The Definitive Guide to Pumping At Work

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In a few weeks I will be returning to work. Though I enjoy my job, I am super sad to be leaving my sweet T. We’ve had an amazing time bonding and spending time together during my maternity leave, but the Freimann’s have to eat! Speaking of eating, I haven’t yet figured out if I’ll be pumping at work. I aspire to but I’m not sure how it’s going to work for me in practice, so I’ve resolved to take it a day at a time.

Luckily, I have an amazing friend who is a pro when it comes to pumping at work. Alyssa from Chocolate is MY LIFE pumped for 11 months and her first son Dalton nursed for 12 months! So basically, Alyssa is a superhero in my book! And a few weeks back Alyssa gave birth to their second son, Royce (who is totally handsome like his brother) and is off to another amazing start in her nursing journey. So today, I’m really excited because Alyssa has agreed to share some insight on pumping at work. So without any further ado, take it away, Alyssa!
This Definitive Guide to pumping at work is full of great information and tips to make the time that you pump breast milk at work a little easier. It also gives you an idea of what essentials to keep in your bag and some great insight about challenges you could run into! Tap on the photo to read more!

When my son was born in September 2014, I was determined to breastfeed him. We got pretty lucky and nursing went relatively smoothly on my maternity leave. Then, just as I was really getting into my groove, my maternity leave ended and it was time to go back to work. Here are some of the things that I learned about pumping at work:

 1. Start early- I was really nervous about the whole process, so I wanted to start on bottles as soon as possible. Our pediatrician gave us the go-ahead to start at 3 weeks, because my son was gaining weight and breastfeeding was going well. From that point on, I started pumping, and my husband would give Dalton one bottle a day. The amount of milk wasn’t too important, since the goal was for him to get comfortable eating from a bottle. We tried to be very consistent with making sure he got at least one bottle every day up until he began daycare.

2. Build a freezer stash- While my husband gave Dalton the bottle, I would pump. Even if it was the middle of the night, I would get up at 3am and hook myself up to the machine. Obviously it wasn’t fun, but at that point my supply was still regulating, so it was important to make sure that my boobs knew to make more milk every time Dalton ate. I also tried to pump once a day, usually in the morning after Dalton nursed. It didn’t always work out, since babies aren’t always on the same plan as we are, but even a few extra pumps a week helped me to build up a freezer stash to give me a little support cushion when I returned to work. While I was a “just enough” producer, I worked really hard on my freezer stash and was able to pack up the pump at 11 months and just send frozen milk to daycare until we hit one year! (Note from Jessy- when in doubt, talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant- everyone produces a different amount of milk and will therefore have different needs in terms of pumping for a freezer stash. Listen to your body and collaborate with the medical professionals to create your game plan).

3. Don’t bottle watch- Ha! Like everything on this list, this is SO much easier said than done. The more I stressed about how much I was pumping, the less I would be able to pump. I found that wearing the nursing cover while I pumped helped a lot. I couldn’t see anything, so I wasn’t obsessing over the numbers. This also helped because inevitably, people will think the “do not enter” sign is a joke, or not meant for them or something, and walk in. The cover killed two birds with one stone.

4. Bring extras of everything- Pack your pump bag with bottle tops, freezer bags, extra bottles, and I highly recommend having two power cords, one to keep at home and one to keep in your bag or at work. I also recommend a battery adapter with extra batteries, that way you are always ready to pump no matter where you are. I’ll admit to not being the most put together woman in the best of circumstances. Pumping at work, on top of adjusting to working mom life and multiple middle of the night feeds, didn’t do wonders for my memory. I always forgot something. You do not want to have to wait 12 hours to pump or be racing out to Babies R Us, trust me.

5. Change your membranes monthly- If you have a Medela pump, membranes are those little white things that you probably don’t even know what they are or what they do. Until you forget them, and realize the entire pump doesn’t work without them. I’m generally of the belief that manufacturers recommendations of when to change things are just a conspiracy to make more money. I’ve had the same cheap champion sports bras for like 8 years. But the membrane one is legit. I always pumped a little more after changing membranes. Set your phone to remind you to order new ones every month! (Note from Jessy- I have the Hygeia EnJoye pump and have no idea what membranes are- apparently the Hygeia doesn’t have these. So if you’re not using a Medela, don’t be alarmed if you also have no idea what a membrane is :))

6. Don’t stress about your routine on maternity leave- Pumping at work is confusing and unpredictable, and most likely something you haven’t done before. Like most first time moms, I obsessed over maternity leave trying to figure out where to pump, what times to pump, what to bring, etc. Then I went back to work, the plan I had in my head didn’t work out at all, so I changed things, and eventually got into a routine that did work. Just bring the pump, do your best, and adjust as needed. Before you know it, it will be the new normal.

