When I first faced the task of pumping at work, I had no idea what to expect. The thought of pumping is so intimidating. Intimidating enough, in fact, that while I was pregnant, I considered not breastfeeding at all. Since I had to pump so much in the beginning with J anyway, due to a poor latch, I at least had the pumping thing down before returning to work. I was an old pro at it–at home. Pumping in a work environment, though, was a whole different story.
I pumped for over 7 months at work and figured out a few tricks along the way to make it faster, easier and less intimidating.
1. First, know your legal rights. Federal law does (somewhat) protect your right to pump breastmilk in the work place. One of the provisions under the Affordable Care Act is that employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of time for a mother to express breastmilk in a space – other than a bathroom – that is private and free from intrusion to express milk, each time she needs to express milk.
Unfortunately, this is only required for one year after the birth of a child. So if you plan to breastfeed past your child’s first birthday, you won’t necessarily be able to pump while at work. Is it really necessary to set a time limit? I mean, how many women would actually continue pumping just for the sake of pumping? It’s not like it’s fun.
Also, these requirements do not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees if it provides an “undue hardship.” This “hardship” has yet to be defined, so I imagine a lot of companies could easily get out of following the law.
And a glaring problem with the law is that employers are not required to compensate you for the time you spend pumping. So if you’re a salaried employee, you’re probably not protected at all. See here for more information.
In a nutshell, you may have rights and you may not. Let’s just hope that your employer is cooperative and supportive so you don’t have to worry about it.
2. Purchase a couple extra sets of spare pump parts. Ideally, you’ll own 3 sets of parts. Keep one set at work (because you will forget to bring a set one day) and alternate the other two so that you always have a clean set.
3. Pack your pumping supplies the night before work. Make sure you have your pump, pump parts, bottles, a hands-free pumping bra, and lids. In fact, keep extra lids in your pump bag. I can’t tell you the number of times I drove home very carefully with an open bottle of breastmilk in my cup holder because I didn’t have enough lids with me.
4. Nurse your baby as soon as she wakes up in the morning. Then, hook up your hands-free pump and pump again while you’re getting ready for work. This gave me an extra 6-8 ounces each day, which was helpful. In addition, plan to pump about every 2-4 hours, depending on the age of your child and how often she eats. A good general rule of thumb for the first 4 months is one hour per month of age. So if she’s 2 months old, you’ll pump every 2 hours. But once she’s 5 months old, you’ll still want to pump at least every 4 hours. If you stop producing as much milk over time (and you probably will, since the body doesn’t respond nearly as well to a pump as it does to Baby), you’ll need to pump more frequently.
5. Wear a nursing bra with either a nursing shirt or something that is quick and easy to take off and put back on. You don’t want to have a 5-minute wardrobe change every time you have to pump.
6. Let your co-workers know that you’ll be pumping and unavailable at certain times each day.
7. When it’s time to pump, make sure your office door is locked and any windows are covered (This is assuming you’re lucky enough to have an office to pump in–if you don’t, then reserve a quiet, clean, preferably window-free space. If that’s not possible, I’d say pumping in your car is preferable to pumping in the bathroom.)
8. Unhook your nursing bra and pull your hands-free bra over it. No need to take it off. While you’re pumping, you can still type or take phone calls or whatever, so it’s not necessarily wasted work time.
9. After you pump, you need to properly store the milk and the pump supplies. As for the pump supplies, I never washed mine between pumpings. I left them all put together, but removed from the pump. Then I would simply throw them in a Ziploc baggy and put them in my personal office refrigerator. I don’t see how any bacteria could possibly grow that way, since it’s just milk on the parts and it’s being refrigerated. That’s personal preference, but it saved me a lot of time and never caused any problems. I always ran the parts through the dishwasher every night on the sterilization cycle.
10. It took me months to figure out this little trick, but I finally found what I think is the best way to store the milk during the day. Buy a 2-quart sized container (like this one). Each time you pump, pour the milk into that one big container so that it’s all mixed up. I did this for a few reasons. For starters, I didn’t like having little bottles of milk cluttering up my tiny refrigerator. This way, all I had to bring was two bottles, one for each boob. So you pump, fill, and combine. Easy.
Second, if I happened to have lots of extra milk one day, I may not have enough bottles with me to pump it all. Third, I frequently forgot to bring enough stupid lids for all the bottles.
And finally, the biggie: your milk consistency is different according to the time of day. It’s thinner in the morning and thicker in the evening. That’s so cool and pretty remarkable that your body personalizes your baby’s food. But it really doesn’t help me when I’m pumping. It’s complicated enough to try to make sure you pump enough milk to feed Baby in your absence without also having to make sure he’s fed the right milk at the right time. If you want to bother with all that, more power to you. I chose not to.
11. If for some reason you miss a pumping session, don’t panic. It’s going to be okay. Your milk supply will not dwindle just because of one missed pumping session. You can pump as close to the scheduled time as possible, or you can just wait until the next time you’re due to pump. Remember that your baby doesn’t always follow the same schedule, so your boobs adjust.
For more tips and ideas, check out KellyMom’s collection of links to pumping at work. (By the way, KellyMom is a great resource for all kinds of breastfeeding questions and problems.)