Life-Changing Tips for Pumping When You Return to Work

Life-Changing Tips for Pumping When You Return to Work

by | Jan 31, 2021 | Parenting | 0 comments

How to be a pumping/working mom

Figuring out mom-ming can be overwhelming, and one topic we get a lot of questions about is how to figure out the logistics of being a working, breastfeeding mom. While there’s no perfect way to maintain pumping/breastfeeding when you go back to work, that’s for sure, but I’ll share how I survived the journey as a first-time mom to my daughter Wren. See all my tips and tricks below!

I remember feeling like my maternity leave was crazy short, and I was nervous to return to work, super sad to be away from my baby, BUT I was also excited to figure out what my new normal would be as a pumping, working mom. I just wanted to figure out the logistics and how best to make it all work! It took some test runs, but I’m happy to share what I figured out … so let’s jump into pumping!

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The Basics

Why do I need to pump?

When you head back to work, you’ll presumably be away from your baby for 6+ hours per day, maybe even a full 12-hour shift. Because your milk production is based on supply and demand, when you’re away from your baby, your body notices a decrease in demand, which will compromise your supply. Your body just won’t think you have that hungry baby to feed anymore and will make less milk.

If you don’t empty your breasts regularly, pressure builds up in your milk ducts and signals back to your body to down regulate your milk production. It’s a pretty marvelous system, but it also obligates you to keep reminding your body that the demand for breastmilk is still there, even if your baby isn’t with you. Also, it can just be incredibly uncomfortable NOT to drain your breasts because of the fullness and pressure as well as the risk of developing clogged ducts.

The Gear

Disclaimer: I get no kickbacks for recommending these products. It’s just honestly what I used 🙂 

Here’s what you’ll need to be a working & breastfeeding mom.

1) A breast pump
2) A hands-free pumping bra
3) Storage containers
4) A cold place to store your milk
5) A wet-dry bag to store your pump parts

Optional gear:
1) Haakaa
2) Hand pump
3) Cooler bag/ice packs for transporting your milk from work to homeThere are lots of great breast pumps out there, but I’m a fan of the Spectra S1 rechargeable hospital-grade breast pump. It’s light, portable, rechargeable so you’re not tethered to a wall, and easy to carry back and forth to work. You can find lots of cute pump bags too. (The Spectra website shows a pretty new, fancy gold edition … I know nothing about it, but it looks really pretty).

What’s a breast pump? It’s a motorized pump that’s connected with tubing to flanges that are held to your breasts and essentially creates suction that simulates a baby suckling and extracts milk from your breasts. Flanges come in different sizes, but the standard size is 24mm. After you deliver, you can check with the lactation consultant in the hospital to make sure the standard size flange works for you or if you’ll need a different size that fits better.

A hands-free pumping bra holds the flanges in place while you’re pumping so that you don’t have to hold them yourself. It’s easy when you’re tired to slip off target, and it’s just no fun sitting there with your hands full, so being hands free while you’re pumping (and snuggling your baby or catching up on email with your free hands) is awesome. This hands-free pumping bra is my favorite (though it’s pricey, I’ve found it worth the convenience), but there are lots of great ones out there too.

For storage, you can decide which vessel is the best for you to store your milk in after pumping. You can use plastic containers or bottles, plastic bags, glass jars or bottles, or your baby’s bottles. I’ve tried them all, to be honest, but I settled on Kiinde plastic bags, which were great for storage and feeding (these are too), and sometimes I would pour my pumped milk into glass water bottles like these and transport the day’s work home in one big bottle. It’s ok to add multiple pump output from different sessions into the same bottle, even if the milk in the bottle is cold.

A wet-dry bag is convenient for storing your pump parts between pumps. You do NOT, I repeat, you do NOT need to wash your pump parts after every pump. I promise!! You can just wipe it down (I had a roll of paper towel in my office), and put all the parts in a wet dry bag like this one and store it in the fridge. Why is that ok? Because breastmilk is inherently antimicrobial and in a cold fridge, no significant amount of bacteria or other pathogen will grow in the few hours you leave it in there between pumps. You just have to wash your pump once every 24hrs in warm, soapy water. Seriously.

haakaa is a hands free silicone breast pump that extracts milk from your breast passively using gentle suction. It’s really great for passive pumping when your baby starts sleeping longer or collecting milk from one breast while your little one is nursing from the other.

