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A Pragmatist’s Guide to Pumping at Work

Written by Amanda Sullivan

Let’s face it: If pumping in general is a huge drag, then pumping at work is outright drudgery. I disliked pumping so much the first few times I tried it at home on maternity leave that I decided I wouldn’t continue breastfeeding once I returned to work because there was no way — NO WAY — I was going to mess around with pumping at work.

Six months later, here I am pumping at work three times a day, every single day.

So why and how did I do it?

Well, the why is pretty straightforward. Breastfeeding got easier, and the easier it got, the more I was compelled to continue. To do so, I had to resign myself to pumping. Plus, after enrolling our precious daughter in a daycare that was more than we anticipated financially, breastfeeding (and by extension, pumping) was a way we could save money to make up the difference.

As far as the how I’ve managed to do without wanting to quit every day: I have a few tips for pumping at work that I’ve gathered along the way that have made the process less time-consuming and laborious for me. As a pragmatist, I needed a streamlined, organized way to make the process a sustainable routine, or I wasn’t going to be able to keep it up long. As such, these little gems were vital for me to stick it out as long as I have.

Have a bag solely dedicated to pumping.

This seems like a no-brainer, but I included it because it’s a key element of my pumping routine. I got a free pump as part of my insurance plan (Affordable Care Act requirement), but the pump and its requisite parts that were covered through my insurance did not come with a bag. So, I commandeered a tote bag, and later upgraded to a bigger duffel bag, that I kept all the pump paraphernalia I need on a daily workday basis. On any given day I have the following things in my bag: pump and power adapter, various pump parts, my hands-free mechanism (more on that below), milk bags and/or bottles, pump wipes and manuals, insulated bag for keep milk cold on the way home, plus my meals and workout clothes. I keep my bag packed and ready to go at all times, so I don’t have to think about what I need in the morning. If I run low on bags or wipes, I replenish the supply and just keep everything I have on hand in the bag at all times.

Organize your parts, equipment and pumping station.

Things brings me to organization. I’ve found that those disposable plastic containers (“Gladware” or similar) are a great way to store and organize everything I need to pump. I have two complete sets of pumping parts (see below) and keep each set in its own container. I have a third container for the tubes, bags, extra membranes and hands-free mechanism. I will fully admit that I am incredibly lucky to work at a place that is very accommodating to pumping mothers, and I have my own office. I realize that these are not conveniences that everyone has. However, every workplace is required, by law, to provide pumping mothers a place to pump that is not a bathroom. When I need to, I simply close my door and pump at my desk. I got a mini dorm fridge for my office, so I can store my pumped milk in there. I keep a roll of paper towels handy so I can wipe out the parts and clean up easily. I also have a bottle of hand sanitizer at my desk to make sure my hands are clean before I start. So now, I have my little routine down and all the equipment I need within arm’s reach, which makes the three-times-a-day process a lot more efficient. If you don’t have the capacity for a similar arrangement, invest in a good cooler bag and ice packs for your pumped milk so you don’t have to store it in the work fridge if you don’t want to. (Keep in mind that freshly pumped milk is okay at room temperature for several hours.) Keep paper towels and hand sanitizer in your pumping bag.

Hands-free = productivity.

Just because I’m pumping, doesn’t mean I can’t get work done. In fact, I can be very productive while pumping simply because no one can bother me! The key to productivity is having way to pump hands-free so you don’t have to hold the pumping mechanism on your breasts the entire time. They make hands-free bras, but I’ve heard they can be saggy. I tried to finagle one by cutting strategic holes in an old belly band I had during pregnancy. It was okay, but not the most convenient to get on and off. Then I found this clever rubber-band trick from kellymom.com, and never looked back. You just need four hair ties and a nursing bra, and you’re set. This trick has been a lifesaver for me. Even if you aren’t able to work while you pump due to your location, it’s still a nice trick to have up your sleeve if you want to read a book or…just not hold the horns to your boobs for 15 minutes.

Refrigerate your parts.

This is another trick that has saved me so much time. Rather than rinsing and washing out your pump parts after each pump, just throw them in the fridge. The idea is that since you put your pumped breast milk in the fridge and it’s good for several days there, the residue in the pump parts will be fine for the day in the fridge as well. I put my pump parts (anything that the milk touches) in the plastic container I transport them in, and then I put the whole works in the fridge between pumps. I also have some Medela wipes on hand in case I drop a part on the floor or just feel the need to clean the parts more between pumps. If you don’t have access to a fridge, these wipes would be a good alternative to washing. I cut them in half to maximize them, too.

Invest in spare parts and bottles.

This may seem like an investment at first, but it’s one that you will be thankful for later. After a couple weeks of pumping at work, I bought another set of horns, valves, membranes and four more bottles. I use one set of parts and then hand wash them in the evening and put the already clean second set in my bag for the next day. And repeat forever and ever. One thing I wish I would have done is invest in more than the six collection bottles I have. Originally, I wasn’t sure how long I’d pump, so I didn’t want to have a bunch of bottles. In hindsight, I should have just purchased more so I wouldn’t have to hand wash them every night — so take it from me: Buy all the bottles. On that note, I’d also recommend buying the bottles that you can just put a nipple on and give to your baby. My bottles are just for collection, and I have to transfer the milk to another bottle my baby can drink from. It’s a small thing, but if you’re looking for convenience, that’d be the way to go.

Just buy the bags, too.

In addition to the collection bottles, I keep a pretty good supply of plastic pump bags for milk collection. These bags are designed to attached right to the pump to collect the milk, and then you can store the collected milk in the fridge or freezer. I use these quite a bit (for one thing, I don’t have enough collection bottles…). They’re great to freeze extra milk, and we find they’re easier to warm up in a bowl of water than milk stored in a bottle is. And speaking of bags, you should probably just buy the microwave sterilizing bags, too, unless you’d rather deal with boiling the parts (not me!). I sterilize all my pump parts once a week at home using these bags, and the process couldn’t be easier. They seem expensive, but each bag can be used 20 times. Super convenient and pretty economical.

Plan ahead.

Even if you have all the equipment and space to pump at work, sometimes the hardest part is simply finding the time to do it. Before I went back to work, I logged onto my work calendar and blocked out three half hour periods throughout the day for me to pump. It doesn’t take me 30 minutes to pump (more like half that), but with the plethora of meetings I usually have scheduled, I knew these thirty-minute blocks would give me a window of time to get it done. These blocks of times are marked as busy on my calendar, so people generally schedule meetings around them. I do have to be flexible sometimes, though, so these blocks of time do get moved around every so often to accommodate a meeting or event. I look at my calendar for the day and make adjustments as I need to. As long as I can pump every 2-3 hours, I am able to make it work.

I’m certainly no expert, but these are the tips and tricks I learned to help make pumping more tolerable and practical for me on a day-to-day basis at work. Not everyone’s work situation is the same, but hopefully, there are some tidbits in here that you can use to help you navigate pumping as a working mom as well.

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About the author

Amanda Sullivan

Hailing from Omaha, Amanda Sullivan is a rookie mom, a pretty swell wife (she confirmed this with her husband), a dedicated marketing and communications professional and an avid latte drinker. She writes about her new gig as a mother and offers up the occasional recipe when she’s not changing diapers and falling asleep at 8:00 p.m.