Updated 5-13-18. This post was written from my experiences as a working mother. I am not a lactation specialist or health care professional.

Breastfeeding: Tips for pumping at work

Pumping breast milk at work can be overwhelming for many new mothers. Especially when you consider that you are separating from your baby for the first time for more than a couple of hours, hormonal, sleep deprived, all while trying to transition back to the workplace. After successfully pumping at work for 9 months for each of my babies (until they were 12 months each), I’ve picked up a few tips that have made a huge difference. I’ve shared these tips with other new moms and they seem to be very helpful, so it’s time to go public with this typically private conversation in the hopes of helping more mothers and their little ones.

Educate yourself 

One of the best ways to do this is to talk to other moms who have pumped at work, especially co-workers if you feel comfortable. They can give you all the tips they’ve learned about what works and doesn’t. In addition there are two books I recommend. The first is Nursing Mother, Working Mother by Gale Pryor was very supportive and helpful to me as I prepared to return to work after my second baby. I highly recommend it. Another book on the topic is The Milk Memos by Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette. There are also many great articles on the web, such as kellymom.com’s compilation of articles and handouts on pumping at work. Workandpump.com is a site entirely dedicated to the topic.

 Getting ready to go back to work after having a baby

There are a handful of things you’ll need to do for you and your baby before you head back to work. First, when interviewing daycare providers (DCP), make sure you are clear that you plan to provide breast milk. I was shocked at the wide range of responses I received. Some corporate centers have severely strict policies about handling breast milk, including wearing rubber gloves when feeding babies. This was not okay with me, as these precautions are totally unnecessary according to the Centers for Disease Control who say “CDC does not list human breast milk as a body fluid for which most healthcare personnel should use special handling precautions. Occupational exposure to human breast milk has not been shown to lead to transmission of HIV or HBV infection.”

Some in-home providers were clearly uncomfortable with even the conversation and admitted to only giving babies formula in the past. The DCP who was the perfect fit for our family had cared for many breastfed babies and had breastfed her own children. It’s very important you can talk openly with your DCP about how much and often your baby is eating and any concerns either of you have.

The jury is still out on the best time to introduce your baby to the bottle, but the general guidelines I’ve seen are not before 4 weeks, and at least 2 weeks before returning to work. Here is a link to some great tips on how to introduce a bottle. My first child had a difficult time adapting to the bottle. I think we tried somewhere around 6 weeks and there were a lot of tears… and then we stopped. I later learned that you need to keep giving baby a bottle every few days in order for them to keep up this new skill. By the time I needed to go back to work we had to scramble to practice and practice often. With my second child we waited until nearly 8 weeks, I believe, but once he had a bottle, we made sure to continue giving one every few until he returned to daycare.

Since you’ll need to pump to give your little one those bottles of expressed breast milk, it’s a great time to start building up a freezer stash. Most working moms have a goal to freeze a lot of breast milk before they head back to work. Once I started pumping around 6 weeks, I didn’t stop. Once each morning, I pumped about an hour after baby’s first feeding of the day. I had read this was the best time as your body produces more milk in the morning because you are more rested. Whenever possible, try to pump within the same time frame each day, as your body will quickly adapt to the pumping as an extra feeding session.

When scheduling your first day back to work, try to schedule your start day on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. This will help you and your baby ease into your separation. A couple of days apart followed by two days together will be much easier on both of you than five days all at once.I kept some of the expressed milk in the refrigerator for bottles, but most days I poured the milk into a breast milk storage bag and froze it. When baby went to daycare, so did part of my freezer stash. My daycare provider and I both felt more comfortable knowing she had 4-5 bottles of extra milk to tap into at any time. And if I ever had a difficult time pumping enough milk for the next day, I would ask her to use some of the freezer stash.

Prepare to talk about pumping without turning red
You’ll need to have a couple of conversations with (gasp) your boss and possibly your coworkers about your plans to pump at work. First, because you need to have a private, secure space. If you don’t have a private office with a lock on the door, you’ll need to ask for an alternative. Secondly, you will need some dedicated time to pump and sometimes you’ll need to ask for it. It can be awkward talking about pumping with coworkers, that’s for sure. Here are some of my tried-and-true phrases that worked for me:

  • To your boss:When I return from maternity leave I’ll need to take some personal breaks during the day to pump breast milk. Would you like to talk specifics about the time I need?
  • To a random receptionist or janitor while looking for a room in a new environment: I’m a nursing mom and I’m looking for a private place to pump. Can you help me?
  • To coworkers that already know you pump: I need a few minutes for a personal break, and then I’ll meet you in the conference room/at lunch, etc.
Invest in the right equipment
If you are going to pump at work for any period of time, you will need a double-electric pump.  I had a tried and true Medela Pump In Style Advanced and it worked great for me for both of my children’s first years. They also make hands-free pumps now, and although I have no experience with this, I’ve heard it works well.

