After the first few challenging weeks or months of maternity leave, you may have finally gotten into a rhythm and started to enjoy spending time with your baby. That’s why it’s particularly difficult when the time comes that you have to return to the office. For a breastfeeding working mother who plans to continue breastfeeding after returning to work, it’s even more of a challenge to plan out how you will pump breastmilk at work to keep up your milk supply throughout the day.
There are certain complexities a breastfeeding mom needs to be aware of when returning to work including preparing your baby to take a bottle with their caregiver, making sure you have an adequate pump, and ensuring there is a dedicated space at work for you to pump.
When I was breastfeeding my first, there were so many things I wish I knew ahead of returning to the office after my 4-month maternity leave. I was too embarrassed to ask my manager about pumping and had no clue whether any of my coworkers had done it. I was also nervous about taking frequent noticeable breaks when I worked in an open environment.
Eventually, I connected with another colleague who showed me “the ropes” about pumping at our office. She showed me where the lactation room was located, how to book it, and who I could direct my questions to if I needed anything specific in the room. She may have thought it was no big deal, but I was so relieved and encouraged to pump at work because of her!
Because of my experience, I want to share with new mothers the pumping at work tips you should know before heading back to the office. Being prepared will not only make you less anxious about pumping in the office, but will also help you keep breastfeeding longer and keep up your milk supply.
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Pumping at Work Tips for a Successful Return to Work
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Here are some of the top things new moms need to know for a successful transition to pumping at work.
1: Get an efficient breast pump (even better if it’s wireless!)
Because of the Affordable Care Act, most breastfeeding mothers will have a breast pump covered through their insurance company. No need to wait until after your baby is born! You should try and order one as soon as your insurance company will allow.
In order to get the most efficiency out of your work pumping sessions, you’ll need a good breast pump, ideally an electric breast pump. A manual pump may not be as quick or efficient for work.
What makes a good pump? One that:
- has strong suction,
- is a double electric pump,
- easily portable, and
Some great options for efficient breast pumps:
This is one of the pumps I used with my second, and I loved it. It’s great for working moms because you can easily travel with it and it’s lightweight. You simply charge it and you’re free to take it with you. It’s also very quiet and provides a strong, but comfortable, suction, allowing you to express a lot of milk in a short amount of time.
I used the Medela Pump In Style with my first child. I will say nothing beats the strength of this powerful, little pump. I still think I had way more output with the Medela than anything else I used. And the newer version of this pump is even more portable than the original one I used: it has less parts, comes with a travel bag and cooler, and a battery pack for mobile pumping!
For a truly wireless experience, try the Elvie or Willow! They’re some of the only wearable breast pumps on the market that allow you to walk around wire- and tube- free. For a detailed comparison of the two, check out my post, Elvie vs Willow: Best Wearable Breast Pump.
2: Become familiar with workplace pumping rights
Before you return to work, you should be aware of the federal and state laws on breastfeeding rights and your right to pump at work.
Under federal law (section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)), most employers are required to provide their employee a reasonable break time for an employee to pump milk for her baby each time the employee needs to express breast milk. This applies for the term of one year after the baby’s birth.
Under that same law, an employer is also required to provide a private room, NOT a bathroom, where the employee can pump milk. The room must be blocked from view and free from intrusion.
Note that in some circumstances, an employer with less than 50 employers is not required to provide a break time to nursing mothers. Also, some employees, such as those that are exempt from the law, may also not be covered. However, many states now have similar laws that offer greater protections to nursing employees.
It’s important to do your research and know what your rights are before discussing it with your employer. While some employers will do the right thing and try to be compliant with federal and state laws, as a former employment discrimination lawyer, I can tell you right now some employers either are not aware of the laws or will completely ignore them.
* Please note while I’m an attorney, this is not intended to be legal advice, it’s for educational purposes only. So please make sure you do your own research and consult with your own attorney on the federal and state applicable laws to you. Read my full disclaimer.
3: Discuss pumping plan with your boss
Once you’ve gotten clarification on what your pumping rights are, reach out to your employer to discuss your pumping plan. It’s best to do this a few months before you return to work so that if your job needs to make certain accommodations to make a lactation room available to you, they have time to do so.
Some items you could discuss with your boss:
- your intention to continue expressing milk for your baby during the workday;
- your need for reasonable breaks to be able to pump;
- your need for a designated, private place for pumping (that is not a bathroom) and whether a lactation room already exists in your office; and
- specific items that you may need in the room (such as a mini-fridge to store milk, a comfortable chair, a table, an outlet, etc.).
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your boss about it, start with someone in your human resources department. They are usually equipped to walk you through the process and discuss existing protocols in place for nursing mothers.
4: Build a freezer stash of breast milk
A few weeks before returning to work, it’s a good idea to start pumping extra milk and began building your freezer stash. This way in case your milk supply does drop after starting work or other unexpected issues with pumping, you’ll have enough milk to hold your child over and give you peace of mind.
