Returning to Work: Pumping

Pumping mom: Level Expert

There really should be some sort of merit badge for pumping breast milk.  If you’re an exclusively pumping mama then you deserve a trophy! Making the commitment to work and pump breast milk for your baby is no easy task. It requires a lot of planning, preparation, and tenacity.

An obvious first step to becoming a working/pumping mom is to find your pumping location.  This is easy if you work in an office with a door, or like me and you have access to a hospital lactation room.  It gets more challenging if your work is on the go, or your desk is in the middle of a cubicle farm.  Legally, employers are required to provide appropriate accommodations for nursing mothers to pump.  However, “appropriate accommodations” can be a broad and loosely interpreted term.  Places that I have pumped over the course of two children have included my car, a storage closet, my manager’s office, lactation rooms, and treatment rooms.  Naturally, you want to find a place with privacy, an outlet (unless you get one of the few pumps that are rechargeable), and you want access to a sink.

Once you have staked out your perfect acceptable pumping area, you want to figure out the best times to pump.  I have been fortunate with both of my children to have control over my daily schedule and am therefore able to pump when I need to.  If your schedule is not as flexible or your job has high demands this may take some creativity.  One of the biggest struggles of a breastfeeding mom returning to work is that her milk supply suffers.  The rule of thumb is to pump to replace a feeding. Depending on your baby’s age and how long your work day is, this could require you to pump anywhere from 1 to 3 times during the day. If you need to pump 3 times but your work day just doesn’t allow it then you might have to consider pumping before or after work, or before your own bedtime like I do.  It is not so much important that you pump exactly when your baby is taking a bottle at daycare but that you are pumping as many times as he or she is  taking a bottle.  Supply and demand.

My personal schedule typically only allows me to take about 15 minutes for pumping. This includes set up, pumping for about 10 minutes, cleaning parts and storing the milk.  Efficiency is crucial.  Fortunately, there are many products out there that make this possible.  In my pumping bag I keep my pump, a hands free pumping bra, my cooler bag with bottles, Medela quick clean wipes, and my pumping parts.  You also want to keep a good amount of water and snacks on hand.  I always feel like a bag lady walking into work.


A good pump makes all the difference when you need to express breast milk.  Fortunately, almost all insurance companies now pay for double electric breast pumps for mothers! There are also options to rent breast pumps if you choose. Ensure that you have the right size breast shields and that you are comfortable with the different settings of your pump before your first day back to work.  This is easily accomplished since you will likely have to pump a few extra times before returning to work to start a small freezer stash for those first bottles.

If you have access to a refrigerator at work then you can simply pump and put the bottles straight into the fridge to stay properly chilled.  I personally use the cooler bag and ice pack that came with my pump because it is just simpler for me to keep everything in one place.  Proper breastfeeding storage is SO important! This includes what you pump while at work as well as how you store that milk at home, and how you defrost milk.  I freeze everything I pump at work that same day and defrost the oldest milk in my deep freeze for the next day’s bottles.  For home storage I use Lansinoh storage bags as I have found that they seem to be the most durable and do not tend to tear when freezing/defrosting.

When you have to pump more than one time during the day I have found the Medela Quick Clean wipes to be a huge time saver. After I pump, I wipe all my parts and then rinse them out in the sink and dry them for next time.  You actually don’t have to even rinse when using these wipes but I have access to a sink so this is what I do.  You can wash the parts with soap and water as well, but I do not have the time or honestly the desire to do this twice a day every day that I work.  Another option if you have it is to just place the parts in the fridge without cleaning or rinsing.  Once I get home in the evening I wash my parts and sterilize them in a microsteam bags and then they’re good to go.

I consider myself to be quite skilled at multitasking.  When I pump at work I am always simultaneously checking email, doing my documentation, or eating (or sometimes all of the above).  There are many hands free pumping bras on the market.  I like the ones with front closure that can quickly be put on/taken off.  One the weekends I throw it in the wash to keep it fresh as well.

If your job requires travel, or you have to pump before/after work there are car adapters  and battery packs for most pumps.  I have done this on occasion and all I can say is don’t make eye contact with other cars at stop lights! I have been told that a nursing cover makes this feel less awkward but it’s already pretty awkward to be pumping and driving in the first place! If this is the route you have to take, just be safe!!

With a little creativity, a lot of knowhow, and a good plan, you can successfully pump at work for as long as you desire. While it sounds and feels very overwhelming, once you get your own routine down it will just become a part of your day. Then the day will come when pumping/breastfeeding comes to an end and you can pat yourself on the back, have a glass of wine (or whatever treat you need) and congratulate yourself on a job well done!

Here is a printable list of your essential Pumping needs while you’re a working mommy!

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