Pumping Essentials for Moms Returning to Work

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Going back to work can be hard for any new mom, and being a breastfeeding mom who has decided to pump at work presents its own set of challenges. But have no fear! We’ve gathered what you need to know, what you need to have, and the easiest ways to get it done when pumping at work.

photo: Willow

Know Your Rights

We hope you have a supportive work environment for pumping breast milk, but it’s always good to know your rights. Federal law in the U.S. requires employers to provide break time and a private space that is not a bathroom for breastfeeding mothers with a child under one year. There are exceptions noted in the law that you should be aware of, for example with companies that have fewer than 50 employees. Many states have their own laws that must be met, so check with your HR department to understand your rights.

What You’ll Need

The Right Pump. From medical-grade rentals to manual pumps, there are lots of pumps to choose from. Many are covered by insurance, so looking up what models are included in your plan is a great place to get started. Some things to consider as you’re choosing a pump: Efficiency is one of the most important features, like that provided by a double electric pump, meaning you can pump both breasts at the same time. If you’re going to be lugging the pump around all day, you’ll want a small, portable model. Depending on where you’ll be pumping, you may need a battery-operated pump versus a corded one. Some other factors to take into consideration are how loud the pump is and whether it has a hands-free option. Check out the Willow (pictured above), an innovative hands-free pump that fits inside your bra without any external tubes, cords, or bottles.

Pumping Accessories. Once you have the pump, you’ll need the right parts and accessories:

  • A bag for carrying everything to and from work is key. There are bags specifically for breast pumps, or you can use a fashionable bag that’s big enough to fit the pump plus all the extras, like your cords and battery packs. The Sarah Wells collection comes in a variety of stylish patterns, and the bags are super functional with thermal-lined pockets and space for a laptop.
  • Most pumps include standard-size breast flanges (the plastic piece that fits over your nipple to create a vacuum and extract your milk), but you may need to purchase a different size for your best, and most comfortable, results. Talk to a lactation consultant if you think your flanges are the wrong size.
  • Depending on your method of pumping, you’ll want to have plenty of leak-proof storage bags or pumping bottles on hand.
  • Plus, you’ll want room for all your personal and sanitizing products.

photo: Larken

Other Essentials. Clothes can make the difference when pumping at work. Wear nursing tops or button-downs that give you easy access; a non-nursing dress you have to remove can leave you chilly or overexposed. Disposable or reusable nursing pads will keep your clothes dry and stain-free if you happen to leak, but it’s always good to have an extra shirt at work in case of leaks and spills. Hands-free bras, like the Larken X Nursing and Hands-Free Pumping Relaxed Bra (pictured above) have slits where you can insert the flanges for full use of your hands while pumping. Also, have your favorite nipple cream handy to prevent sore nipples. We like Earth Mama’s Organic Nipple Butter, which can be used directly on the breast or flanges and doesn’t need to be washed off before nursing.

Getting the Job Done

Starting Early. As for the actual deed of pumping, you’ll want to begin a few weeks before you go back to work. Start with replacing one nursing session a day with pumping and then feed baby with a bottle to get them used to the bottle. Try having another caregiver do the bottle feeding to mimic what it’ll be like when you’re at work. Aim for completely emptying both breasts every time you pump. Slowly replace more nursing sessions at home until you’re up to the number of feeding sessions you’ll be gone for each day. This will give you and baby time to adjust to the new routine and allow you to test out the best methods and equipment for successful pumping. You’ll also want to build up a stash for that first day and to have as a backup.

Working on a Schedule. Once at work, marking your pumping time on a calendar will help keep your milk production up by ensuring you don’t miss any sessions. If your calendar is public, you can use a generic title like “Meeting” followed by your baby’s initial. In the beginning, you’ll need about 3-4 pumping sessions for a typical work day. Designate enough time to fully empty your breasts and include time to clean your pump.

More Tips. The more relaxed you can be, the more likely you’ll pump well. Easier said than done when adjusting to life as a working mom. Be gentle with yourself as pumping can be fickle and you won’t always have your most productive session. Have a picture or recording of baby handy because it can actually stimulate milk letdown. Sometimes a distraction, like a book or video, will help get the milk flowing. Eventually, the act of pumping itself should become the stimulus and you won’t need those tricks. Lactating is dehydrating and hungry work, so make sure to have healthy snacks and plenty of water with you while you pump.

photo: Kiinde

Storing Milk. It’s important for baby’s health and safety that breastmilk is stored in a safe manner while at work. The best place is in the refrigerator with each storage bag labeled with the date, amount of milk, and baby’s name if the bags will be used by a daycare or more than one mother is storing milk in that fridge. The Kiinde Twist Pouch (pictured above) allows you to pump, store, warm, and feed all with one pouch. The next best thing is storing milk an insulated cooler or compartment with ice packs until you can put it the refrigerator or freezer at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), freshly expressed milk can be stored at room temperature for 4 hours, in the refrigerator for 4 days, and in a freezer for 6-12 months.

Cleaning Up. Equally as important as storing milk properly is sanitizing the parts and supplies. Always wash your hands before pumping and when handling pump parts. The CDC recommends a specific cleaning method that requires hot water, liquid soap, a scrub brush, and an area to air-dry your supplies after each pumping session. A dishwasher is a good option if you have access to one. If you can’t properly wash your supplies or don’t want to deal with cleaning everything several times a day, pack multiples of anything that comes in contact with your breast or breastmilk (such as the flanges and hoses). Then sanitize all the parts at home. Another option is the Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bag, which disinfects pump parts in the microwave in just 3 minutes.

Travel Considerations

If you have to travel for work while pumping, plan ahead to figure out how you’ll be able to clean the parts and store your milk. A car charger and adapter that is compatible with your pump works well for road trips. A breast pump is considered a medical device for air travel, so it doesn’t count against your carry-on baggage. There is no specific limit on how many ounces of milk you can take on a plane, but you’ll need to store it properly. As with any liquid, you may have to take it out of your cooler during security screenings. Shipping breastmilk straight to your home is also possible with services like Milk Stork. You can supply your child with milk while you’re away, and you don’t have to carry multiple ounces back on the plane.

Katie L. Carroll

featured image: Jens Johnsson via Unsplash


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