10 Easy Fixes for Pumping at Work

How to keep feeding Baby breast milk when maternity leave ends.

Pumping at work Jeffrey Westbrook

You and your baby are in the breastfeeding groove, and you love the bonding each feeding brings. But your life is about to get a lot more hectic with a job in the mix. Whether you plan to express milk to feed your little one while you're at work or to maintain your supply, you'll soon be using a breast pump. When I was a new mom, I found it tricky to find the ideal spot and time to pump. What I craved were solutions, like these, to the perplexing situations pumping can present.

"There's no pumping room available where I work."
The Fix: Talk to HR. Under the Affordable Care Act (part of the Fair Labor Standards Act), many employers must now give nursing moms a place to express milk and "reasonable" unpaid pumping breaks for one year after the birth of a child. This area can't be the bathroom, it should be available when you need it, and you should be shielded from view. If your office does have a lactation room, scope it out pre-baby. "I assumed that I could just go in and use our 'mothers' room' whenever," says Annie Grant, of Newburyport, Massachusetts. "But I had to be added to a special calendar, have my security badge re-coded to gain access, and schedule times with another woman. It worked out, but for a few hours, when I was bursting at the seams, I couldn't do what I needed to do."

"A pump is too expensive!"
The Fix: Priced at $200 to $400, a high-quality electric pump is an investment, but it's still much less than the formula you'd buy if you weren't nursing, says Maeve Howett, Ph.D., R.N., a board-certified lactation consultant in Atlanta. Just one month of formula can run well over $200, more if you purchase the ready-to-feed kind. And a double electric pump allows you to efficiently pump both breasts at the same time, so you can express enough milk for a full feeding in 10 minutes. If you're making the purchase, check with your health insurance company; because of the new health-care law, your plan might cover all or part of the cost. Breast-feeding pumps and accessories can also be paid for with funds set aside in flexible spending accounts.

    How to Pump Breast Milk

    "My day's a whirlwind, and I sometimes forget to pump."
    The Fix: Block out pumping sessions in your office calendar (mark it "personal"). Plan to pump when you would nurse if you were with Baby, suggests Nancy Hurst, Ph.D., R.N., director of Women's Support Services at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women, in Houston. That might be every three hours if your babe is younger than 6 months (10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m.), twice during a workday for babies 6 to 10 months (11 a.m. and 3 p.m.), and once midday after that.

    "Cleaning the parts is weird."
    The Fix: Carry a surplus of supplies. "I bring three sets of pump parts to the office -- one for each session -- and take them home to wash them," says Holly Hosler, a Baltimore mom. Or sanitize them discreetly during the day. Jennifer Seyler, a mom in Chicago, quickly cleaned parts at her desk after her morning session with disinfectant wipes made for pump accessories. After her second pump, she rinsed the parts in the kitchen and sterilized them in a micro-steam bag.

    "It's so hard to relax at work."
    The Fix: Your body triggers the release of milk, known as letdown, in response to the sound and feel of your baby's sucking, so it may be difficult at first to cozy up to a pump. Eventually, though, women who pump do experience the letdown response from the machine's whirring sound and feel, Hurst says. Give your body time to get used to responding to it. To encourage production, you might try looking at cute photos or watching videos of your cooing baby on your phone while you pump. If channeling those smiles causes you to miss your baby or worry about how much milk you're making, change your approach. One mom told Hurst that her best trick for a quick letdown was to imagine money falling from the sky. Jen Jamar, a mom in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, found she had an easier time expressing milk if she spent her session catching up on Facebook or Twitter, or flipping through a favorite magazine. "Make pumping your time," Jamar suggests.

    "I feel awkward stripping down to pump at work."
    The Fix: Stick with button-downs, wrap dresses, or nursing tanks under a jacket or cardigan. Even if you have access to a private pumping room, you may find you're happier living in nursing tanks and cardis. For days when a zip-up dress is required, toss a sweater over your shoulders when you have to disrobe to pump.

    "I can't get anything done."
    The Fix: You shouldn't expect to hold court in a conference room while filling milk containers (now, that's leaning in!), but there's a lot you can do -- say, catch up on email, review a document, or sit in on conference calls with the speaker on mute (no one will have a clue).

    "My milk supply is down."
    The Fix: When you're with your little one in the evening and on weekends, nurse often. The more milk you're moving, the more you'll make. You can also add a pumping session immediately after your baby's first morning feed. Your body tends to make the most milk in the morning, Howett says. Plus, most babies sleep their longest stretch at night, so you're likely to wake up with full breasts -- enough to nurse your baby and express a few ounces. And guzzle fluids. "A lot of women who tell me they're not making enough milk aren't drinking enough water," says Teresa Hoffman, M.D., a Baltimore ob-gyn. You need 15 glasses a day, more if you exercise. You know you're hydrated when your pee is pale yellow.More pumping problems solved

    "Pumping eats up lunchtime."
    The Fix: Even if pumping doesn't count against your lunch break from your employer's perspective (ask your HR department), you're a working mom and efficiency reigns supreme. Pack a sandwich for lunch and protein-rich snacks such as string cheese and low-fat yogurt so you won't have to run out for food or succumb to "I'm starving" stress. And look for upsides. You may even make some new friends. At one point, Jean Flores, a labor and delivery nurse in Miami, was one of six women in her department hitting the pumping room. During lunch, they'd fill bottles, eat, and catch up on their charts. "We had great camaraderie and an amazing built-in support network," Flores says. Talk about nourishment!

    "I have to travel for work."
    The Fix: Most crucial: Don't go without your pump's battery pack. You may need to set up shop in an airport bathroom stall that has no outlet. Lindsey Burik, a New York City mom who flew for work while pumping, advises taking a dish towel to set supplies on, pump-cleaning wipes, and a sealable plastic bag for ice. "You can't bring melted ice through security, so when flying home, I'd dump the ice that was chilling my milk before I got to security, then get new ice in the terminal," she says. She requested a mini fridge for storing milk at hotels or asked to keep her labeled bottles in a hotel fridge. And don't be shy with airport security, she says. "I'd call out, 'It's a breast pump!' They'd say, 'Oh, get her out of here!'"