Pump it Up: Tips for the Breastfeeding Mom Returning to Work

One of the biggest sources of stress for me prior to returning to the office was the thought of pumping. Being a breastfeeding mother means you must stop and interrupt whatever you are doing every 3 hours or so to either feed your baby, or express the milk you would be feeding your baby. Every. 3. Hours. Not the most compatible thing with a typical 9-5 working life.

For anyone out there feeling overwhelmed by how to make this work, let’s start with the basics:

Preparing to Pump at Work: 101

I’ve done the heavy internet research, and even ordered some useful books. (I really enjoyed The Milk Memos, which gives the perspective of several different working, pumping moms from IBM).  I found incredibly helpful tips and tricks, and while I will be sharing lots of pumping stories on this blog, here are the essentials for going back:


It’s for real. Over the course of about 6 months, I built up a rotating stash of 200 oz. Moo.

Start building up your freezer stash! You won’t regret it.

  • You can begin by adding a pumping session whenever you are ready, but to really have a good stash, start about a month before your return to work date. This gives you several days where you can “afford” to have poor pumping sessions as you figure out how to convince your body that your pump is a baby. My first couple weeks of pumping were haphazard; I didn’t fully understand the process. Sometimes I turned the pump on for 20 seconds and nothing happened so I figured I was empty and walked away. I needed time to learn how to pump, and low-pressure time was great.
  • That said, if you know how to pump like a rock star and your body is cooperative and it really just ain’t no thing, then you can probably wait until about 2 weeks before going back to build up enough milk for a couple days worth of bottles.
  • Additionally, that extra pumping session you introduced to build up a going-back stash? Don’t drop it once you are back at the office! I know the thought of all this pumping feels nuts (and it is), but this is how you get ahead. In addition to my office sessions, I kept one evening pump after baby went to sleep; this helped me build up for work travel and was also a fallback that could cover any poor-output sessions during the workday.
  • p.s. did you know breast pumps are now covered by insurance companies? You can’t always pick the exact brand/model, but it’s an awesome perk of Obamacare.
quiet room

where the magic happens

Develop a routine that will be transferable to work. Stick to it OBSESSIVELY

  • Mama’s, when you head back to work you are going to feel some intense emotions. You may be thrilled to get back but also feel guilty. You may hate leaving the baby and feel miserable. You may just feel anxious about what’s happened at the office since you’ve been gone. Whatever you are going to feel, it’s not going to be the same as that quiet, maternity-leave-afternoon with just you + baby.  If we know anything about breastfeeding, it’s that feelings matter- specifically stressful ones. Routine is an amazing hedge for these feelings; no matter what is going on that first day back, if you start going through your usual pumping motions, your body is going to know what to do.
    • Here was my routine:
      • Gather my parts, and sit at the pump while assembling all the bottles, and hook up. (I literally did the assembly in the same order each time: valve, membrane, flange, screw to bottle, hook up tubes. I concede it’s a little OCD, but the routine became almost cathartic) I sat at my table at home while doing this (instead of assembling by the kitchen sink, for example) because I could replicate the scene at the office.
      • I selected a relaxing song (Beethoven Sonata #8, if your interested), and had it on my phone. I pressed play, and kept it on a loop. Make it a longer one, or series of songs, especially if pumping takes you awhile.
      • I pulled up pictures of my daughter on my phone, or sometimes my husband would come over and show me some that he had taken.
      • Begin the pumping.

name plate for the pumping room

Determine where you will be pumping in advance of your return, and if necessary start booking the rooms.

  • Ladies, you have the right to take pump breaks, and you do NOT have to pump in a bathroom.  Learn more here.
  • If you work for a large company with multiple pumping rooms, (mine are called “quiet rooms”, because we must keep the things that transpire inside hushed and mysterious)  find out how to reserve them and get your first week secured. If you need to, have a coworker book for you. At my office, there were periods where it felt like ALL THE WOMEN were lactating and there was occasionally competition for rooms at peak pumping times.
  • As a courtesy to all the other hard-working pumping-moms, if you don’t need your room, please cancel your reservation. And don’t steal rooms. Or go over time. Pumping is stressful enough, arriving to find your room occupied is infuriating. (stories on that to come, obviously)

The Medela Advanced Pump In Style kit

Pack your bag. Here is what you need:

  • Enough bottles to capture the amount of milk you will express. I did 3 sessions a day, and 4 bottles worked fine. You should be capturing approximately what your baby is taking while away from you, which can vary widely depending on your work and feeding schedule. That extra session at home I recommended earlier is helpful if you find yourself a little shy of what you want to send. (Another way to approach this is to only send your baby with what you express- sounds obvious, but the difference is whether you are the type that wants to send exactly three, 4 oz bottles a day, or if you are okay with a day that baby gets 11 oz total, or perhaps one day you have 14 oz to send. I’ve hinted at my mild OCD; I preferred to send the same amount each day and use the last pumping session of the night to make sure I more than covered it)
  • All of your parts and tubing. Bring extra membranes, and consider storing a spare set of parts at your desk. There is NOTHING worse than getting to the pump room without all of your pieces. (but if that happens, hand express!)
  • Ice block, or insulated bag for the fridge at work. (Honestly, I ended up buying the Medela Pump in Style Advanced pictured above, because it meant not going to the kitchen after every session, the milk could live at my desk)
  • Pump-part wipes. Washing parts is the worst and it’s time consuming! After about a month of going back and forth to the (gross) community kitchen, I wised up and bought wipes! Your pump manufacturer, such a Medela, makes them, but I found these pacifier wipes to be just as effective and at a fraction of the cost.
  • Keep a few spare disposable breast pads handy, you just never know if the ladies are going to leak
  • Baby pictures! I wasn’t all that convinced pics of the baby would do much for pumping output, but when you are running in between meetings and have to go to a dreary little room, pull out and hook up your breasts while in your work clothes, you can feel a little ridiculous. Your baby’s face will be an instant distraction and reminder of why you are running around like a crazy person.

Finally, the last thing to do if you can, is find another working mom who has tried pumping at the office, and reach out for tips and support. We will all take our own unique paths to making working and pumping successful, but the encouragement of just one other mom friend can be the difference of finding yourself in tears in the pump room, ready to give up, or calling/texting a friend who can send help, advice, and love.

Bottom line: with a little preparation this can be done. You got this! And if you are feeling discouraged or need additional, advice/inspiration, stay tuned. I’ve got work pumping stories for days.

Copyright 2015 © i am a working mom blog

pump room photos by the talented Cristinmorephotography.com

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