On the topic of pumps, make sure you have the right size breast shields. This article on Choosing a Correctly Fitted Breastshield will explain all the details so I don’t have to… I can speak from experience, pumping should NOT hurt. If it hurts, chances are you don’t have the right size breast shield and you need to upgrade. The size that comes in the box only works for some people… not all!

I also STRONGLY recommend purchasing a hands-free pumping bra. It will make your pumping time so much more enjoyable if you have your hands free.

You will also benefit from purchasing or borrowing additional bottles to pump and store milk than the typical 4 that come with your pump. Between what I borrowed and owned, I had between 16-20 milk storage bottles in rotation. For freezing at home, I preferred the Lansinoh breast milk storage bags. In my opinion, they also have the best nipple cream for breastfeeding pain, and disposable nursing pads for leakage.

Get your own space
If possible, start by asking the other current or past breastfeeding mothers at your workplace about where they go to pump. If you are lucky, your company will already have a decked-out mother’s room complete with a refrigerator, sink, phone and lockers to store your pump during the day. I’ve used these deluxe rooms, and the polar opposite: a dusty computer server “closet” with only a small table, chair, outlet and a lock on the door. You don’t need much to have a safe, private space to pump, but you do need to speak up and ask for it!

Well-meaning supervisors may suggest you use the women’s bathroom (it happened to me). They don’t understand why it’s unacceptable because of germs and privacy issues. If in doubt, talk to your human resources department. They are most likely up-to-speed on your workplace policies on pumping at work and can help communicate with your supervisor. Many states have laws that give mothers the legal right to breaks and a clean space to pump in.

Get the most milk out of your pumping sessions
I found it was important not to try to work or talk on the phone when pumping, especially in the beginning. Every time I tried to think during my pumping sessions I pumped noticeably less milk. So use the time to relax.

In the early days when I had trouble relaxing enough to get the milk flowing (also called a “let down”), I would look at a picture of my son, close my eyes and visualize the ritual of picking him up, sitting in the rocker and getting ready to breastfeed. Most of the time that would help me relax enough to get the milk flowing. And just like starting out nursing, it’s important not to hold your breath. Breathe, breathe, and breathe!

When it comes to pumping, just like nursing, our bodies have cycles of let-downs. After anywhere from 5-10 minutes you might notice your milk has stopped flowing. Don’t pack up your pump just yet! This is when your baby would change his or her sucking pattern to get your milk to flow again, and your pump can do that, too.

Once your milk stops flowing, turn your pump onto the highest, fastest setting to simulate the baby’s sucking pattern. On the Medela PISA, turn it off and turn it back on – on high. This will help you have a second let down and can save you a lot of time. For many months I would sit and wait, sometimes up to 10-15 minutes, trying to get another let down. This is hard to do when the pump is on the regular pumping suction setting. Once you get into the habit of simulating your baby to stimulate a second let down, you will save time and get more milk.

Keeping up your milk supply
I would expect that every mom who returns to work worries about how to pump enough milk to keep up with her baby. Rest assured, it can be done! Most people develop a system of rotating breast milk into a next-day rotation. The milk you pump Monday will be used Tuesday, the milk you pump Tuesday will be used Wednesday. You may not always pump the same amount of milk each day, or even each session. It can vary based on time of day, stress level, as well as how rested and hydrated you are.

In the beginning I pumped 3 times at work and 1 time at night. Most of the time that was enough milk for the next day. If it wasn’t, I would pump again at night before going to bed. I also know women that would pump in the morning before leaving the house.

You can drop off the milk for daycare on the way home, or bring it the next day, whatever works best for you and your daycare provider. Remember, if there is any milk leftover that your baby didn’t eat, you can send it back again the next day or freeze it for another time. Never pour it down the drain unless it’s spoiled! Make sure your daycare provider knows this, too.

