Pumping at Work: What You Need to Know to Be Successful

mother using breast pump

When I had my first baby, I knew I wanted to breastfeed him for as long as possible. It took us some time to get the hang of breastfeeding, but by his second month, we had it all figured out. Knowing that I’d be heading back to work when he was 12 weeks old, I began figuring out the logistics for pumping at work.

In many ways, I was fortunate with the setup I had for pumping when I returned to work. I had access to a private room dedicated to nursing mothers where I could pump without distractions.

However, the process of getting back into the grind and pumping at work was not always smooth or easy. It took some resourcefulness and dedication to ensure that I had the best set up and conditions to be successful.

If you’d like to try pumping at work, here are some pointers that will help make the transition easier. Talk to your manager and the Human Resources department at your place of employment to get an idea of the breastfeeding policy.

Keep in mind that not everything may go smoothly. Don’t give up if you run into some obstacles, but also know that you’re your own best advocate.

What You Need to Know About Pumping at Work

Nervous about pumping at work? You’re not the only one, so don’t sweat it. Many have walked in your shoes, including me. Don’t let your nervousness prevent you from continuing to breastfeed your baby.

Know that expressing breastmilk at work and figuring out all of the logistics around it may not always be easy, but it will be worth it.

Know your rights

If you’re uncomfortable about the idea of pumping at work, keep in mind that it’s your right. Your first step should be checking with your Human Resources department to see if your company has a policy that addresses breastfeeding. This will give you a good starting point in knowing your rights as a breastfeeding employee.

Even if your company does not have a policy specifically about pumping at work, a federal law, “Break Time for Nursing Mothers,” outlines the rights of nursing mothers returning to work:

Who is covered?

Unfortunately, not everyone is covered. This law applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Place to pump

Employers are required to provide some space for pumping at work that is not a bathroom. The area must be private and available each time you need it. However, it does not need to be a permanent, dedicated space such as a lactation room.

Time to pump

Another provision of this law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time for employees to express breast milk. However, there is no limitation on how much time and how often you can pump. This can be different for every mother. To maintain your milk supply, you’ll need to pump as often as your baby eats.

How is it enforced

The law is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. If you run into any problems, you can call their toll-free number at 1-800-487-9243.

Compensation

While an employer is required to provide adequate time for employees to express breast milk, there’s no provision that these breaks must be paid. If you use your paid break time for pumping at work, your employer must compensate you.

Additional protection

Many state laws provide extra protection for working moms who’re breastfeeding. Check your state laws for more information about your rights.

Selecting a pump

Getting the right breast pump is imperative when planning on pumping at work. It can mean the difference between keeping up your milk supply and giving up on pumping, so chose wisely.

For pumping at work, a double electric breast pump will be your best option since you’ll be pumping so frequently.

When shopping for a pump, look at how loud the pump is to prevent any embarrassment. Some electric pumps can be noisy, making it impossible to be discreet when expressing breastmilk. Additionally, check to make sure the pump has adjustable speeds to make it easier to adjust as needed.

Another important consideration is the portability and weight of the pump. You’ll be carting it around to and from the office, so again, choose wisely. Get a pump that’s not too bulky and heavy since you’re going to have to bring it with you every day.

Also, make sure you match the pump power supply with your conditions for pumping at work. If you have a dedicated space but no power outlet, go with a battery-powered version.

Finally, if you work in a healthcare setting, such as in a hospital, check if your employer provides hospital-grade breast pumps. While I was breastfeeding, I worked in an office building, but my employer was a hospital system.

After finding out that breastfeeding employees who worked at the main hospital building got hospital-grade pumps in the lactation rooms, I made some calls and got one for our office building. It’s important to know your rights and defend them — no one else will.

How to Get Ready for Pumping at Work

Now that you have the big picture down, it’s essential to get ready for returning to work and pumping. Don’t wait until the day you return to work to figure out what to do. Figuring out the logistics ahead of time means you know what to do in regards to pumping on your first day back.

Leaving your baby for the first time to go back to work is hard enough. Make it a little easier on yourself by figuring out where everything is and what to do.

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Figure out the logistics

If you want to continue breastfeeding your baby when you go back to work, you need to figure out the logistics. The first step is to talk to your boss about pumping at work.

Figure out logistics such as a clean and private place to express breast milk as well as any company policies that may address this. Find out what adjustments you may have to make to your schedule to make it work.

