How to pump at work

Tips for successfully pumping at work.

Balancing a career with breastfeeding is no easy task. Pumping at work requires planning, persistence, and support. Figuring out the logistics of pumping at work can be overwhelming. But with the right approach and resources, it can become a manageable part of your daily routine.

Here are some tips for pumping at work, from understanding your rights to storing your milk safely.

Know your rights

As a working mom who's breastfeeding, it's crucial to know your rights in the workplace. Being informed empowers you, helps you plan your pumping schedule, and ensures you have the support you need. You can decide what pumping at work strategies will work best for you and your situation based on the tools you have available.

Federal law

In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to pump breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. This includes providing a private space, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion.

Workplace policies

It's important to familiarize yourself with your company's policies on breastfeeding and pumping. Some companies offer more support than federal law requires, such as longer breaks or more comfortable lactation rooms. If you're unsure, don't hesitate to ask your HR department for clarity.

Starting the conversation

Talking to your employer about your need to pump at work might seem daunting, but it's a necessary step.

Here are a few tips to make that conversation easier:

  • Be direct and professional: Clearly explain your needs and how they can be accommodated within the work schedule.
  • Offer solutions: Suggest practical solutions for your pumping needs. This could include flexible break times or using a less frequented room as your pumping space.

What if you face resistance?

If you face resistance or lack of support from your workplace, remember you're protected under federal law. Gather as much information as you can about your rights and consider seeking advice from a legal expert if necessary.

Planning and Preparation

Getting ready to pump at work involves more than just bringing your breast pump to the office. It requires thoughtful preparation to make your pumping sessions as smooth and efficient as possible. Here’s how you can prepare:

Choosing the Right Breast Pump

  • Manual vs. Electric: Electric pumps are faster and more efficient, making them ideal for the workplace. A manual pump might be useful as a backup or for travel.
  • Portability and Discretion: If you need to carry a pump to and from work daily, look for one that’s easy to transport and discreet. Some models are designed to fit into a larger purse or bag.
  • Ease of Use and Cleaning: Your time is precious. Opt for a pump that's straightforward to assemble, use, and clean.

Packing Essentials

  • Storage Bags/Bottles: You’ll need clean containers for storing your pumped milk. Make sure they’re properly sterilized.
  • Labels: Bring labels to mark the date and time of each pumping session. This will help you manage the storage and usage of your milk.
  • Cooler Bag with Ice Packs: A cooler bag is essential for safely transporting your milk home if you don’t have access to a refrigerator at work.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Include a bottle brush and some dish soap to clean parts between uses, or consider disposable wipes designed for breast pump parts.

Preparing at Home

  • Build a Milk Stash: Start pumping and freezing extra milk a few weeks before returning to work. This stash will help you manage any unexpected situations or days when you might pump less.
  • Practice Pumping: Get comfortable with your pump before you return to work. Practice assembling, using, and cleaning it.
  • Dress for Success: Wear clothes that provide easy access for pumping, such as tops with front openings or nursing bras. This can significantly streamline the process.

Setting Expectations

  • Flexibility: Some days might not go as planned, and that’s okay. Be prepared to adjust your schedule as needed.
  • Open Communication: Keep an open line of communication with your childcare provider about your baby’s feeding schedule. This can help you align your pumping times with your baby’s feeding times, maintaining your milk supply.

Creating a Pumping Schedule

Establishing a pumping routine at work can seem daunting, but with a bit of planning, it's definitely manageable.

Here's how to get started:

Mimic your baby’s feeding schedule

Try to pump as often as your baby usually feeds. This is typically every 2-3 hours, amounting to about 15-20 minutes per session. Before returning to work, observe your baby's feeding patterns and plan your pumping sessions around the same times. This helps maintain your milk supply and makes the transition easier for both you and your baby.

Schedule your pumping breaks

Let your supervisor know about your pumping schedule. Most are willing to accommodate once they understand the necessity. Set alarms or reminders on your phone or computer to remind you when it's time to pump. Sticking to a schedule helps your body adapt and maintain a steady milk supply.

Adjust as needed

Be flexible. Your pumping needs may change as your baby grows or as your work schedule shifts. Be prepared to adjust your pumping times accordingly. If you notice a drop in milk supply, consider adding an extra pumping session or consulting a lactation specialist for advice.