Like when you are nursing at home, it is important to stay hydrated at work and eat little snacks throughout the day. Oatmeal is a natural way to increase milk supply and I found that my pumping output was dramatically higher whenever I ate it for breakfast (the instant packets work well). If you are really struggling with milk supply, you can research some of the safe herbal supplements on the market like Mother’s Milk Tea.

Make the most of your downtime
Once you get into the routine of pumping and don’t have to think so hard about it each time, take advantage of these short breaks in your day! I always tucked magazines and catalogs into my pump bag at home so I would have something fun to read during my pumping sessions. Sometimes I’d find myself engrossed in a great book that I didn’t have time to read at home. When I pumped at work for my second child I was lucky enough to have a private office. I was able to surf the internet on my computer, but tried to avoid doing anything that required too serious of thought.

Get organized. Stay Dedicated.
If possible, schedule your pump breaks into your workday and stick to your schedule. If it’s realistic, organize work around your pumping. When I blocked off “personal breaks” on my calendar each day, I was able to organize meetings around those times, and I could still keep my pumping sessions. When I didn’t have breaks on my calendar and tried to “fit it in” I usually didn’t pump as often as needed.

What about those dreaded all-day seminars or orientation meetings? You can politely excuse yourself to pump. As a courtesy to the meeting leader, let him or her know before the meeting starts that you will need to take longer breaks than the rest of the group because you are a nursing mom and need to pump. I had this conversation many times and it helped me feel more confident walking back in late so the speaker didn’t think I was being disrespectful.

Stay close to your baby when you are home
Let’s not forget the reason why we go through all this effort – our babies! It’s so hard to be separated from them all day. Don’t be surprised if they show signs that it’s hard on them, too! I’ve noticed my babies really want to be held and nursed the moment I get home, that makes it pretty tough to make dinner or do chores. Of course our babies want to reconnect with us! My advice is to make your baby your first priority and sit down and nurse him or her when you get home. It will make both of you feel better! I found the best way to get reconnected with my baby after being separated all day was to wear him in a baby carrier as I went about my evening. That way I could make dinner and hold him close at the same time.

Reach out for support
Talk to your friends who have pumped at work and find out what worked for them. Are there other pumping moms at your workplace? Strike up a conversation about your babies and ask how pumping is going. You might be surprised to see how common your experiences are. And if you see a pregnant woman or a new mom returning to work, offer to share your experience. Having the support of other moms can really make a difference.

A few final words
By continuing to breastfeed when you return to work, you are giving your baby an incredibly wonderful gift. Keeping up a strong supply through pumping can be challenging at times – so remember to breastfeed often in the evenings and on weekends. If you find yourself struggling, talk to your friends and support network. Reach out to other moms at your workplace or on the Internet to see how they managed it. Remember you are not alone and you can do this!

Let’s also connect on facebook and twitter.

© Copyright 2009. Missy Berggren at marketingmama.com. This article may be photo copied/printed to help other mothers. However, to include in print or online publications, please email me at missy@themarketingmama.com for permission.

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25 Responses to “Breastfeeding: How to pump successfully at work”

  1. Kristine says:

    Wow Missy. This is a VERY detailed post. If I ever needed it, this would have been a good place to start. I am going to tuck this way in case I should ever need it.
    Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    **I don’t know why, but it’s not letting me sign in. Weird.

  2. Recovering procrastinator says:

    Great advice. I hope this helps a lot of people. It can be a daunting experience if you’re unprepared.

  3. Amber says:

    There is so much great info here! And a lot of these ‘mom-to-mom’ tips simply aren’t available in more technical articles. Things like stimulating another let-down, that make so much sense. Thanks so much for providing the PDF, too!

  4. Steph says:

    The tip about stimulating another let down is going to be VERY useful downunder! Thanks for the great post.

  5. Kimberly says:

    Well, I haven’t had to go back to work, but the tips on pumping would certainly apply to all pumping. YEAH!

  6. sineadhoben says:

    A brilliant and very informative post! I was fortunate I suppose in that I never had to pump at work because as a teacher my working hours meant I could feed my baby just before I left and immediately upon my return from work and inbetween times she drank expressed milk I’d prepared the previous evening.

    However, this information will be so useful to mothers who do want to or have no choice but to express at work.

    Thanks for sharing these invaluable tips 🙂


  7. TopHat says:

    Wow! What a great post. I’m going to have to bookmark it!

