll need to succeed.

When at the office, a good place to pump can be a private office or a designated lactation room. If such an area does not exist, talk with your employer about establishing one before you return. A sign or other designated signal will help your colleagues understand the purpose of the space. Any place that provides uninterrupted and comfortable privacy should do the trick.

If you are interested and feel it may be a possibility, you can try to negotiate an alternative work schedule (for example, part-time, working from home a few days each week, starting later or ending earlier than usual) or arrange your baby’s childcare very close to work. This can allow you to have more nursing sessions and quality time with your baby.

You don’t need to stockpile gallons of milk before you return to work, but you will need some milk on hand for that first day you’re away from your baby. Aim to have at least 16 ounces of milk in the freezer as a backup.

Pump at your regular nursing times while you’re away from your baby and continue nursing when you’re with your baby, to ensure you’ll have plenty of breastmilk to take you through this phase. The milk you pump at work each day will be used for your baby’s bottles the following day, and you can freeze any extra.

So how much milk will your baby need to have on hand each day you’re back at the office? Here’s a helpful guide: divide 25 (the average number of ounces a breastfed baby eats per day) by the total number of nursing sessions in a typical day. For example, if your baby feeds 6 times per day, the equation would look like this: 25 / 6 = 4.2. So you would put about 4 ounces of breastmilk in each bottle for each feeding. Keep in mind that the amount of milk your baby drinks each day will vary as she will have growth spurts and less hungry days. But know your baby’s milk intake remains about the same from months 1-6.

Initially, you may want to give your child’s caregiver some additional 1-ounce bags of milk in case your baby needs more than you thought. By keeping small amounts of milk separate from your prepared bottles you will decrease the chance of having to toss excess milk (bottled milk cannot be saved once your baby has had any from that same bottle, so you’ll need a fresh bottle every time).

Nurse when you’re with your baby as much as you and your baby want. The more nursing sessions you have together the less you will have to pump. Many moms breastfeed their babies first thing in the morning, just before leaving the baby with the caregiver, as soon as they pick up the baby at the end of the workday and 1-2 more times before bed (plus any night nursing if your baby is still waking to eat). The important thing is to take your cues from your baby — and from your breasts — and do what works best for both of you.

Just as with most things in parenting, there will be challenges. But, if you make the commitment and make a plan, you’ll be on your way to breastfeeding success! We are here to help you at every turn.

What to Do

Plan ahead – establish a breastfeeding and pumping routine before you return to work

Give yourself at least a month to get into a groove with your baby. This means that in the weeks leading up to returning to work, start pumping for a few minutes after some or all of your nursing sessions. Don’t worry if you’re not getting much milk at first. Pumping after a feeding is much different than pumping when your breasts are full. Additionally, your body will need to learn to respond to the stimulus of your pump, which is different (and less efficient) than your baby. Pumping in advance will also allow you to collect milk for your first day away and give you the opportunity to get comfortable with your breast pump.

The morning is an especially great time to pump, as your supply will be at its height. Store the pumped milk in 2-3 ounce portions. After you’ve been nursing for at least 3 weeks, have your baby practice taking breast milk from a bottle from someone other than you (after all, it won’t be you bottle feeding your baby when you’re at the office). You may need to experiment with different bottles and nipples to find a system you and your baby are most comfortable with.

Set yourself up for breast pumping success at work

Establish a plan for pumping at work. Notify your employer that you’re planning to pump at the office and will be setting aside time to do so. Decide in advance where you will pump (lactation room? private office?), and when you will pump (block off time in your calendar? negotiate an alternative work schedule? visit your baby at daycare?). Plan on each pumping session to take approximately 10-15 minutes (but maybe more and maybe less!).

Find out if your office is equipped with a refrigerator or freezer where you can store your pumped milk and if not, be sure to bring a cooler. Also think about any additional accessories you may need, like a battery pack or a hands-free bra.

Surround yourself with a supportive network

Is anyone else at your office breastfeeding? Start a pumping circle! Be in touch with friends who breastfed after returning to work for tips and advice.

Pump when your baby usually nurses

It’s ok if you can’t pump at exactly the same time everyday due to meetings or work tasks, but try to pump within the hour of when your baby normally nurses. This will likely mean you’re pumping 2-4 times per day depending on the length of your workday and your baby’s nursing pattern, so make sure you’re familiar with ways to make your pumping sessions most effective. Always be mindful of how your breasts are feeling throughout the day so as not to allow them to become uncomfortably full. And don’t skip pumping sessions altogether or else you may risk decreasing your milk supply or end up with plugged ducts.

Choose your back to work clothes carefully

Don’t wear anything that will require you to fully undress. Think separates and blouses in dark colors or prints (to camouflage any spills) or try wearing a nursing tank top under your blouse. Pick out your clothes the night before so getting dressed is quick and easy during the morning rush. And remember to stash some extra breast pads in your work bag in case you’re leaking.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself

You’re going to be one busy mama juggling work and baby. It’s important to keep yourself well-fed and hydrated throughout the day. Pack or buy lunches that are easy to eat while you pump and keep nutritious snacks on hand like fresh fruit, sliced vegetables, or a Happy Mama Breastfeeding Support Lactation Oat Bar. Carry a water bottle with you to remind yourself to drink and definitely sit down with a full glass each time you pump.

Choose a breastfeeding-friendly caregiver

While you’re bringing home the bacon, make sure your caregiver is on board with your carefully thought out breastfeeding plan. Don’t be afraid to be very specific about your feeding preferences and techniques. Provide clear instructions for preparing and giving bottles of your pumped milk, and encourage your baby’s caregiver to learn your baby’s hunger and satiety cues to follow her lead.

When pumping, relaxation is key

Make sure you’re comfortable and maybe take a minute to look at some pictures of your baby. You can also try massaging your breast towards the areola before starting and repeat half way through the pumping session to optimize output.

Being efficient with your at-work pumping sessions will also help you relax and ease any tension amidst your busy day. Know how to work your breast pump (read the user manual!). And try pumping with the help of a hands free bra so you can read a book or even keep those emails flying – no one will know you’re taking care of business from the lactation room.

Follow safe handling and storage practices for breastmilk

After pumping, label the milk with the amount and date. You may keep the milk at room temperature if you use it within the next 4 hours. Or store the milk in a refrigerator or cooler if you plan to use it more than 4 hours after pumping.

Clean all of your pumping supplies so you’re ready to go for the next session.

You can get free feeding advice from Happy Family. Tap here to chat with a Happy Mama Milk Mentor, certified nutritionists and lactation consultants there to help every family.

Speak with a Happy Mama Milk Mentor

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About the Happy Mama Milk Mentors

We are a team of lactation specialists and nutritionists here to help you with expert advice for your infant feeding journey.


  • Department of Health and Human Services
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