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Before my kids were born, I had every intention of breastfeeding. The health benefits and cost savings completely won me over.
Unfortunately as is often the case, plans don’t always come together the way you expect. My firstborn was born nearly six weeks early and had both tongue and gum ties. My gestational diabetes and his early birth meant that a team of doctors and nurses whisked him away as soon as he was born. He also spent the first eight hours of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit. I held him for a few minutes, but I missed that first, crucial bonding time. And since we were separated, he had bottles before the breast.
Anyway, all that being said, we had a tough time learning to breastfeed. We saw a lactation consultant and even she struggled to get the little mister to latch. Suffice to say, we never got the hang of it, and so began my journey of exclusively pumping.
I knew I wanted to get my baby to a full year of breastmilk. So naturally, part of my journey included pumping breastmilk at work.
Fast forward to a year ago, when I was wrapping up exclusively pumping my second son. I have two years of experience pumping at work, and I can guarantee you, with support and determination, you can do it. You can get to six months, a year, and even beyond pumping breastmilk at work.
In this post I am going to give you all the tricks I learned while pumping at work. I’m going to share my tips for saving money, saving time, and getting through with as little stress as possible.
You can do this, and I’m going to help you. Let’s get started!
Starting Your Journey
Have a Plan
Know what you want to accomplish. Do you want to pump until your baby is six months, a year, or more? Do you expect to feed baby on solely breastmilk, or will you be supplementing with formula?
For your planning purposes, most doctors will suggest that babies are on breastmilk or formula exclusively for six months.
Trust me, once baby starts eating solid foods, things get a bit easier. Milk will still be a major component of his diet, but supplementing with solids takes the pressure off a bit.
Make sure your plan is realistic. Be honest about your workflow, schedule, and travel needs. For example, if you have recurring weekly meetings, you’re probably going to want to schedule your sessions around those meetings. If you need to work extended hours, you’re going to have to plan for storage. If your plan doesn’t fit with how you work, you’re going to have a tough time being successful.
And while it is good to have a plan, you need to be flexible too. If your boss calls you in for a meeting when you’re scheduled to pump, you may have to adjust.
If possible, talk to other women who have pumped at work. Learn what they did, how they did it, and what the accommodations were. Get a sense of how supportive your employer is to pumping at work.
Know Your Rights
Laws covering pumping breastmilk at work are tough to navigate. A provision in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires employers to provide a private space that is not a bathroom to women who want to pump. But, your employer has to have over fifty employees and you need to be an hourly worker to be covered. That leaves out a lot of mothers.
And another bummer? Your employer doesn’t have to pay you while you pump, unless they offer paid breaks for other employees.
You’re probably best off researching the pumping laws for your state, or check with local lactation groups.
I highly recommend making arrangements for pumping at work before your return. Your first day back is likely to be a whirlwind, so having a plan in place before your return will save you time and stress.
Start the conversation with HR. Depending on the size of your company, they may already have a policy for pumping breastmilk at work. But just because they have a plan, doesn’t mean it’s up to current laws. Don’t assume. Do your homework to make sure your rights are being upheld.
If your company is smaller, it may not have a plan for pumping mothers. Be firm on your needs, rights, and expectations, but noncombative. Go in with a problem-solving attitude rather than gearing up for a fight. Work with HR to find suitable options and be prepared to think creatively on finding a suitable place to pump.
How to Thrive While Pumping at Work
Now that you have a plan and you know your rights, how do you make your pumping sessions productive while at work?
Well a lot of it comes down to the same good habits you used while breastfeeding, or while pumping at home if you exclusively pump.
Drink tons of water
By this point you know that you have to stay hydrated to produce milk. It’s easy to get caught up at work and not drink enough. Have a large reusable water bottle that you can sip throughout the day. If you need extra encouragement to drink water, add a squeeze of citrus.
There’s a lot of debate on whether certain foods can stimulate milk production, but I haven’t really seen much conclusive evidence (if you’ve seen any, drop a line in the comments section!).
Some commonly claimed milk-producing foods include: salmon, almonds, oatmeal, spinach, apricots, and fenugreek. Rather than obsessing about eating certain foods, I suggest you focus on eating a variety of healthy foods.
Pack your lunch and bring healthy snacks to keep you going throughout the day. This will save you money from eating out. Additionally, you will save time from needing to run out for lunch, allowing you to get in a pumping session, or focus on finishing your work so you can get home to your little one.
Pump as often as baby eats
This seems obvious but in the days and weeks when I came home from the hospital with my first born, I pumped whenever I got uncomfortable.
