I may be a stay at home mom now, but for the first six months of my youngest daughter’s life, I worked full-time…and breastfed.
Since I was away from my baby for 8-10 hours a day, that meant pumping breast milk at work to keep up. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it to me to continue to provide her with breastmilk. Over time I figured out ways to maximize output while minimizing time spent pumping.
The company I worked for was very male-dominated, and not supportive of my new mom status in general. However, I was VERY vocal about my rights during pregnancy and (short) maternity leave, so they pretty much left me alone about pumping breast milk at work.
Unfortunately, I know many other women go through similar struggles or have management that is unsupportive. That’s why I wanted to share what you need to know about your rights regarding pumping breast milk at work, as well as what made it easier for me.
You Have Rights!
First, know that the law is on your side.
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires that your employer must provide a reasonable amount of time for you to express milk during your workday — ANY time you need to — until your baby is one year old.
Your employer must also provide a private place for you to pump that is NOT a bathroom.
I’m paraphrasing, and there are a few exceptions, but in general, you have the right to pump at work in private whenever you need to. (Read the US Department of Labor FAQ here).
I’m not saying that you won’t get strange questions (you don’t have to answer of course, but I thought it was funny to educate and amaze my clueless male co-workers), or looks (from those that are too embarrassed to ask their questions), or even jealously (for those “relaxing” extra breaks you get- ha!) — BUT no one can stop you from pumping milk at work.
8 Tips for Successfully Pumping Breast Milk at Work
I get asked all the time how I “made it work” pumping breast milk on the job, so I’ve compiled a list of my top tips. These tips are based on the questions I’m asked most often.
1. Practice! Start pumping before you return from maternity leave
I waited until about 4 weeks postpartum before pumping, but you can start right away if you like. Practicing will help you become more efficient, plus you can start building your freezer “stash” so you’ll stress less about not pumping enough at work.
Easier said than done, but if you’re stressed or uncomfortable, you’ll produce less milk. My pumping station was far from luxurious, but I did have a plush armchair at least. And I did NOT let myself think about work during these breaks.
3. Distract Yourself
Try to take your mind off worrying how much milk is coming out, and before you know it you’ll be filling up those bottles! I would look at pictures of my kids, check in with my husband or my mom if it was her day to watch the baby, or catch up with one of my friends in another state. They knew what I as doing and didn’t mind the pump noise in the background.
4. Get (Non-Work Related) Stuff Done
Since I was stuck in a little room for 20 minutes, I would use this time to make annoying calls that otherwise avoided. Call the cable company to ask for their latest specials, call insurance to have them fix and refile of of the MANY incorrect statements we received (if you’ve had a baby you KNOW what I’m talking about), etc.
It was a good feeling to cross these mundane tasks off my to-do list, plus it was another way to distract myself from worrying about pumping.
Sometimes it takes a little extra “encouragement,” and gentle massage will help get the milk flowing. This can also get the job done faster, so you’re not stuck to your pump for quite as long.
6. Bring Extra Pumping Equipment
Having a set of pump accessories (I have the Medela Pump in Style Advanced) for each session means that you don’t have to wash between breaks. You can simply rinse and bag up to take home. If you only have one set of accessories but have access to a refrigerator, you can instead rinse, bag, and keep cold for a few hours until your next pumping session.
7. Sterilize with Microwave Steam Bags
These save SO much time! When I first started pumping I would hand-wash and the sterilize in boiling water for ten minutes every night. The whole process took almost half an hour!
When I discovered these Medela Micro-Steam Bags, it cut my nightly cleaning time in half. I’d do a quick wash in hot soapy water, rinse, pop in the bag and microwave for 3 minutes. Done! You can reuse each bag up to 20 times and you can use them for other things like bottles and pacifiers.
**Tip: Don’t steam the pump tubing, as it can melt! If the tubing stays dry at each pumping session, there’s really no need to wash (moisture inside the tubing can cause mold). If you would like to sanitize occasionally, rubbing alcohol is the best choice as it dries quickly. I actually just replaced the tubing periodically, as I found these inexpensive replacement tubing sets that lasted me the entire time I pumped.
8. Pump Before Bed
No matter how hard I tried, with a hungry, growing baby there were days that I couldn’t pump enough to replace what she drank while I was at work. (So don’t feel like a failure if it seems like you’re not keeping up!)
To make up for this (and to slowly keep building my freezer stash), I had a pumping session every night before I went to bed. This was during my baby’s longest sleep stretch (4-6 hours), so it helped keep me from getting uncomfortable as well.
What I Packed in My Bag:
- Pump tubing in a plastic zipper to keep them clean and dry between each use
- My pump came with a small cooler and ice pack for the bottles. I froze the ice pack each night and put the empty bottles in the cooler to take to work, and brought them home full in the cooler as well.
- Rest of the pump accessories in a separate plastic zipper bag.
- Paper towels
- Spare batteries just in case I needed to use the battery pack to pump (you don’t want to be caught off guard if your work were to lose power…you never know!)
I’m not going to kid you and say that pumping breast milk at work was fun, or easy. But if it’s something that’s important to you, the hard work will be worth it! I’m definitely glad I stuck it out and was able to keep breastfeeding long past my goal. Do you have any tips for working moms? Share them below!
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