7. Don’t stress about a shitty first day. Or week.- My first day was horrible. I got walked in on, I barely pumped anything, I cried. I was sure there was no way I could do this. A good friend told me to just stick with it, my body would adjust, and emotionally, I would adjust. If you are able to get a couple days worth of milk in the freezer ahead of time, that will really help to just allow you to get used to pumping and not worry about actually pumping enough.

8. Get ahead- This advice is for my fellow non-milk-cow pumpers. If you easily fill an 8oz. bottle in one pump session, good for you! Skip ahead to the next piece of advice, but please refrain from posting your “enough for quadruplets” bottles on social media. I’ve seen so many posts like that, and all it does is make the rest of us feel like shit.

So if you’re more of a “just enough” pumper, or maybe “not quite enough” pumper, as painful as it sounds, try to add in a pump on the weekend. While on Friday afternoons I wanted nothing more than to just put away that dreaded machine, starting the week off “ahead” even a couple ounces really helped me to reduce my stress, which helps with pumping output!

9. Think of a weekly goal, not a daily goal- I was pretty hit-or-miss with whether a pump session would yield enough for a bottle. I sent 12 oz. a day, so instead of getting upset if I only got 9-10 oz. that day, I tried to focus on the weekly goal and how I was doing there (this is where the previous tip came in handy). Sounds kind of weird, since then the goal is a larger number, but it worked for me.

10. Take videos of your baby crying- Obviously, your baby will cry. While it sounds cruel to take a video, do it anyway. My coworkers loved sitting in meetings with me and listening to my baby crying videos, in addition to my pump. I had a bit of a slow let down, so I really needed any help I could get to get things moving. My favorites were the ones taken at the hospital when he was really super tiny! Added bonus – it’s fun to look back on now that his cries are completely different.

11. Get a good hands free pumping bra and multitask- Every job is different, but for me, if I took pumping “breaks” that would just be time I would have to make up after school, instead of being with my baby. I got into a routine where, on my planning period, I would spend the first 25 minutes doing anything I needed to be mobile to do, then use the last 25 minutes to sit and pump while doing work on the computer. That would be possible thanks to the pumping bra. I also sought out a pumping spot closer to the cafeteria for my lunchtime pump (because again, with a slow let down, every single second counted). I got super fast at setting things up, and worked on my laptop while pumping and eating lunch. I also mentioned above I would pump during meetings. I can’t imagine this would fly at every workplace, but in an elementary school most of my coworkers were also moms of young kids, not to mention amazing people who supported me. So it honestly wasn’t a big deal to pump under a cover. A few times I wasn’t even the only one pumping! Working moms never have enough time, multitasking is key to survival!

12. Use the car- I didn’t do a ton of car pumping, since I have a short commute, but for my friends who commute a long distance it’s a lifesaver. Medela sells a car adapter, but instead of buying that I used a regular power cord adapter that plugs into your car’s lighter (the adapter that’s linked is actually much better than the one I used!). I liked that it did the same job, but had other uses than just the pump, like when I plugged my laptop in and did grad school homework on a road trip (I’m really all about the multitasking!). Obviously, safety comes first, so get yourself completely ready to pump (again, I used the cover) before pulling out of the parking lot. Make sure you have big enough bottles so you don’t spill – if you know you produce a lot, upgrade to the 8oz bottles so you have plenty of room.

13. Stay hydrated- Pumping is hard work. Drink lots of water, eat lots of snacks. Oreos are rumored to help supply, so eat those liberally.

14. Lastly, just do the best you can- I attended the breastfeeding class at the hospital, met with lactation consultants, read books, breastfed nonstop for 3 months of maternity leave, and I was 150% unprepared for how difficult pumping at work was. The bottom line is your baby needs to be fed, and you need to be sane. I’ll admit, this is one thing I really struggled with. I was pumping on weekends, early mornings, eating oatmeal, lactation cookies, taking fenugreek, basically if you google “how to increase milk supply”, you can bet I was doing anything you find. I’m hoping to take a more balanced approach next time. If your baby is getting any breast milk, they are getting the benefits, so adding formula is fine!

I’ll be dusting off the pump and rejoining the ranks of pumping moms when I return to work this summer now that my second child has arrived. I’m not going to lie – I’m not looking forward to that. While I can’t wait to breastfeed again, pumping at work falls somewhere under labor and root canals in my rating scale of fun experiences. It’s not fun, but it can be done and hopefully these tips can make it a little easier for someone out there. If not, at least I can reread them when I begin my second pumping adventure

Here are a few posts I wrote about pumping while I was in the thick of it:

Pumping at Work Teacher Edition

Pumping at Work Update

Breastfeeding Year in Review

Thank you so much for sharing all this great insight, Alyssa. I know I’ll be re reading this before I go back to work if I end up choosing to pump (the jury’s still out on that one, right now I’m just focusing on getting T to take a bottle- suggestions are always welcome :)).

Once again, you can find Alyssa at her blog Chocolate is MY LIFE. Head on over and check her out, not only because she’s awesome but because it’s full of the most adorable photos of her sweet boys!

You can read all of my parenting related posts here.

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