What that meant was that I skipped several feeding sessions and very quickly I was out of milk and had to supplement with formula.
You need to produce milk as often as baby consumes it. If you work an eight hour day, you’re likely going to need to pump three to four times at work.
Massage to get more milk
Even with the best pumps, it can be hard to completely drain your breasts of milk. Not doing so can lead to plugged ducts and even mastitis, which is not only painful, but can decrease milk production.
Pump until you’re not really letting down any more milk. Remove the horns and manually massage your breasts for thirty seconds or a minute or two. Try pumping again and you will likely find you get another minute or two worth of milk! Especially when your baby is going through a growth spurt and eating everything, you’re going to be grateful for every drop!
How to be Successful Pumping at Work
Pumping breastmilk at work requires a few extra considerations than pumping at home. Here’s how to set yourself up for success!
Practice with a pump beforehand
All I ever knew was pumping so this wasn’t really an issue for me, but I had mom friends that had a hard transition from breastfeeding to pumping.
Make sure you know how to assemble the pump, that you have all the parts you need, and that the horns fit comfortably and are the correct size.
Pumping at work can be a bit awkward and stressful until you get used to it and you don’t need the added stress of fumbling with a pump for the first time.
Have two sets of parts
Since this is primarily a money-saving blog, you might be surprised that I would suggest buying two sets of pump parts. Well, in addition to saving money, I’m also interested in saving time and reducing stress.
Since I pumped exclusively, initially I was always lugging pump parts between work and home. I was always petrified that I would forget a piece at home and wouldn’t be able to pump during the day. I found having a set of cups and horns exclusively for work eliminated that stress and ensured I always had what I needed to pump at work.
Log your sessions
You’ll have to decide if this is the right choice for you, but I always logged my pumping yields and the time I spent pumping (tip: bank on thirty minutes per pumping session, which includes set up and clean up).
It was helpful for me to know for certain if my production was down. If so, I knew I needed to drink more water, eat better, and try to get some rest. It helped me to identify problems and fix them before I lost too much milk. However, I can see how some might find this stressful and obsess over the numbers.
Below is a picture of one of my logs. I noted the date, start time, the amount I pumped in each breast (in milliliters), the length of time I pumped, and the total yield. Note that this was days before my son’s first birthday so I was already starting to wean because I had a stockpile.
Don’t get hung up on the numbers or yields. I thought a sample log would be helpful for context. Try it, and if it works for you, keep a running log.
Refrigerate your parts
A time saving tip I learned early on was that instead of washing my pump parts each time, I could place them all in a big ziploc bag and place put them in the fridge until my next session.
Now, I was fortunate in that my work had a dedicated pumping room with a small refrigerator, so it was no big deal. I could understand if you have just a communal refrigerator you may not want to mix your pump parts with everyone’s lunch. If you have a communal refrigerator though, you can always place your pump parts in a plastic grocery bag or lunch bag to be a bit more discreet.
**Pro tip: If you refrigerate your parts, take them out of the fridge first and then get set up. You do not want to place parts on your breasts directly from the fridge…unless you need a serious wake up call!
Store soap and bottle brush
If you can’t, or don’t want to refrigerate your parts, consider buying a bottle brush and dish soap to leave at work. Again, I could leave these items in my work’s wellness room so it was easy, but you could store these items in your desk drawer.
And a money saving tip: you don’t need any special kind of soap for your pump parts. Regular dish soap works just fine. You may have noticed by now that anything marketed for babies carries a surcharge with it. Skip the special pump part soaps and save yourself some money.
Set a pumping schedule and stick to it
I think the only way I was able to get through pumping breastmilk at work for so long was by sticking to a schedule. I knew that at 9:00 a.m., noon, and 3:00 p.m. every day, day in and day out, I would be pumping.
Blocking time on my calendar (marked as private) so people knew not to schedule meetings with me at that time was essential. If something came up and I had to reschedule, I adjusted the block on my calendar. Sometimes that meant I only had two hours between pumping sessions and had to go four hours between others, but I kept my milk production up by keeping the number of sessions consistent.
Conversely, the women I know that struggled more with pumping at work were those that went whenever convenient. The problem with that is that it’s so easy to get distracted and lose track of time. Before you know it, half the day is gone and you haven’t pumped yet.
I know it can be tricky, and I know sometimes you don’t really have control over your schedule. If that’s the case, do the best you can.
Tell your colleagues, if you’re comfortable doing so.
I universally found people to be supportive of my pumping, though I understand that might not be everyone’s experience. You do not owe an explanation to anyone, but if you are comfortable telling people that you are pumping at work, they may be more flexible with scheduling meetings and more willing to work with your schedule.
