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How to Pump at Work (Without Embarrassing Yourself)

You’re breastfeeding, and in a few weeks you’re going to be moving your “center of operations” out of the living room. It’s time to pump at work.

STOP EVERYTHING.

Think that over.

Your breastural region is going to be stretched twice it’s normal size by a strange contraption in an extremely awkward position. There’s a high chance of  wardrobe malfunctions, poorly timed leaks, and coworkers who never knock.

Don’t just try to sail into this.

Those “Little Ladies” have a mind of their own.  (Speaking from experience, here…can you tell?)

They really don’t care that you have a presentation in 10 minutes…or that your 7th grade class is mostly pubescent boys….or that you’re the only woman on the 3rd shift.

You need to return to work prepared for a boobie blitzkreig. 

Gather Your Emergency Milk
Disaster Prevention Kit

Preparation.

The first rule of disaster survival.

Clear out a drawer, friend.  It’s time to put together your Emergency Milk Disaster Prevention Kit. Inside this drawer, locker, bag, whatever, will be everything you need to conduct your pumping sessions as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

Remember:  “Prevention is worth an ounce of cure being able to look at your coworkers in the eye.”  So stock your nursing drawer!

How to Stay Classy
(While You Pump at Work)

Besides your Emergency Milk Disaster Prevention Kit, here are a few more helpful suggestions to keep it classy (as your nipples are taffy-stretched).

  • Return from Cracked Nippleville before returning to work.  It’s almost impossible to wear nipple shields and not look like a Fembot, so take my nipple healing advice and do your Austin Power’s cosplay at home.
  • Look for professional shirts that can be easily adjusted to pump. You want something that has buttons up the front or can be lifted from the bottom without over-stretching.  Non-cooperative clothing can make pumping milk at work a disaster.  It could cause the pump to slip, letting you spray milk all over the report you’re presenting in 3 minutes.  (Ignore those stains, Mr. Chairman.  That’s just my breast milk.)
  • Always have a giant water bottle, a relaxing book, and a photo of your sweet little baby to look at.  They will help you set aside the stress of work and allow your body to letdown.

Other Tips to Successfully Pump at Work

Besides putting together your “Emergency Milk Disaster Prevention Kit”, here are some other tips to help your pumping at work be as easy and painless as possible.

Make Sure You’re Using the Right Pump Size

Size matters.  

After purchasing your breast pump, have a lactation consultant help you make sure the standard hardware is a good fit for your areolas.  The wrong size will lead to breastfeeding and milk production problems.

Two Pumps is Better Than One

Firstly, once you’ve settled on the perfect size, buy two sets of all tubing, shields, and cups.  This way you won’t have to sterilize during the evening Zombie time.  Just slip the used equipment into the dishwasher/sterilizer in the morning and bring the fresh set with you to work.

Clean Your Pump in Less than 5 Minutes

Perhaps it’s just  me, but my evenings after work were like the walking dead. Cameron and I developed a whole new language based completely on grunts.

Use these “Zombified” tips to keep your breast pump sanitized and ready for the morning commute.  (Promise! They require absolutely no brainpower!)

  • Put the used pump parts in a plastic bag and store in a cooler or in the office fridge (have mercy on your awkward male coworkers and put it in a paper bag) immediately after being used.  This keeps the milk from going bad while you’re finishing up the work day.
  • Use these quick sanitizing wipes for any spills on the desk and to quickly sanitize equipment before stashing back into your travel bag.
  • In the evening, the fastest way to deeply sanitize the tubing and other parts is to use these quick sanitizer bags in the microwave.  One bag is good for 20 uses!
  • Every weekend, soak the pieces overnight in soapy water.  This loosens up any milk that has gotten caught or dried in the little nooks and crannies.  Wash and air dry or through in the dishwasher for a mega-clean to start the week off sparkling!

Pumping at Work is Exhausting…
Clear the Evening of To-Do’s

The back-to-work adjustment for a breastfeeding mom is a toughie.

Firstly you have all the physical arrangements to work out. (Hopefully this post has helped with those!)

Then there are all the emotions of actually going back to work and leaving your baby at daycare.  It’s rough for both of you.  It’s very normal during this period for a baby to wake up at night more, wanting those extra calories and mom-cuddles.

For this reason, if you can, see if you can come back to work on a Wednesday (rather than a Monday).  This way there are only a few days of work before a weekend respite.

When the time comes, give yourself extra levels of grace and (most importantly) outsource as many chores as you can.

Skip the “What’s for Supper” Panic

I understand that there are a few women out there that can grab a can of tuna, a box of craisins, frozen peas, and a loaf of stale bread and turn it into something amazing.

Unfortunately for my family, I am not that gal. 

I need a PLAN. And don’t give me “Taco Tuesday” and “Spaghetti Saturday”. BOOOORRRING.

I’m just enough of a food snob to make my life incredibly harder than it actually has to be. At least, I used to make it harder, but then I discovered the wonder of outsourcing the planning.

If you’re looking for a smarter way to get food on the table, let me recommend what I’ve been using for over five years: eMeals.

I can select a certain type of food plan (Low-Carb, Kid-Friendly, Slow-Cooker, etc.) and it will email me a weekly meal plan that includes simple, delicious and healthy recipes my family has loved for years. (Plus you can print them and use them later!)

Try eMeals for free for 14-days and see what you think!