If there is a dedicated lactation room, go into the office before your official return date to scope it out and figure out how to get there from your office location. Check if the room requires badge access and submit the necessary paperwork to ensure you can get in on the day you return to work.

Also, check if the room has an outlet to plug in your pump or if your workplace offers a hospital-grade pump for your use. In case you have access to one, you’ll likely need to pick up a separate pumping kit that attaches to the pump so you can use it.

Make sure you have everything ready on your first day back.

You’ll also want to figure out where and how you’ll store your breastmilk. If you don’t have access to a refrigerator at work, you’ll need a dedicated cooler with an ice pack to keep your milk from spoiling.

Stock up with breastmilk

Before you go back to work, you’ll want to have enough extra milk stashed away for your baby for the first day you’re at work. You’ll likely need about 25 to 30 ounces of milk. You can stockpile the milk in the freezer, where it’ll stay fresh for up to six months.

You can easily have enough breastmilk stored if you pump for a few minutes after your baby nurses. Another option is to add a pumping session once your baby starts sleeping for more extended sessions.

This will also keep up and even increase your milk supply. Any extra milk you express, even if it’s just one or two ounces, can be stashed away. Every ounce counts, and you’ll have 30 ounces in no time.

Having some extra milk in the freezer is also nice for times when you need to leave your baby such as to go on a date night with your significant other. If you think you may also be working late, have some extra milk stashed away for those nights when you can’t make it home on time to feed your baby.

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Set a schedule

One of the secrets to being successful with pumping at work is to have a regular schedule and stick with it. When I was pumping, I created a recurring appointment in my work calendar for each pumping session.

I pumped three times a day, and that time block was a reminder that I was busy at that time. It also helped when scheduling meetings or planning calls, since I knew when I was going to pump.

While you don’t have to follow the schedule closely the entire time you’re pumping at work, try to stick with it very carefully for the first one to two months. Defend your pumping time with people who’re trying to schedule meetings during that time.

Pumping regularly is essential for keeping your milk supply up. Additionally, skipping a pumping session will result in uncomfortably full breasts and make for a miserable meeting experience.

Keep in mind that pumping several times a day can be very time-intensive. It means your workday will be choppier, and you may have less time to get your work done. Plan for this and adjust your work schedule and deadlines accordingly.

Even though it may feel cumbersome at first, keep in mind that this is only temporary and soon enough your child will be moving from breastmilk to regular food.

Tips For Being Successful While Pumping at Work

Pumping at work can be stressful, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself. First of all, try to relax when you’re expressing breastmilk. Stress can hurt your milk supply, and not being able to pump enough milk will add to it.

Try to distract yourself from work worries while you’re pumping and try to do something relaxing like reading a magazine. You can also try meditating for a few minutes to clear your mind. (That’s what I did.)

Invest in a hands-free pumping bra, which will free up your hands for other things. Buying a hands-free pumping bra was one of the best purchases I made when I started pumping at work. Having your hands available means you can read, create a to-do list, use your phone, and so on.

Keep everything organized and in one place when you take it to work. Just like you keep your diaper bag stocked, make sure your pumping bag has clean bottles, flanges, breastmilk storage bags, hands-free pumping bra, a cooler with an ice pack for the milk, a marker for labeling, and hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes. Throw in a magazine or a book, so you have something to read.

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Make a Plan for the Unexpected

There’s a saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” That’s true in many situations but especially when it comes to pumping at work. Meetings, projects, and last-minute client demands can make it difficult to find the time to pump.

Make a plan for how you’re going to handle unexpected situations such as a meeting running over. (Breast pads help when you spring a leak!)

You won’t be able to have a game plan for every situation but just having a general idea of how to handle situations where you may be delayed or miss a pumping session will reduce stress.

Sometimes you’ll have to be flexible and shift your pumping schedule around your work schedule. Even if you miss a pumping session, you can always make it up later that night after your child goes to bed.

You’ve Got This

Breastfeeding and pumping are not always easy or comfortable, and that’s OK. While it may be strange at first, you and your baby will quickly adjust, and soon, it won’t seem like a big deal at all.

Pumping at work initially felt like a ton of work. Soon enough, however, I had my routine down and was able to quickly and efficiently pump three times a day.

With both of my children, I was able to successfully pump at work and breastfeed them until they turned one. That was my goal, so it felt nice to be able to accomplish it while working full-time.

Keep in mind that even if your breastmilk supply declines and you have to supplement with formula, your child still gets nutrition from any breastmilk you can express.

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