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Scared by the thought of going back to work and having to pump? Pumping at work is totally doable.

With the increased awareness regarding the benefits of breastfeeding and all the federal and state laws that protect your right to pump at work, this should be easier than you expected.

And no you can’t get fired for pumping at work (in case you were wondering).

 How in the world am I going to pump at work? And work in between? These may be questions that you’re too afraid to answer.

Don’t worry I’m going to go through all the aspects involving pumping at work so your baby gets breast milk for as long as possible.

PUMPING AT WORK LAWS

Pumping at work is neither the ideal time nor the ideal place. But you have to do what you have to do and your baby is more important than anything else.

Here’s what you need to know about the rights of a breastfeeding mom in the U.S. :

1. WHO IS COVERED

Only employees who are under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

2. WHAT THE LAW MEANS

Employers are forced to let breastfeeding moms pump during work hours. And not only that, but they are also required to provide a room where they can do so and still have some privacy.

3. WHERE TO PUMP

The designated room cannot be a bathroom. The room should provide the necessary privacy that a pumping mom needs.

You should be the only one in the room when you pump. If you have other coworkers who pump as well, use a sign-up sheet and don’t forget to hang DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. 

Also, it has to be comfortable for you and meet your needs. If your breast pump has an electric cord, you definitely need a power outlet and the law is very specific in this sense.

So don’t be afraid to ask for your rights and be firm about it. You’re doing this to feed your baby and that should be enough of a motivation.  

4. LAW ENFORCEMENT

Those who fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act should know that this law is supervised by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

There’s a toll-free number you can use if you encounter problems 800-487-9243.

5. HOW LONG CAN I PUMP FOR

The law says you should receive a reasonable amount of time to pump, but that’s interpretable. Plus, your employer doesn’t have to pay you for all your pumping breaks.

Use your lunch break to eat and pump simultaneously so you can make use of that time wisely. 

TIMELINE CHECKLIST – WHAT TO DO BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK

ONE MONTH BEFORE

  • Stock as much breast milk as you can in the freezer.
  • Talk to your employer so you can both agree on the room you will be using to pump.
  • Also, discuss your work schedule and the necessary changes that need to be made so you get the breaks you need to pump. 
  • Make plans and decide who will take care of your baby while you’re at work.
  • If you want to put her in daycare follow my guide to help you choose the right daycare.

ONE WEEK BEFORE

  • Go over the supplies you’ll need (breast pump, storage bottles, ice packs etc.).
  • You can even use this week as a rehearsal so you can identify any possible issues.

FIRST WEEK AT WORK

It’s going to be emotional. I cried a lot. The thought of not being next to your baby will have a great emotional impact on you.

But don’t let it overwhelm you and just think that she’s in good hands. It’s going to be a struggle but don’t feel guilty not even for one second.  You’re not the first and definitely not the last mom going through this. 

Avoid having your ducts clogged by pumping regularly so you can still produce enough milk. Stay positive and get ready to embrace your hardest week with a lot of strength. 

Balancing work and breastfeeding is a tough job but you will eventually find a way to satisfy them both.

Here’s a to-do list to help you keep things going:

BEFORE BED

  • Clean/sterilize equipment – pump, bottles
  • Prepare your lunch
  • Prepare outfits for you and baby
  • Prepare diaper bag
  • Prepare pump bag

BEFORE WORK

  • Breastfeed baby
  • Pump if breasts are not completely drained
  • Pack your equipment – pump, bottles, ice packs
  • Make sure you leave enough breast milk at home 

AT WORK

  • Follow the schedule you planned (pump every 3 hours). It’s advised not to go over 4 hours without pumping as you’re risking engorgement or leaking. 
  • Keep everything sterile, including your hands.
  • To trigger letdown look at a picture (or watch a video) of your baby or have some of her clothes with you so you can smell them. 
  • Rinse your equipment with hot water when you’re done to make the cleaning easier later on when you get home

AT HOME

  • Breastfeed your baby as soon as possible (if baby is in daycare and you have a long drive feed her in the car).
  • Remember to label and store the milk you pumped at work.
  • Spend as much time as you can with your baby and feed her on demand. She needs extra attention so give it to her. She’s trying to accommodate to the new schedule just like you so work on that skin-to-skin contact as much as possible. 

PUMPING AT WORK SCHEDULE

Before you make any plan you should consider yourself on a 12-hour shift. That means pumping 4 times every 3 hours.

Now try to figure out how many times you should pump at work depending on your work shift. 

CHOOSING THE RIGHT BREAST PUMP

Because you’ll function on a hectic schedule you need an efficient pump to make it easier for you. 

