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Your Guide to Pumping for Milk

Your Guide to Pumping for Milk

Whether you look at pumping as a golden opportunity to keep your baby drinking breast milk while you're at the office or as a necessary evil, pumping at work can be really challenging. Between carving out the time, navigating dwindling supply and making sure you have the gazillion parts you need on hand, pumping at work can feel like it's a job in itself.

Still, returning to work doesn't have to mean the end of breastfeeding. Not sure how to juggle breastfeeding and work? These tips for breastfeeding working mothers can help.

Your rights as a working and breastfeeding mom

Before you head back to work, it's important to know your rights. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that your employer provide basic accommodations for breastfeeding moms.[1]

The law requires that all nursing moms have "a place other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." This law applies to hourly employees as well as some salaried employees.

If you're not covered by the federal law, you might be covered under your state law. Be sure to ask your HR representative at work or check out your state's breastfeeding rights.

The law also requires that employers provide working moms with "reasonable break time" to express breast milk until 12 months after her baby's birth. So don't be afraid to talk with your employer about your needs. While not all employers may understand the requirements of a breastfeeding mom at first, they must abide by the law.

How to prepare to pump at work

With some advance planning, returning to work while breastfeeding is completely doable. A few helpful steps that can make pumping at work easier:

breast milk cooler bag

Best Breast Milk Cooler Bags

best breast pump bags

Best Breast Pump Bags

emotional woman at work after returning from maternity leave

Going Back to Work After Having a Baby

Buy a pump

The first thing you'll need to do if you're going back to work and want to keep feeding your baby exclusively (or mostly) breast milk is choose a breast pump that can deliver the goods quickly. You'll get the biggest bang for the breast milk buck by choosing a quality double-electric pump, which can cost anywhere from $150 to $300. Or you can rent a hospital-grade electric pump from a hospital, pharmacy or baby-supply store. (Fees range from $30 to $60 a month).

While it can be expensive up front, a good pump will make your pumping sessions easier, faster and more productive — and by law, your health insurance provider is required to cover the cost of breast-pump rentals or purchases in part or in full.

Another option to consider is a wireless, wearable pump, which could allow you to work and pump simultaneously. These also skew on the pricier side, but they can really come in handy when you don't have regular access to an electrical outlet.

Practice at home

Next, it's time to get the pumping party started. You'll need practice to get the hang of it, and your baby will need time to adjust, too. In other words, don't wait until your first day back on the job to fire up the pump.

About two or three weeks before your back-to-work date, start trading one daily nursing session for a pumping session while your baby feeds from a bottle. Increase these substitute sessions as you near your start date for more pumping practice and to get your baby used to more time at the bottle.

Introduce a bottle, if you haven't already

Returning to work doesn't have to mean sacrificing the closeness so many moms love about breastfeeding. In fact, combining breastfeeding and bottle-feeding can be the best of both worlds. You can still breastfeed mornings, evenings and weekends, while other caregivers or your partner get to bond with the baby by bottle-feeding while you're at work. Plus, you get a bit of a well-earned breastfeeding break.

Concerned about offering your breastfed baby a bottle? Don't be. Most babies take to the bottle quickly and switch between bottle and breast without nipple confusion. Try having your partner or a caregiver start your baby on a bottle (well before you go back to work) so she's less likely to balk at her new mode of meal. You may also need to test drive a few different types of bottles before your little one gets the hang of it.

Make a plan

Discuss your pumping needs with your employer in advance. Plan where you will pump in the office — making sure to choose a place with privacy, a chair and an outlet. You'll also need a refrigerator, an insulated bag or cooler with ice packs to store your expressed milk during the day.

Build a freezer stash

It's a good idea to build up a supply of frozen breast milk before returning to work, so try to get started on expressing and saving breast milk well in advance (several weeks or even months before you go back to work). It's a good idea to practice expressing milk, storing it and feeding it to your baby via bottle.

Ease into what's new

You'll probably need some time to get into the routine of pumping breast milk and to get the baby used to feeding from a bottle, if you haven't been using one so far. You don't want your first experience using a breast pump to happen on your first day back in the workplace.

Prepare your child care provider

Have a discussion about your baby's feeding routine, and how and when your little one will be fed while you're at work. If your child care provider is close to your workplace, you might even be able to visit for lunchtime feedings.

How to pump breast milk at work

Once you've scoped out where to pump breast milk at work and found a place to store milk, you're ready to get down to business pumping.

Make a schedule

Creating a schedule for pumping at work and breastfeeding at home can be really helpful. Once you get on a schedule, balancing everything becomes much easier.

Plan your pumping sessions for when your baby would be feeding if you were at home to avoid engorgement and leaking. You may also want to invest in some breast pads to absorb any leakage between pumping sessions.

