Heading back to work after baby brings a whole new set of emotions, challenges, and milestones. Knowing what to expect can give you peace of mind and set you (and your baby!) up for success during this transition. Follow these helpful tips to make pumping at work as stress-free as possible.
Know your rights
As a breastfeeding and pumping employee, you are given certain legal rights. The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide a space other than a bathroom, that is “shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public” to pump in. While the law does require employers to provide the time and space to pump, it does not require them to pay for pump breaks. To see what this will look like for you and your employer, it’s important to talk to them before baby arrives.
Prepare your boss
It’s best to start having the conversation with your boss or HR department about pumping at work before you return to work. Let them know that you plan to breastfeed and will be pumping at work. This gives you a chance to discover where you will be pumping and what kind of accommodations you may need to make the space suitable. It also gives you a chance to determine what a pump schedule may look like, how breaks will be handled, and if you will be getting paid for pump breaks. The Office on Women’s Health has resources to share with your employer to help make this conversation a little easier.
Tips to Pump at Work Like a Boss
Get a breast pump
It’s important to have a high-quality breast pump if you will be relying on it to feed your little one. The Affordable Care Act requires most insurance plans to provide a breast pump at no cost to you or at a discounted rate. There are many options when it comes to breast pumps. If you are not sure which breast pump to get, register for our free On-demand Pump Exploration Webinar, or read these quick articles to learn about the different types of breast pumps as well as the best wearable and rechargeable breast pumps.
Practice before going to work
Get used to your pump before going back to work. Sterilize all the pump parts and practice getting everything put together. Not sure what all the parts and pieces are? Sign up for an Unbox Your Pump virtual consult to learn what everything is, how to put it together, as well as pumping tips and tricks. Play around with the settings to get a feel for what is most comfortable and what stimulates the best milk flow. Having these pump sessions before going back to work will also help you to build up a freezer stash.
Build a freezer stash
If you will rely on childcare for your baby when you are at work, it’s a good idea to have a bit of a milk stash built up. This gives you milk to send with your child and allows for a little wiggle room during those first days and weeks of pumping. There doesn’t have to be a freezer full before returning to work. In most cases, it is okay to start pumping 4-6 weeks after baby is born, as long as breastfeeding is well established.
Prepare your childcare provider, your baby, and you
Before leaving your baby with a childcare provider, consider a gradual approach. Perhaps you can drop your baby off for partial days or two full days instead of full-time the first week. If you work close enough, visit on your lunch break and nurse your baby in place of pumping. Even just a quick visit to the place your baby will be staying before the full-time schedule kicks in, can give you peace of mind and introduce your baby to the environment they will be staying in. This can help make the transition easier for you, your baby, and your childcare provider.
Make a pump schedule
If you are fortunate enough to have an employer that offers a lactation room, find out what the schedule looks like and how you can fit your pump sessions in. If not, you are not alone. If your employer does not offer a lactation room, you can make an anonymous request to your HR department for a more lactation-friendly work environment. Whether there is a designated lactation room, or a special accommodation made for you while you pump, coming up with a schedule will help both you and your employer know what to expect.
Prep pump parts the night before
Putting your pump parts together the night before can give you back some precious time during the day. It also helps you get organized and make sure you have everything needed for your sessions. Getting a pump bag like these Sarah Wells breast pump bags gives you enough room to carry all your assembled pump parts, spare pump parts, some snacks, and your water, all while having a little style.
Have extra pump parts
Avoid the stress of failing pump parts by always having extra spare parts and collection kits with you. Follow manufacturer guidelines for replacing pump parts to maintain optimum functionality. If you will be assembling your pump parts the night before, having enough sets to get you through the day will make the setup that much easier.
Bring water and snacks
Proper hydration and nutrition are essential to not only your health and wellbeing but maintaining a healthy milk supply too. Have a large, reusable water bottle with you to stay hydrated. Keep snacks in your pump bag or keep some stashed at work. Having the right fuel for the day will help power you through your pump sessions.
While you really should refrain from working while pumping if possible, it is still extremely helpful to have a hands-free pumping bra. This gives you the flexibility to use your hands while pumping. If you have a rechargeable breast pump, it also gives you more mobility to multi-task.
Set up a lactation station
Pumping in a comfortable “lactation station” will help get the milk flowing, create a better overall experience, and help you achieve your breastfeeding and pumping goals. Have pictures or videos of your baby to help encourage a letdown. Listen to music, read a book, play a game, or watch a show to help you remain calm during pump sessions. Know where you will store your milk after pumping, whether it’s a shared refrigerator, a refrigerator just for lactating employees, or an insulated cooler bag.
Speed up the cleaning process
Being able to quickly clean your pump parts can shave precious minutes off your sessions. Consider getting Medela cleaning wipes or micro-steam bags to make cleaning pump parts at work easier. Or you can opt to bring as many collection kits as are needed for each session throughout the day, then bring all the dirty parts home and wash them later that day or night.
How often to pump
Figuring out the right pumping schedule may take some trial and error. However, there are some general thoughts to keep in mind.
- Pump at least as often as your baby eats
- Pump every 2 – 3 hours
- If your work schedule is erratic, plan to pump when there is a 10 to 15-minute window, even if you just pumped an hour ago
- Milk supply may determine the frequency of pumping
- Keep communication open with your boss, especially in the early days back as you and your body adjust