If you don’t usually pump milk, get into the habit by starting with one session after your child is done feeding. Then introduce another session the next day at another feeding. Do this everyday until you’re pumping at least 3 times a day.
The more consistent you are, the more signals you’ll give your body about how much milk to produce during a certain time of day, so you should start to see an increase in milk production after pumping consistently for a few days.
5: Get your baby used to taking a bottle from someone else
One of the biggest struggles moms returning to work face with babies who are exclusively breastfeeding is getting their baby to take a bottle with a caregiver. Although it’s more challenging with exclusively breastfed babies, if you start trying to introduce a bottle a few weeks in advance of your return to work, you’ll find that your baby will grow accustomed to it.
Because your baby smells your breastmilk when you’re around and associates you with breastfeeding, it would be a smoother transition if someone else, like your spouse or other family members, introduce the bottle to the baby.
Another great way to ease your baby to the bottle is to get a bottle with a nipple that mimics the flow and feel of the breast. These bottles are ideal for breastfed babies due to the slow-flow option for nipples:
- Comotomo Baby Bottle– has a wide nipple with a breast-like design to mimic latching and breastfeeding
- Dr. Brown Natural Flow Bottle– has a natural flow for paced-feeding to prevent nipple confusion, and one of the best anti-colic bottles on the market.
- Philip’s Avent Bottles– my personal favorite. I found that with both my kids this was the only bottle they would take and still go back and forth from breast to bottle. They come with a range of flow rates that you can increase as your baby becomes more efficient at breastfeeding.
6: Keep an extra pump and set of accessories at work
To make your life easier from having to commute back and forth with a breast pump, have an extra pump that you leave at the office. It’s also a good idea to keep an extra set or two of pump parts at work, because inevitably there will be some days you forget a piece at home.
Also, as you’ll see below, it’s much easier to have a few extra sets of pump parts, then having to clean one set thoroughly after each pumping session.
7: Follow guidelines for cleaning pump parts safely and milk storage
If you’re going to be using the same pump parts for multiple pumping sessions at work, it’s SO important to follow the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and guidance for cleaning your pump parts and storing breast milk. Germs and harmful bacteria can quickly grow on breast pump parts that haven’t been cleaned properly, exposing your child to the risk of infection.
I wrote a detailed post on how to clean breast pump parts at work safely, so that it’s one less thing you have to worry about on your return to work.
It’s also important to be thoroughly familiar with the CDC’s guidelines on breast milk storage:
- Save breast milk in bags intended for storing breast milk. You can also use BPA-free glass or plastic food-grade containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Freshly expressed milk can remain fresh at room temperature (77°F (25°C) or colder) for up to 4 hours. You should then immediately refrigerate or freeze it.
- Breast milk can be stored for up to 24 hours in an insulated cooler with frozen ice packs for travel. Once home, immediately feed to your baby, refrigerate or freeze.
Some great insulated breast milk cooler options for commuting to and from work:
- Medela Breast Milk Cool and Transport Set
- nanobebe Breastmilk Cooler and Travel Bag with Ice Pack
- Kiinde Breast Milk Cooler and Ice Pack Kit
8: Wear nursing tops or other clothing that provides easy pumping access
This one should be pretty self-explanatory. You’ll be pumping multiple times per day, so to make your life easier, wear clothing that provides easy pumping access.
Some ideas are button down tops or dresses, tank tops under sweaters, loose tops you can pull up easily, or nursing tops.
9: Schedule your pumping sessions into your work calendar
To avoid frustration (and overfull breasts) if your boss or colleague schedules back-to-back meetings that cut into your pump breaks, be proactive and calendar all of your pumping breaks into your work schedule. This way your colleagues know not to schedule anything else during that time.
When scheduling time, give yourself enough of a buffer before and after pumping sessions not just to get set up in the room, but also to properly clean your breast pump parts.
10: Use baby photo or other baby item to encourage letdown
Sometimes the stress of the workday and being away from your baby may prevent your milk flow. To encourage letdown, a widely known hack is to have a baby photo or your baby’s clothing or blanket with their scent handy while you’re pumping. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your body will react!
11: Connect with your breastfeeding colleagues
As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, my experience pumping at work might have been very different had I not connected with a breastfeeding colleague to show me the ropes. See if you can find other breastfeeding employees who are pumping as well so that you can offer each other support and help make it more commonplace for women in your workplace to pump at work.
It’s hard not to stress out over having to leave your baby and keep up your milk supply while at work. But remember that while it’s challenging, you can successfully pump at work and continue to provide your baby the amazing health benefits breastmilk has to offer.
If you found these tips helpful, don’t forget to Pin and share with a friend!
For other resources to help you on your breastfeeding journey, check out:
- How to Clean Breast Pump Parts at Work- 3 Easy Ways!
- How to Keep Breast Milk Frozen While Traveling: The Ultimate Guide
- 9 Best Breastfeeding Chairs for Your Nursery in 2021
- Elvie vs Willow: Best Wearable Breast Pump in 2022