Plan to breastfeed your baby in the morning before you go to work, then pump every three to four hours during the day (depending, of course, on your baby's frequency at home). That means that if you're away from your baby for 10 hours during the day, for instance, you'll pump at least three times at work.

If you pump at around the same time every day, your coworkers will know where you are and you won't have to explain your absence every time. This will also keep your milk production up. If you have a formal calendar for appointments, mark yourself as unavailable during your pumping sessions so you don't get scheduled for meetings when you need to pump.

It may take a week or two, but eventually you and your baby will settle into a routine, and you'll be pumping and breastfeeding like a pro.

Have a good pumping spot

Talk to your boss about a comfortable, private spot to pump (and remind him or her of the federal law that requires this). You'll need a space with an electrical outlet, a table and, ideally, a comfy chair. Could you use the conference room and lock the door? Is there an empty office you could borrow? A dedicated lactation room? Wherever you are, place a "do not disturb" sign on the door so that knocks don't interrupt your flow.

Go for empty

At each session, try to pump until both breasts are empty. Once you get the hang of pumping, these sessions will typically take 15 to 20 minutes, but some women need longer. Remember that federal law protects that pumping time for you.

Get things flowing

So the cold conference room isn't all that conducive to letting letdown happen? Take steps to relax. A few deep breaths, a short meditation, a soothing song on Spotify or a foot rub on a portable foot roller can all help bring in some Zen.

Once you're relaxed, swipe to a photo of your adorable baby (looking at his face will help release the hormones that start your milk flow), play a recording of his coos or whimpers (hearing baby sounds triggers letdown) or sniff the unwashed shirt your baby wore yesterday that you wisely stashed in your bag (your little one's scent can work magic on your milk flow).

Eventually, your let-down reflex will become conditioned to the pump without these cues and you'll be able to get flowing in no time.

Stay hydrated and well-nourished

Always keep a big bottle of water at your desk or workstation. Breastfeeding, whether you're pumping or nursing, is hard work, and you need a lot of fluids to keep up your supply.

Keep plenty of healthy snacks handy too, to replenish the 200 to 500 calories a day your body uses making milk. Granola bars, fruit, yogurt, nuts, cheese and wholegrain cereals are nutrient-dense options and will give you the energy you need to continue pumping at work until your little one is ready to wean.

Create a schedule if you work at home

While working from home has many advantages, having your baby close by during the day can also make it difficult to balance breastfeeding with working. Your best bet is to get on a breastfeeding schedule — and coordinate with your caregiver. If you have to step out for a meeting, make sure that you have enough milk pumped on hand to leave with your caregiver.

How to store pumped milk at work

Pumping your breast milk on the job is only half the story. You also have to bring it home to the baby so he can drink it the next day or another time in the future. Which means you have to safely store and transport the milk you pumped at work.

The ideal storage for expressed milk? In a refrigerator. Don't have access to one at work — or worried a colleague may mistake it for coffee creamer? Store your liquid gold in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack, then place the bottles or bags in the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home. Be sure to label each container with the date it was expressed. (Some moms like to keep a stash of bottle labels in their breast pump bag for just this purpose.)

Breast milk can be kept safely at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit or colder) for up to four hours, in an insulated cooler with ice packs for 24 hours, in the refrigerator for up to four days, and frozen for up to six to 12 months (though using it within six months is best).[2] When reaching for stored milk to feed to your baby, use up the oldest milk first.

Cleaning your breast pump at work

In the ideal world, you'd follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendations for how to clean your breast pump each and every time you finish a pumping session — even at work:[3]

After cleaning your hands, place all the pump parts that have come into contact with the breast or breast milk into a basin — not the sink, since germs in the sink could contaminate the pump parts.

Add liquid soap and hot water.

Scrub the parts with a cleaning brush, following manufacturer guidelines.

Rinse under running water or by submerging it in a separate basin filled with clean water.

Place the pump parts and brush/basin on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow them to air dry. Don't use the towel to dry the pump parts because that can lead to germs being transferred onto the pump.

Store the parts only after they're completely dry.

If your breast pump parts are dishwasher safe and you have access to one at work, place them in the top rack of a dishwasher and put it on a hot water and heated drying cycle.

Of course, working moms don't always have access to a clean sink (let alone a dishwasher) or enough counter space to follow all of these recommended cleaning directions. So what are other options for you?

Bring multiples. Some pumping moms suggest having duplicate pump parts that you can swap out for each new pumping session at work. You can then give them all a thorough cleaning when you get home.

Heat them up. If you have access to a microwave at work, you can use steam bags made for breast pump parts to clean between pumping sessions. Place the parts in the special bags, add some water and microwave following the manufacturer's directions.

Try wipes. No microwave? There are breast pump wipes that can work in a pinch, but experts say that because quick-clean wipes can't reach all surfaces of the pump parts, this is the least preferable way to clean your pump. Ditto for refrigerating pump parts between uses — while it may seem like an easy fix, the CDC still says washing is the only way to ensure that your pump is safe and not contaminated with germs before your next pumping session.