  • To begin with, an electric pump is always better.
  • The less noise the better – imagine having a loud pump and having your coworkers listen to that. To reduce the noise you can cover (use a baby blanket) the pump.  
  • Adjustable speed – women are different so one speed doesn’t fit all in this case. 
  • Easy to carry – you definitely want a pump easy to carry around. Think about all the times you handle it? At home, washing it, packing it, at work etc?!
  • Battery operated or power cord? – if the room you use for pumping at work has no outlet you’ll be in big trouble.  
  • Hands-free – having this kind of pump will allow you to do other things while you pump. Eating for example. Your own feeding is as important and since you’re breastfeeding you need more calories, so don’t skip your meals.

GET A PORTABLE COOLER 

Investing in a portable cooler sounds like a good idea, that way you’ll be able to transport your breast milk safely until you get home. One less worry off your shoulders.

As soon as you pump store the milk in the cooler and put some ice packs on top. If you can find a refrigerator at work that’s even better because you’ll be able to save some money.  

STORE YOUR BREAST PUMP PROPERLY

The easiest way to do it is to just place all the pump parts in a ziplock bag and put them in the fridge.

Whatever design your breast pump has, the idea is to take off whatever parts can come off (and in contact with milk) and store them in the fridge.

That way you’ll spend less time finishing cleaning the pump when you get home. 

STAY ORGANIZED

You should have a breastfeeding bag, the same way you have a diaper bag (or had a hospital bag). Babies require a lot of bags.

But seriously, a breastfeeding bag would help. It would keep all your supplies in one place. 

BE CONSISTENT

Stick to the plan you made and don’t stress (too much). Don’t skip your planned pumping sessions and massage your breasts occasionally.

Eat right (and enough) and stay hydrated (just like you were doing when you were pregnant). You may have a hard time pumping at work, who wouldn’t?

You have your work duties, boss and coworkers on your mind. Browse the internet, look at baby pictures (to stimulate letdown), eat or listen to music to relax. 

HOW TO MANAGE THE STRESS

Going back to work after you had a baby is tough, no question about it. When you add the need for pumping, you might feel a little stressed.

To keep your sanity there are few wise choices you can make that will help you in the long run.

  • Ask your partner for help – he can help you with prepping your lunch for the next day or washing your pump so you can spend more quality time with your baby
  • Exercise – those endorphins will give you a boost
  • Planning is the key –  plan your day ahead and don’t put off things the very last minute
  • Get to work earlier – so you set up your pumping area beforehand 
  • Eat protein snacks to give you the energy you need

HOW TO OVERCOME AWKWARD SITUATIONS AT WORK:

Not everybody has kids so not everybody will understand you. Be prepared to encounter some uncomfortable situations. 

 1. IF YOU LEAK

This is something you can’t control, but it’s embarrassing when it happens. To avoid that stay on time with your pumping sessions (and pray you won’t leak).

Breast pads also help and add an extra top in your breastfeeding bag (see I told you needed one).

2. INSENSITIVE COMMENTS

You may have to deal with some inappropriate comments because some people are creepy and insensitive. Don’t mind them.

You can’t waste your energy on them. Talk to your boss or HR department. You have enough stress in your life, you don’t need another one. 

SELF-CARE IS IMPORTANT

You’ll rarely have free time but try to squeeze some self-care moments in your schedule. Sleep, relax, do some things you enjoy.

Pamper yourself. Have your partner watch the baby at night on weekends so you can catch up on that sleep.   

KEEP BONDING WITH YOUR BABY

Your bonding time is greatly reduced once you go back to work. But you can still make it up with plenty of skin-to-skin contact so make sure you don’t overlook this.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

1. HOW MANY TIMES SHOULD I PUMP AT WORK

To maintain an adequate milk supply you need to pump every 3 hours while at work. Depending on your shift, you’ll need extra breaks but also make use of your lunch break.

2. HOW MUCH MILK DO I PUMP AT WORK

Pump as much as your baby would eat in one day, depending on her age and appetite. The average is 25 ounces in 24 hours, but you can pump 30 just to be on the safe side.

If you nurse her before and after work then you would need to pump less.

3. HOW TO PROPERLY STORE BREAST MILK

Breast milk lasts longer if it’s frozen, so you can store it in bags or bottles and then put them in the freezer. The night before going to work take out one or two milk containers and place it in the fridge to thaw.

You’ll save some time the next morning and your baby’s meals will be all set. Whatever breast milk you are going to use the next day keep it in the fridge, the rest should be kept in the freezer until needed. 

Check out the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention milk storage instructions.

DON’T GIVE UP

Pumping at work is challenging and stressful in the beginning. But make it a successful habit and overcome the struggle by being organized and determined.

Stay on top of things and don’t forget the reason you’re doing all of this.   

Further reading:

How To Overcome The Most Common Breastfeeding Problems

21 Mind-Blowing Breastfeeding Benefits For Mom And Baby

how to manage pumping at work
how to manage pumping at work
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