Pumping breastmilk at work: The working mom’s how-to guide

Pumping breastmilk at work: the working mom's how-to guide.

For the breastfeeding mother, a breast pump is a godsend for maintaining your milk supply when you return to work.
Using a pump to express breast milk at work offers several benefits:

  • It allows you to continue breastfeeding while you are away from your baby.
  • You can ensure that your baby continues to get the best nutrition from your breast milk instead of switching to formula.
  • You will continue to save a lot of money over having to buy formula to supplement feeding when you are away at work.

Here’s how you can get a headstart on expressing milk at work.

Get comfortable with the quirks of your breast pump before you return to work. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Begin using your pump at least two weeks before you return to work. This is a good way to practice and find the settings that feel most comfortable. It’s also a good way to spot any potential problems with the pump. You will need to test out the pump for:

  • Battery life. How many pumping sessions can you go through before you need to recharge the pump? If your pump relies on a plug-in source of power, does your workplace have an outlet where you’re planning to pump?
  • Noise. How loud is the pump? Turn on the pump and see if you can hear it in the next room. You don’t want to wait until you’re at the office to find out that the entire office floor can hear your breast pump!
  • Comfort. Is the pump comfortable? You might need to get a different size breast shield if the ones that come with the pump don’t fit your nipples.
  • Supplies. Do the collection bottles or collection bags you have leak? Are they big enough (or too big)?
  • Storage. How long will the cooler bag you have keep the breast milk chilled? Do you need to add an additional ice pack?

Make sure you have all these problems ironed out before you go back to work. By pumping at least two weeks early, you have time to find another breast pump if necessary. Expressing ahead of time is also a good way to build up a stored supply of breast milk for your baby while you’re at work.

Do you need a manual or electric pump?

How long will you be at work? If you’re only going back to work part-time, then you may be able to get away with just expressing once a day at work. In this case, you can get a manual pump which is cheaper and smaller. Keep in mind that a manual pump is slow and very tiring to use if you plan to pump more frequently.
If you are going back to work full-time, then you will need an electric pump. Check out my comparison of the best electric breast pumps.

What’s your pumping schedule?

Do a couple of test runs with your pump while you are still breastfeeding at home. Replace a nursing session by pumping and feeding your baby with a bottle. This is a good way to figure out how often you will pump and how long it will take each time. Will your employer allow long enough breaks for you to pump? Will your baby accept the bottle and teat?

If you have trouble getting your baby to adjust to bottle feeding, try replacing the teat with a slower/faster flow or getting a harder/softer one. You might need to press your baby against your bare breast (like you’re breastfeeding) while you give the bottle, at least until they adjust to it.

Do you have everything you need?

Make sure you have everything prepared and on hand! Besides a pump, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A tote for your breast pump, or a big handbag if you’re using a manual pump
  • A cooler bag with enough cooler packs
  • Enough collection bottles and collection bags
  • A pumping bra if you want to free your hands
  • A shawl or nursing top for privacy.
  • Disinfecting wipes and alcohol pads (See my guide for cleaning your breast pump at home and at work)
  • Ziploc bags to store used, dirty parts

Will you have a pumping area at work?

To ensure that you can pump quickly and optimally, you will need a private, draft free, and clean place to pump. You might need access to an electrical outlet if your pump doesn’t have a battery. You’ll also need a place to sit down and a table for your pump and supplies. If you’re lucky enough to have your own private office, then most of these problems will be taken care of. If possible, you will want to rinse your equipment and wipe them down with alcohol wipes after use. Otherwise, you can bring along spare pump parts and keep the dirty ones in a ziploc bag and use new parts each time you pump.
Here are some places where you can pump:

  • Unused conference rooms or offices
  • Clean bathrooms
  • Storage rooms and areas

How can I pump the most milk as effectively as possible?

One of the biggest triggers to stop milk flow is stress and anxiety. This can come from an unfamiliar environment, lack of privacy, or even a cold and drafty room. Going back to work and being away from your baby can make all of these stressors worse. The best way to stimulate milk let down when you’re in a cold and sterile office is to bring reminders of your baby and your home with you. Cover yourself up with a shawl or pashmina to keep yourself warm. Look at pictures or videos of your baby on your phone. Bring your baby’s onesie so you can breathe in their sweet baby scent before you start pumping.
Besides staying relaxed and having reminders of your baby around, you will want to make sure you are hydrated and well-fed at least 30 minutes before you begin pumping. Drink a bottle of water and have a nutritious snack before you begin expressing.

How should I store my breast milk at work?

Many women keep their freshly expressed milk in their office’s shared refrigerator, but that can be unsanitary and your breast milk may be contaminated by your co-workers, plus many people are still squeamish about breast milk. I always recommend bringing your own cooler bag with you. Breast milk can be kept at room temperature (60F-80F) for 3-4 hours. If you have a cooler that can keep temperatures below 60F, breast milk will last 24 hours before going bad. Refrigerated at below 40F, breast milk will last for 3-8 days. I recommend keeping your expressed milk in a cooler bag until you get home, you can then transfer it to the fridge and use up the milk within a week.


Thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment if you have any questions.
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