Ask Yourself a Few Good (But Hard) Questions

Deciding to continue to breastfeed when you go back to work isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be able to. Pumping at work is a lot of extra effort, and pumping is not the same as a babe-on-breast.  You may find your supply needs a boost.

So it’s always good to enter this next phase of your breastfeeding career with a few hard questions:

  1. How committed are you to keep breastfeeding?
  2. What is your age-goal before you decide to wean?
  3. Do you have any major work trips or projects coming up? You may want try to pump a little extra unless your milk supply begins to drop during that period.
  4. What happens if you just can’t continue and have to switch to formula. Are you still a good mom? (Hint: Yes. Yes you are.)
  5. Do you have a healthy formula already in mind for when you’re finished (whenever that may be). There are lots of brands out there, along with a few you haven’t heard of: European formulas and Goat’s milk formula (click here for a free sample). FYI, goat’s milk formula has shown to help with constipation and improve eczema symptoms.

Also, don’t forget that you may need to slip in an extra feeding at night to keep your milk supply high! Go ahead and slip in there right before you go to bed and give her a feeding. She will love the extra cuddles, and you get to extend your “sleep time” before having to get up again for a feeding anyway!

So there. You’ve got all that you need to be a Rockstar Breastfeeder AND World’s Best Employee at the same time.

Not bad! You should probably ask at least one of your bosses for a raise. (I’d start with the one in diapers.)

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18 thoughts on “How to Pump at Work (Without Embarrassing Yourself)

  1. I had a nurse recommend Fenugreek to me to help increase milk supply.  I take 16 total a day – 4 at midnight feeding, and 4 at each meal during the day.  I went from pumping 2.5-3 oz every 3 hours (barely enough to satisfy my 2 month old) to pumping just over 5 oz every 3.5-4 hours in less than a week.  This vitamin can do a number on your tummy though so I also recommend starting a probiotic unless you eat a lot of yogurt!

    1. Good suggestion, Jennifer! I used Fenugreek as well, to good effect. I just would throw in a reminder to always go over things like this with your lactation consultant or OBGYN to make sure it won’t interfere with other medications you are also on. Thank you!

  2. Do you have any suggestions about increasing milk supply? There seem to be so many different things to try, and I need a little boost. Back to work, and pumping and mostly keeping up, but if I could pump a bit more, it would really be helpful and I could avoid having to supplement. Thank You so much for all the great tips, and humorous way of looking at all this fun us mama’s are having!

    1. Aimee,

      The biggest thing, and you probably already know this, is to stay hydrated. Not a surprise but it can be hard to accomplish. I know I always felt that staying hydrated meant running to the restroom every hour and who has time for that?!
      Also, with the transition to work comes added stress which can make it hard to produce as much milk. Try to say “no” to extra activities when you have a choice at least for the next month. You will need that extra rest time to help your body adjust.
      Some people feel like the Mother’s Milk tea helps so you could give that a try.
      Keep up the good work, mama! Pumping isn’t easy but it’s wonderful that you are doing this for your little one.

  3. Pumping now for my 2nd child… With my first, I quickly realized I needed some sort of pumping bra – and got the more expensive type. Wish I would’ve read that suggestion about using an old sports bra then, which actually could be worn all day. The expensive one is too bulky, obvious, and not supportive enough to be worn all day, though after pumping for nearly a year and now again for my 2nd, it’s definitely given me my money’s worth… I may still consider that other suggestion, so I can wash it more often, and maybe even just be able to wear and not have to add another bra on top of my nursing bra…

    Thanks!

  4. My wife and I just had our first child. Unfortunately, my wife can’t stay home with my child because we’re tight on money. I’m going to show my wife these tips. She’ll have to breast pump at her work. I think the most important thing is preparation.

  5. I love this!!  Starting to get the pumping at work down (I think).  But I love your tips on doing less in the evenings and meal planning, etc.  So nice to read about it from someone who clearly “gets it!”

    1. Thanks Lynsey! I’m so glad it can be helpful. It’s a challenge, but once you get into a rhythm it will get so much easier! xo

  6. Good Article. I was lucky enough to have a lactation room at work; nothing fancy, just a recliner with a small side table and electrical outlet. The problem I had and will have with going back with baby #2 is making pumping a priority without being seen as a slacker (being late to the 11:00 meeting because I’ve been in meetings since 8:00 and if I don’t pump right now there’s going to be a milk explosion in this office!!!)

    Also, a tip for anyone, skip the expensive nursing bra and cut two small holes in an old sports bra. This only works for the shields that detach from the valves, not the type thats all one piece. I used this at work all the time.

    1. Nicki – that’s so nice you had a lactation room! Sounds like a haven where you can sit back in the recliner and relax for a little while. It is hard for the (typically unmarried) male gender to understand the physical requirements of breastfeeding. Perhaps they think that boobs just continue to swell and swell until we’re floating on the ceiling… lol Love that tip about the old sports bra! Brilliant!

  7. Heather,

    THIS WAS GREAT!!!!

    I giggled at this post because I experienced the male co-workers not knocking on my door… even though it was locked! I had to start putting a sign that said, “Do not disturb. Conference call in session.” That way, no one knew what I was really up to and dared not enter. I loved the list of essentials. I never had any malfunctions but I could have! Way to help new moms think ahead!!

    Ann 🙂

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