  8. Melodie says:

    A very helpful detailed post. I have never had to pump so I learned a lot. One thing that struck me was the reluctance of daycare providers to feed breastmik to babies. That’s awful! I run a licensed family child care and it’s in my policies to help out a breastfeeding mom is anyway I can. Okay, maybe that’s just me because I am passionate about breastfeeding, but refusing to help a mom who has to leave her little baby or wear rubber gloves?? That’s just unacceptable!

  9. Elita says:

    Pumping sucks, but it’s worth it to give the best to your baby. Thanks for the great tips. It’s hard when you’re in the throes of it, but I look back at the 6 months I pumped and it makes me feel great about the commitment I made to my son.

  10. Pocklock says:

    My daughter was born in August and I came back to work in December. I wish I had read this then. I’m still pumping, but I can’t get enough milk for the next day (tried everything – Fenugreek, mother’s milk tea, etc) so we’ve had to (dread) supplement. It’s been horribly difficult. I’m going to try the 2nd let-down tip RIGHT NOW as it’s time for me to go pump.

    Thanks for this!

  11. jen @ negative lane says:

    This is a great post. I know when I returned to work after having my first child I had a lot of questions that this would have answered for me. Having now pumped for two kids, I abhor it with every fiber of my being, however, I would do it again (if I had to…).

  12. Paige says:

    Thank you for all the information! It is really timely for me since I only have 6 weeks of maternity leave left (sniff!).

  13. Diane Sam says:

    Great posting. I do some work with another “mom-preneur” who makes a great hands-free pumping bra that is pretty too: http://www.pumpease.com – she also sells some fun “privacy please” door hangers that are work related.

    The “Milk Memos” book is hilarious too! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Rebecca says:

    I like this. I hope to use this advice someday! I had it easy with Frank – I was telecommuting. I didn’t have to think through all the details like most working moms. I was very interested to see your suggestions and will tap into them if/when I need them in the future!

  15. Glenda Lange says:

    Wow! I am all “pumped” up about this great give-oh-way and BPA free bottles too- you are seriously the very best!

  16. Monique - Resident Mommy says:

    Oh my gosh, I wish I had found this blog sooner!!!

    I hope you got a laught out of my breastfeeding debacle!

  17. mrs. mary mack says:

    Great info. I go back to work in about 6 weeks and I'll be sure to try all of this.

  18. Yakini says:

    This is a REALLY awesome post and boy do I wish I'd had this before returning to work!!! Thanks for all the great tips/advice!


  19. Future Mama says:

    WOW!!! What an AMAZING post!! I really learned SO much from it! I'm so glad you entered my contest, thank you! I know I'll be going back to work (after pregnancy and baby) and it's nice to have found such a great resource to help!

    I just posted a link to this on my blog! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  20. Steph at Problem Solvin' Mom says:

    Excellent post! As a mom getting ready to return to work after my second child I found myself nodding my head as I read, great advice. I traveled a lot with my first and had to keep up a huge freezer stash and get very comfortable pumping in random places – the mirror area of airport bathrooms, in the car, dressing rooms, etc.

  21. Melissa says:

    Wow- thanks for that post! Last time I stopped breastfeeding before I went back but this time I plan to pump at work.

    This post will definitely help me wade through it all and I didn't realize DCP would be so wishy-washy on breast milk! Eye opener!

  22. hands free pumping bra says:

    Great post you've got. I'm first timer mom and also using a pumping bra. Can't imagine the help that I had with my pumping bra. It is really silly at first to use pumping bras but it really work out for me. It is my companion in life on taking care of my daughter. 🙂

  23. perfectingmotherhood says:

    Thank you so much for helping moms-to-be and new moms to understand how to make a smooth transition back to work. I myself work in marketing and actually cherished my pumping time as a moment in the day all for myself! Imagine 20 minutes of no interruption from co-workers, your boss, your partner or your baby. Aaahhh, I miss the days…

    Read what I felt compelled to put together on the 10 things people don’t tell you about breastfeeding on my post at:

  24. the grumbles says:

    i'm off to try that second let-down trick right now, great tip!

  25. marni says:

    i was reading this post while pumping at work! thank you so much for the great tips – i was just starting to get super frustrated by my dwindling supply, and hope that i'll be able to consistently get a second let down – that will help a lot!



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