How to make breast pumping at work go smoothly, from a mom who's been there

Pumping breast milk when you go back to work can seem complicated and onerous, but these tips can help you make it all go smoothly.

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Ahhh, the “fun” of pumping at work: Lugging the not-light-as-a-feather breast pump to and from the office, juggling your calendar to make time to get to the lactation room, dealing with full, leaky breasts when you forget.

For me, my plan always involved pumping at work. It felt like something I could do for my baby when I was away, earning money to support our family (another very important element of parenting, for sure) — and it let me keep breastfeeding when I came home. My favorite time of the day, for sure.

I breastfed and breast pumped for a year with both babies, at the office and on the road, even as I moved up in my career at different employers. I had good days and stressful ones and more than a few why-do-I-even-bother-with-this moments. But even on my least favorite days, I stuck to it — and now have more than my share of mama-milk stories to share as well as some very real-life tips to make your pumping easier.

Here’s what I wish I knew when I was pumping at work:

First, know that it is your choice whether to breast pump or not.
Somehow, between baby no. 1 and no. 2, I found that breastfeeding had gone from being nice-to-do to a full-on imperative for new moms. The change was so significant that political scientist (and fellow breast-pumper) Courtney Jung tracked the societal change in her fascinating book Lactivism. But just remember this: The choice to breastfeed is personal one, not a medical or political one. Choose what is right for you and your baby.

Second, know that it is your right to breast pump.
If you choose to pump and live in the US, the Affordable Care Act requires most employers to offer a private space (not a bathroom) as well as a “reasonable break time” for pumping each day. Speak with your HR team to find out where this room is, whether it is furnished and offers an electrical outlet and importantly, whether the door locks. Not-fun fact: Your pumping time isn’t required to be paid.

   mother with baby breast pump on table    
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Block out your office calendar.
This seems like a no-brainer but as we all know, the one time of day you don’t want a meeting (i.e. when you need to pump) is the moment someone will suggest gathering. Thwart them at the pass by putting your pumping right into your calendar (be sure to account for enough time to straighten yourself up and get milk to the fridge) thereby making it clear that you’re unavailable. You don’t need to explain why.

Just do it…quietly.
With baby no. 1, I felt the need to announce when I was going off to pump. Why? Was the place going to burn down in the 20 minutes I was away? Who knows what hormonal me was thinking but everyday, twice a day, I’d announce to the newsroom that I was off to pump, even as I took work to do while pumping. Just know that the guy going out to the sidewalk for a smoke isn’t announcing it. Why should you?

Get a hands-free pumping bra.
Mine changed my life. No longer did I have to hold the pumping cups against my breasts myself. Once everything was set up, I could use the quiet time to work, call my husband, or eat lunch. Having your hands free = priceless.

Pump on the weekends.
I did this the second time around and wished I had done it with baby no. 1. It helped keep my milk production high and enabled me to store more milk away for the future, meaning I was able to skip formula the second time around. (That said, thank goodness for formula when I needed it!)

Leave the pump. Take the cups (and tubes).
What needs washing is everything that touches your body and the milk. So if you can, leave the actual pump at work as much as possible and get at least one additional set of bottles, cups and tubes to rotate for washing daily.

best pumping brasBest pumping brasUse the office fridge.
With baby no. 1, my then-coworkers were squeamish about breast milk cooling in the employee fridge, so I kept my filled bottles under my desk in the ice pack cooler that came with my pump. It worked fine but today I think, Seriously, is it that hard to avoid accidentally drinking my breastmilk?! (Not to mention that people should just get a bit more mature about things.) Claim your fridge space proudly.

Support your pumping sisters.
With my first baby I made friends with women in our company who were pregnant at the same time, creating an informal support system that helped us all navigate our new more complicated lives. We shared stories, information about benefits, and lots of nutty pumping stories.

Go with the flow, my milk sisters — and do what’s right for you and your baby.

Read more:
10 tips for breastfeeding after returning to work
How to combine breastfeeding and bottle feeding

 

 

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