Ask for more space. See if you can lobby your company for a lactation room with a sink and drying areas — or at least an area where you can wash and air dry your pump parts without taking over every inch of counter space in the shared office kitchen.

Taking care of yourself while pumping at work

For the working mom, balancing it all can be trying. You can't be everywhere at once, and it can be emotionally difficult to separate from your baby, even for a few hours at work. The most important thing is to give yourself a break. Eat healthy, fit in moderate exercise if you can and spend some time doing activities that are your own.

Don't hesitate to ask for the help you need, whether it's from your partner, a relative or another caregiver. Trying to do it all on your own will likely leave you feeling stressed and overextended. Part of being the best mom you can be is acknowledging that you can't do it all by yourself.

Pumping when you travel for work

Being a working mom means you may have to travel for business — and contemplating that challenge when you're still breastfeeding your little one can be downright scary. Luckily there are ways to pump when you're traveling for work so that you and your baby don't miss a nursing beat:

Pack your pump and equipment

Don't leave home without your pump (obviously), but make sure, too, that (depending on your pump) your battery packs work and your charging cords are all packed up too.

If you're traveling internationally, be sure to pack the appropriate electrical adapters. An inexpensive hand pump is a great backup option to bring along, too.

Bring enough supplies

Assuming you're not pumping and dumping but plan to bring your expressed milk home with you, pack plenty of storage bags, ice packs and insulated bags for easy transport back home.

Know your travel rights

In the U.S., pumping moms are allowed to travel with breast pumps and breast milk. Pull the pump (and any ice packs or gel packs) out of your carry-on bag when you go through security so it can be scanned separately. And while breast milk is not subject to the 3.4-ounce liquid limit, you will have to alert the TSA agent that you're transporting breast milk and it will have to be screened separately from the rest of your luggage.

Remember that security agents can't make you open your milk to test it (to prove it's breast milk), though if they ask and you refuse (it's your right) they may need to take other security measures (such as additional swabs or pat downs). And don't worry about your milk going through the X-ray machines — it won't do any harm to that liquid gold.

Plan for less-than-ideal pumping locations

On long flights or train rides, you may have no choice but to pump in the bathroom or your seat. In airports, look for family bathrooms that often have electrical outlets and more space for pumping, or research if there's a dedicated lactation pod.

Be in the know about storage

Milk will stay fresh in an insulated cooler with ice packs for 24 hours. After that you'll want to be sure to refrigerate the milk, so ask about refrigerator access at your hotel. Some of the really small bar-sized ones don't get cold enough, but many hotels have a fridge at the front desk where they will store your labeled milk for you. (Note: Don't freeze your milk while traveling, because there's a chance it might defrost on the way home, and it shouldn't be refrozen.)

If you want to ship your milk home (because you have a large stash or prefer not to travel home with your milk), you can ship it home using a specialized breast milk shipping company or through a regular overnight carrier in a cooler with ice packs.

Tips for pumping at work from moms

Think of baby

"My letdown came more quickly and fruitfully when I hooked myself up to the pump first, then put one of my baby's recently used swaddle blankets up to my nose to sniff while pumping. I'd close my eyes and think of them, and then the magic would happen." — Kim B., New Jersey

Stock up on nursing bras

"When I travel or have outside meetings, I wear a pumping or nursing bra all day and have a large scarf or nursing cover in case I need to pump in a car. I carry a soft-sided lunch cooler bag with cooler shocks, a Medela Freestyle, Pumpin' Pals and Kiinde Bags, with everything pre-assembled for as little touching as possible. I also keep hand sanitizer and Medela Quick Wipes just in case, as well as Post-It notes to put on the sensor of self-flushing toilets if I have to pump in a bathroom stall." — Ann Marie W., Tanzania

Go for a cloth diaper bag

"I use a fabric cloth diaper bag to keep my pump parts in the fridge between pumps. It's subtle and not as wasteful as a plastic baggy. I love being able to toss it in the washing machine, too." — Meg K., Georgia

Buy a mini fridge

"If you exclusively pump, [buy a mini fridge for] a compact, inexpensive way to store milk. It holds four Medela bottles and two flanges. I used it in my classroom and in our bedroom for nighttime pumps." — Lisa M., Ohio

Double up

"Have spares of everything at the office, including a bra, power cord and extra pump if you can swing it — even if it's just a manual one. But especially make sure you have bottles and lids (or storage bags). Nothing will ruin your day like having a decent pump and then realizing you have no way to transport it home." — Kate R., California

Don't forget the car charger

"I always recommend that friends get the car charger attachment for their pump. It came in handy on many a road trip — and lunch breaks — for me." — Anna K., North Carolina

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