Invest in a good pump
Ladies, if you pump at work, your breast pump is going to be your new BFF. For the first year of both of my son’s lives I am pretty sure I had a more intimate relationship with my pump than I had with my husband!
It’s smart to invest in a good pump that will work well. You’re going to want a double electric pump, which basically means that it will pump from both breasts simultaneously. And it is powered by plugging it in or via a battery pack, as opposed to manually pumping.
If you are going to be pumping at work, you have limited time and manual expression isn’t going to cut it. (However, if you forget a part at home or something breaks, manual expression is better than nothing!)
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, in many circumstances you can probably get your pump for free from your insurance company. With my older son, I got the Medela Pump-in-Style tote, which is one of the more popular pumps on the market.
My pump from my first child eventually broke when my second child was a few months old. When I went to replace my pump, insurance companies had caught on and were only offering the no-frills version. The pump I received was still the Pump-in-Style, it just didn’t have the fancy tote.
Honestly I preferred the pared down version. It was easy for me to commute with and a little bit more streamlined.
If you cannot get your pump through insurance, it is worth the money to invest in a good double electric pump. I was very happy with the Medela Pump-in-Style and would recommend it to any mother looking to pump at work.
Renting a pump may also be an option. Check local baby stores, and do some number crunching to make sure you don’t spend more money renting than you would buying. If you have a few new mothers at work, discuss joining forces to spread the rental cost around.
Have a picture of baby, or his/her shirt to help let down your milk
If you’re used to breastfeeding, it might take a bit to get used to pumping. It’s certainly a more sterile, impersonal process. Looking at a picture of your baby, or having his or her shirt to smell can help your milk to let down so you can pump.
Label your milk
This is an important one! Breast milk is perishable so it’s important that you keep track of when it was expressed. I always carried some masking tape and a sharpie with me. As soon as I finished pumping, I put a small piece of tape on the bottle with the date and time. When I got home, the milk for the day went to the back of the fridge and any milk I had left over from previous days moved up to the front. You should always use the oldest milk first, and if you’re approaching the “use by” date of the milk, freeze it and start building your stockpile (woo-hoo!!!). I always used KellyMom’s storage guidelines to guide me.
Breastmilk only stays fresh at room temperature for four to six hours. If you work a full eight-hour day, you’re going to need to do something for cooling. You also have to factor in your commute home. Once milk is cooled, it should stay cold. It’s not good to refrigerate it, allow it to come to room temperature, and then cool it again. That’s a recipe for spoiled milk.
My first pump came with a cooler pack and ice pack and I loved it. It was the perfect size for my bottles and it kept my milk cool during my ninety minute commute. While I usually look for cheaper alternatives (such as an ice pack and lunch bag), I would definitely recommend this product. It’s meant for bottles and keeps them evenly cold. Once you’ve weaned the baby and you are no longer pumping, the ice pack comes in handy for all the spills and bumps of the toddler years!
Saving Money While Pumping at Work
Breastfeeding can save you a ton of money over formula, but pumping does come with some expenses. Fortunately, there are several ways you can save money, either by skipping unnecessary items or by borrowing items from other mom friends.
What You Can Skip
Parenting and breastfeeding is big business and companies know it. They’ve invented tons of products to supposedly make pumping easier. Below are my suggestions on what you can skip or replace with cheaper alternatives.
Ultimately though, you need to find what works for you and makes pumping as easy as possible (if baby hasn’t arrived yet, be sure to check out my similar post on cheaper alternatives for common baby registry items. I’m all about saving new parents money!!). To help with that, I’ve linked to some of the items I discuss below so you can understand what I’m talking about, and determine if such a product would be right for you.
- Hands free bra: I’ve seen a lot of mixed opinions on hands free bars. Particularly if you are a bit more well-endowed, these don’t seem to work well. As an alternative, you can buy a sports bra and cut out holes. I tried this and it worked okay, but honestly, if I was sitting at a desk I was usually able to balance the cups and horns so I could still pump and type. I recommend trying without first and if you can’t get the balance, then try a hands free bra.
- Milk storage bags: I wish I had learned this tip while I was still pumping. You can ditch the special milk storage bags and freeze your milk in ice cube trays. Once the milk is frozen, throw in a standard freezer bag, label with the date, and you’re done! Those bags can add up so that’s a big cost-savings!
- Sterilizer bags: I was never very comfortable using these. There’s just something about microwaving plastic pumps in a plastic bag that weirded me out. If you’re pumping at work and need to clean your parts multiple times a day, this expense adds up fast! I was always more comfortable using soap, water, and a bottle brush.