Create a supportive environment

Connect with other breastfeeding moms in your workplace or online. Sharing experiences and tips can be incredibly supportive. Drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet are crucial for maintaining your milk supply. Keep a water bottle and healthy snacks at your desk.

Use breastfeeding tracking tools

Consider using a breastfeeding app or a simple notebook to track your pumping sessions, milk volume, and any other relevant notes. This can help you identify patterns and make necessary adjustments.

Your right to a private and comfortable space

The law mandates employers provide a space other than a bathroom where employees can pump without interruptions. This space should be shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

If your workplace doesn’t already have a designated lactation room, talk to your HR department or supervisor about creating one. Be clear about the requirements: a lockable door, an electrical outlet, and a comfortable chair. Sometimes, employers are unaware of the need for such spaces. Suggest temporary solutions, like using a seldom-used office or conference room at scheduled times.

If your workplace lacks the ideal setup, look for alternative spaces that can be temporarily converted into a lactation area. Get creative. Some women have used manager’s offices, storage rooms, or even their own cars for privacy. Bring items from home to make the space more comfortable and relaxing, such as a small pillow for back support, a blanket, or personal photos to help with let-down.

Create a relaxing environment

Stress can affect milk let-down, so it’s important to create a calming atmosphere. Listen to music, audiobooks, or a meditation app while you pump. Always have a bottle of water with you to stay hydrated. Snacking during pumping sessions can also be a good way to keep your energy up and support milk production.

Advocate for improvements

If you and other pumping moms in your workplace face inadequate facilities, band together to request improvements. There's strength in numbers, and employers are more likely to make accommodations when they see a collective need.

Breast milk storage at work

After you've successfully pumped, storing your breast milk safely ensures it retains its nutritional and immunological benefits. Here are some tips for how to handle and store breastmilk at work.

Storage 101: Breastmilk storage guidelines

  • Freshly pumped milk can be kept at room temperature (up to 77°F or 25°C) for about 4 hours, in a cooler bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours, or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Frozen milk can be stored in the back of the freezer where it’s coldest for up to 6 months for best quality, and up to 12 months at a maximum.
  • Opt for hard-sided plastic or glass containers with tight-fitting lids or special breast milk storage bags. Make sure containers are clean and sanitized. Avoid reusing containers without washing them in between.
  • Mark each container with the date you expressed the milk. Use the oldest milk first to prevent it from spoiling.
  • If you're using a shared refrigerator, store your milk in a hard-sided container or a labeled bag to avoid any mix-ups or contamination.
  • To keep the milk at a safe temperature, use an insulated cooler bag with ice packs for the commute home.

Freezing and Thawing Milk

  • If you know you won’t use the refrigerated milk within four days, freeze it as soon as possible.
  • Thaw milk overnight in the refrigerator or by holding the container under warm running water. Never refreeze thawed milk.
  • Thawed milk might separate, so gently swirl the container to mix the fat back in. Once it's completely thawed, breast milk should be used within 24 hours.

Handling Challenges and Setbacks

Even with the best planning, you might encounter challenges while pumping at work.

Here are some strategies to manage common issues and keep moving forward:

Decreased Milk Supply

  • Evaluate Your Schedule: To stimulate production, try adding an extra pumping session or two during your day. Even a short session can help.
  • Check Pump Parts: Worn-out or improperly sized pump parts can reduce efficiency. Regularly inspect and replace parts as needed.
  • Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet are crucial for maintaining your milk supply.

Clogged Ducts

  • Before pumping, apply warm compresses to the affected area to help unclog the duct.
  • Gently massage your breast from the affected area toward the nipple during warm compresses and pumping.
  • Make sure your pumping bra is not too tight, as this can contribute to clogged ducts.

Finding Privacy

  • If your privacy needs are not being met, don’t hesitate to remind your employer about the legal requirements for a lactation space.
  • In the meantime, find temporary solutions like using an empty office or conference room.

Balancing Work and Pumping

  • Keep your coworkers informed about your pumping schedule to manage expectations regarding your availability.
  • Use your time efficiently by prioritizing tasks that require deep focus for when you’re not pumping.

Seeking Support

  • Sharing experiences and tips with other moms, whether through online forums, local support groups, or coworkers, can provide valuable support.
  • If you’re facing persistent issues, a lactation consultant can offer personalized advice and solutions.

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