When I returned to work six weeks after I had my first child, I was was bleary-eyed, struggling with a new routine and terrified about keeping my baby fed. I had no idea what I was doing when it came to pumping aside from what a YouTube video taught me about how to assemble all of the parts. After some trial and error, I made it 11 months pumping at work with my first child and am starting to wind down my second journey after logging another 10+ months.

After talking to a few of my girlfriends, we all felt like we were fumbling around in the dark trying to make breastfeeding and being a working mom work. We certainly don’t have all of the answers now, but here is the list that I compiled.

ABCs for pumping at work

Appointments: Schedule time on your calendar. Everyday. I have three 30-minute appointments on my calendar every work day. I don’t use all 30 minutes each time, or even keep all three appointments, but they’re there and I schedule around them if I can.

Button down shirts: Easy access without the need to fully disrobe.

Cookies: Lactation cookies. Ok, so this isn’t a must. But they’re good. I don’t need much of an excuse to eat a cookie every day, but building/keeping supply is a perfectly good reason to indulge in a sweet treat. This is one of my favorite recipes. If lactation cookies don’t strike your fancy, keep other healthy snacks at the ready. Granola, yogurt, fruit, nuts, eggs, hummus, veggies. Whatever you know that you’ll actually pick up when you’re hungry.

Drink water: I don’t need to tell you this, you’ll be thirsty. But take care of yourself and make sure that you stay hydrated.

Experiment at home: Don’t wait to assemble your pump on your first day back to the office. Try it out, and your proposed schedule, at home before you head back. Practice makes perfect. Give yourself a little bit of time to work out the kinks.

Fenugreek: If you’re struggling with supply or want to smell like a 24-hour pancake house, Fenugreek might be for you.

Go to the loo: There is nothing worse than getting completely set up and realizing that you need to answer nature’s call.

Hands-free pumping bra: Multi-tasking is the name of the game. I’ve tried a couple and this one doesn’t sag and keeps everything in place – my favorite.

Ice packs or refrigerator: Milk can be stored at room temperature for up to six hours, in an insulated cooler with ice packs for up to a day.

Join a mom’s group or listserv: These are great resources for any and everything, including buying or getting for free that second pump you’ll be so happy to keep at your desk at work so you don’t have to carry a pump to/from work each day.

Know the law: This is a great one-stop shop for state-by-state breastfeeding laws:  http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx. If you are traveling for work, it’s also a good idea to print out TSA regulations on pumped breast milk as well as any airline regulations on breastfeeding/pumping (for example, Delta’s policy currently reads: “Delta fully supports a woman’s right to breastfeed on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities. Breast pumps are allowed on board.”)


Lanolin: throw a tube in your pump supply bag. Apply before each pumping session. But watch out – it stains fabric.

Microwave sterilization bags and cleansing wipes: When your lactation room at work is a makeshift space with paper taped up over the glass window, you know hot water and soap may be hard to come by. Those sterilization bags and wipes are so handy.

Nurse on demand: If you’re able to breastfeed at home, nurse in the morning and evening on weekdays and kick the pump to the curb on the weekends. I found that this not only helped strengthen my supply, but also my resolve to continue pumping at work.

Order: Order over and order ahead! Find a product you like? Go to Amazon and order it right now (or subscribe on Amazon Mom). Seriously right now. There is nothing more annoying than pulling out the last nursing pad (or pump bag or cleansing wipe) knowing that you’ll never get to Target or Babies R Us until the weekend and the CVS by work doesn’t stock them and you’ll have to use Kleenex in the meantime, which is a poor substitute but what can you do. So order now and order lots! If you end up having extras once you are done breastfeeding/pumping, pass them on to the next new mommy you know. Believe me, she’ll thank you.

Pump: Find the right pump for you. Most insurance companies are required to cover the cost of a breast pump, so explore that option. I have used both a Medela Pump In Style ® and a Freestyle ®. I struggled with mastitis, so I also kept a manual pump in my purse for emergencies. I can’t tell you how many times that came in handy when fighting off engorgement.

Quiet and private space: Scout out a location that is private, has a locking door and is quiet. Your employer may be required to find one for you.

Relax:  It’s easier said than done, but try not to let pumping at work stress you out. Use pumping as a time to think about the amazing little creature you brought into the world. Or if you are lucky enough to have an office that locks, pump while stuck on a boring conference call. Kills two birds with one stone.

Storage: You can store milk in bottles, in bags, in ice cube trays, the options are practically endless. Some bottle brands have attachments that allow you to pump directly into the bottle your child will use. For transporting to and from daycare, I’ve found that bottles or bags worked best for me. Just be sure to label! I use bands for my bottles and a trusty Sharpie for storage bags.

Two piece outfits: You’ll kick yourself everytime you wear your favorite side-zip dress. Separates greatly reduce the need to fully disrobe just to pump.

Use your partner: Get your partner involved by having them wash pump parts and bottles. It’s thankless work, but so is pumping, so share the burden.

Videos and pictures of your baby: I’ve been told looking at photos or videos of your baby helps with let-down. I can’t say if that worked for me, but I think it’s a beautiful distraction from the task at hand.

Whole grains: Whole grains boost and maintain supply. Hooray for carbs!

Xtra pump parts: Buy two or three sets of pump parts. I keep one set at work, because there will be one morning when I forget something and having a set in my desk saves me from a panic run to purchase new parts. I keep the remaining two sets at home. One goes back and forth to work with me in my pump bag every day and the other set is either used in the morning if I pump before work, or it’s waiting for me to use the next day.

Yes: Say YES to yourself at least once a day. Pumping and having a baby or babies at home is really hard work. You sacrifice a lot. Get a latte, go for a run, read that book, call a friend, go to a yoga class – whatever, you deserve it!

Zzzzz: Get as much sleep as you can. Take care of yourself.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a lactation consultant. These are just tips that worked for me in my combined 20+ months of pumping at work. None of the links are affiliates.

Check out Amanda’s tips for pumping at work, too! 

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Chaaron is a Nebraska native who lives in Alexandria, VA with her husband, RP, her son, Dash and her daughter, Pippa. By day, she's a program manager with a public charity in DC and by night, she is happily occupied with living room dance parties and dodging errant duplo pieces. She's terrible at updating her blog, but you can find her little slice of the internet at senseandnonsenseblog.com.