- Special soap or pump wipes: Similarly, supposedly to save time for pumping mothers, companies have developed pumping-specific wipes and soap to clean your parts. If you’re in a pinch – for example if you need to pump in the car or while you’re camping (done both of those!) – then maybe these would be helpful, but again, plain old soap and water is a lot cheaper, and does the trick.
- Nursing shirts: If you didn’t use nursing shirts while breastfeeding, you probably don’t need to go out and get them for pumping at work. I always wore regular clothes and just left my shirt around my neck, or unbuttoned my blouse. Again, I had a private pumping room so I was comfortable doing so. If your pumping space isn’t as private, you may want a nursing shirt.
- Lanolin: Lanolin is kind of like really thick vaseline that’s meant to keep nipples from drying out and cracking. I was never a fan. It’s sticky and doesn’t smell that great. My lactation consultant taught me to rub a bit of expressed milk on my nipples when I was finished pumping. Breastmilk naturally moisturized and soothed my nipples. Doing that, I never had a problem with drying or cracking. Such a useful tip!
Get a Hand-Me-Down
Doctors, lactation consultants, and pump manufacturers do not recommend sharing breast pumps, unless it’s a hospital grade pump. Most pumps are open systems which mean that breastmilk travels throughout the pump, and therefore, it’s not sanitary to share. However, there are plenty of pumping accessories you might want while pumping at work that you can get from mom friends or a thrift store.
- Nursing cover: If you don’t already have a nursing cover, you may want to get one for pumping at work, particularly if you don’t have a dedicated lactation room. Additionally, if you have a long drive to and from work, you might find pumping in the car is a good option for you. Having a nursing cover might come in handy for that.
- Battery pack: If you can find a mom that had the same pump as you, see if she has a battery pack you can use. Whether you’re traveling and don’t have access to an electrical outlet, or if the power goes out, a battery pack is a nice backup option to have. While you can always manually express if the power goes out, a battery pack makes it much easier, and will save you a ton of stress.
- Car adapter: I pumped in the car on several occasions. If you have a long drive to and from work, pumping in the car could be a good option. Having a car adapter is going to save you a ton of money over relying on your battery pack.
- Bottles: Because I exclusively pumped, I always needed to store my milk. Accordingly, I had a ton of bottles. While a hand-me-down pump is a no-no, if you re-sterilized the bottles (by boiling for three to five minutes) you should be fine.
- Nursing pillow: You don’t need a pillow while pumping at work, but since it’s related I wanted to be sure to include this money-saving tip. Breastfeeding moms have split opinions on nursing pillows: some love them while others find them useless. My lactation specialist suggested a rolled blanket that I could mold to my body and where baby needed to be. Before you buy a nursing pillow, borrow one from a friend or find one at a thrift store. Or, if you’re feeling a bit crafty, you can even try making one with this tutorial.
I hope this post has helped you gain confidence in your ability to pump breastmilk at work. I’m not going to lie: it wasn’t always easy, and there were times, particularly with my second child, that I thought about throwing in the towel. I am so glad I stuck with it though. The health benefits of breastfeeding, for both my sons and myself, were so important to me and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, and even pride, that I was able to stick with it. However, if you take nothing else away from this post, I want you to remember two things:
Fed is best
Whether breastmilk or formula, the important thing is that your baby is getting the nutrients he or she needs. As long as your baby’s doctor approves your feeding plan and baby continues to thrive, you’re doing your job.
Do what you can, but be gentle with yourself
As mothers, we place an extraordinary amount of pressure on ourselves. Often, we want to be perfect mothers, perfect in our career, and have a perfect home life. That’s just not realistic. Forget about the expectations of others and do what is best for you and your family.
If pumping at work is causing you too much stress, give yourself permission to cut back. Maybe you can drop one session and supplement with formula if needed. Or maybe rather than planning to pump for baby’s first year, you just focus on one month at a time. Remember, baby isn’t just getting your milk. She’s getting your love and attention. Do what you need to be the best mother for your baby, whether that’s pumping, or just being present.
Did I miss anything? If you have other tips for pumping at work, please share them in the comments section!
Mom Loves Best: Has some wonderful resources on pregnancy, babies, and parenting. Be sure to check out their survival guide to pumping at work, which includes a helpful infographic to plan your return to work.
Breastmilk Counts: This site has some good ideas creating spaces for pumping at work if your employer doesn’t have a dedicated space.
KellyMom: This was my go-to site whenever I needed information about pumping. What I love about it is that she only includes evidence-based studies. This way you can be sure you are getting good information, and not old wives tales!