Ok, so what are the logistics?

I work a standard 8-10 hour work day and, up to a few times a week, also a 15-hour night shift. On work days, I would nurse Wren right before I left for work and then pump again mid-morning, again at lunch, and again mid-afternoon. I would then be ready to nurse by the time I went home after work. I eventually got to the point where I could just pump at lunchtime. You’ll have to see what works best for you to maintain your milk supply as your storage capacity can vary!

The way I made my pumping most efficient at work was to wear my hands-free pumping bra underneath a nursing top. So I’d shut the door (you need a private non-bathroom place to pump … this is a legal responsibility of your employer), then I’d move my shirt out of the way, plug the flange into my pumping bra, and pump away while I was doing work. I usually pumped for 15min, while sending prescriptions and finishing notes (see why being hands-free is awesome?) but I was eventually able to get it down to 10min with about 2min of clean-up time. After I was done with that pumping sesh, I’d pour the milk into a storage container, stick it in the fridge, wipe down my pump and stick that in the fridge, put myself back together, and head back to work.

Then you just transport your milk home. If you put it in one big vessel while working, then when you get home, you can pour it into individual portions for your baby if they need it the following day or if you want to freeze it in smaller aliquots (2-4oz is usually ideal). You can pour it directly into tomorrow’s bottles for your baby too. If you freeze or store it, make sure to put the date on it (the time doesn’t matter, just the date).

Breastmilk is good on the counter unrefrigerated for 4 hours.
It’s good in the fridge for 4-5 days.
It’s good in a standard freezer for 6 months.
It’s good in a stand-alone/chest freezer for 12 months!!!

How much milk do I need to pump?

I recommend leaving 1-1.5oz/hour that you’ll be away from your baby for your child’s caregiver. For a standard workday, 8-12oz should be fine. If you need to provide more than that amount, you might want to talk to your caregiver about your child’s feeding patterns and make sure they’re not overfeeding (very common when the caregiver doesn’t know the baby’s cues or schedule as well as you do).

I hope that recommended amount shows that you do NOT need a huge freezer stash in preparation for returning to work. Remember that you’ll be pumping today for tomorrow, so you don’t need to supply days at a time, just the first day or two, since you’ll keep making fresh breastmilk for your baby while you’re at work.

By the way, it’s perfectly normal for one breast to produce more than the other. In fact, it’s so common that there are lots of funny memes about the “slacker boob” 🙂

Summary and more of my top pumping mama tips!

  • You don’t need to wash your pump parts more than once a day, just wipe it down and store it in the fridge between pumps.
  • I got an extra set of pump parts so that at the end of everyday I’d have a clean, dry set ready to pack for the next day. You can get authentic pump parts here. I tried to get some generic sets, and they didn’t work out very well for me, but Amazon has lots of those too.
  • I got a more portable pump (Spectra S9) for easier transport back and forth to work. If you feel like splurging, there are also wearable pumps such as the Willow or Elvie that have no tubing and just sit in your bra while measuring your outputs with an app! Insurance usually doesn’t cover these.
  • You can order your pump conveniently through They verify your insurance coverage and let you know which pumps are covered. You pick the pump you want, then email in a prescription from your OB. In a week or two, your new pump gets mailed to you directly! There’s no additional charge for using this service.
  • It will take some trial and error before you figure out how often you need to pump to maintain your supply away from baby, but err on the side of pumping on the same schedule as your baby would normally feed (as best you’re able).
  • Watching videos, facetiming, or looking at pictures of your baby while pumping can help your milk flow!
  • When you store your milk in the fridge, you’ll notice that it layers, which is normal. The fat, protein, and amazing antibodies usually float to the top when chilled, separating from the water (your breastmilk is 70% water!). You DO NOT need to reheat breastmilk to give to your baby. Yep, you can give your baby cold breastmilk. Most babies honestly don’t have a preference, because when you’re hungry, milk is milk, and one less step between your baby and milk is a no-brainer! Just be sure to swirl the bottle to mix up all the contents that have separated so that every chilled gulp is packed full of goodness!

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