Pumping at Work // FAQs

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WARNING!!! This is a post about breast-feeding. If you're not interested in this subject, feel free to skip!

My hope is that this post would be helpful or encouraging to some new mom somewhere, who is about to embark upon the very scary Return to Work and the mechanics that come with doing so while breast-feeding. This is not a philosophical post, but a mechanical one. And, remember (as with all things parenting), this is one person's take on it. There are a million ways to do everything, and I do not expect to have figured out the way to do this.

Despite a bumpy start (in different ways) with both girls, and a two week nursing hiatus/pumping extravaganza while Juliette was sick in the hospital, I've been able to have such a sweet 21 months of nursing. I did the math, and figured that between two babies, I've been pumping twice/day at work, five days/week for about 17 months to date. Add in my "bedtime session" (will explain below) and me and my pump...we friends. 

When I got an email from a longtime friend asking some nuts-and-bolts type questions about pumping at work, I thought this might be a helpful topic to other new moms returning to work for the first time after baby. I certainly do not consider myself the end-all-be-all of experts, and if there are other/better ways of doing things outlined below, PLEASE, by all means, please comment and tell us all! 

Here are my friend's questions...if you have more, feel free to ask in the comments, or email me directly! Without further ado...

1. How does one decide what pump to use, when one cannot exactly try these things out pre-birth? 

Medela pump in style is what I use. I have the backpack version and it's great (my BFF, you might call her). This is a portable hospital-grade double pump, meaning this brand/type is what you would use at a hospital if your baby was in the NICU (or PICU, where Juliette was when she was sick). I definitely love the double electric for maximum efficiency. I actually got a pretty good deal on this one through Target's website, and was able to get reimbursed with flex spend dollars. But I think now with the Affordable Care Act, everyone is eligible for a free pump of some kind (exactly what kind may depend on your insurance though. Definitely check with your insurance on this because I've had several friends who got reimbursed 100% for this Medela pump or something similar).

2. Double [electric pump]?

Like I said above, definitely the double. If you're interested in efficiency, don't really consider anything else. You also need to get this bustier. It's a game-changer!!! Totally serious. Giggle if you want to at that product photo (I know, it's quite a sight), but really. Game-changer. I didn't have one the first time around and was just kicking myself when I finally got one and found out how awesome they are this go-round. I can sit at my desk (in my office with the door closed), and continue to work and type away at my computer, hands-free/no problem. Email me if you want more specifics on using this thing. I promise you it's worth it once you get down your own system of putting it on and off (it's a little awkward at first to maneuver).

3. How long do you pump?

I was told the minimum time you should shoot for is 15 minutes. I usually pump closer to 20. 

4. What's the best/safest/work-appropriate way to pump and store?  

I have my own office with a door that locks and window blinds I can close. I realize this is completely ideal and maybe atypical. Twice a day, I close the blinds and shut/lock my door for 30 minutes and everyone leaves me alone. They know what I'm doing in there and just want to leave it at that. And now with my bustier, I can keep working and typing hands-free. I believe it is the law that your employer provide you a private place other than a restroom in which to pump (aha, see the first paragraph at this link).

Re: storage...this is the part where people probably do things differently: breast milk is safe at room temperature for up to 8 hours (the antibodies are that good!); therefore, I have never worried about putting my milk in a refrigerator during work hours since I have a cooler/ice pack (that fits in my backpack). My first pumping session is at 10 AM and I get home between 5:30-6 PM everyday, so even if it were sitting out, it would be fine. I figure the cooler buys me several hours (24, according to kellymom), and then when I get home and put it in the fridge it's no harm no foul. 

As for cleaning the pump parts...this is where I'm probably on the fringes of cleanliness or whatever (I don't know that for sure, just guessing)...buuut I just wipe the parts off with a tissue and wrap them in a burp cloth or hand towel and put them back in the backpack in between sessions. It's cold inside the bag because of the cooler ice pack, so I figure the antibodies from the milk and the coldness from the cooler keep the bacteria out between sessions if I've missed anything. If I were hauling pump parts to the break room to wash them twice a day it would eat up a bunch more time and possibly make me hate/resent the whole endeavor a little bit. I'm trying to be realistic about what I can keep up with to make this whole thing bearable. When I get home, I give them a good cleaning, either with soap/water plus a round in the microsteam bags, or run them through the dishwasher in some sort of basketI feel weird putting all of that on the internet, but there you go.

5. What's your system for pumping, freezing, thawing, and using? What about for infants who eat more frequently?  

Depends on how old your baby is when you go back, I would think. Usually, by the time you go back to work at 2-3 months old, you will likely be missing 2-3 feedings while you're apart. Just pump whenever you would've fed your baby. The baby will probably be eating every 3-4 hours by that point, so it will be fine to do that. I have sort of a crazy supply of milk, and was able to get away with pumping twice/day, no matter how young my baby was. My schedule has been to pump around 10 AM and 2-3 PM. It's worked fine. 

People differ on the opinion of when to introduce a bottle. Our pediatrician recommended introducing it around 2 weeks, which we did (if you wait too long, the baby might develop a resistance to them). Be sure to keep this up while you're at home so he or she doesn't forget how it works (not a joke, definitely happens!), and for a few weeks before you go back to work, try to give your baby a bottle every day to practice. It's not quite as easy as all that, because to maintain your supply, you'll need to pump whenever she has a bottle, which can be a bit tricky. So where you build up extra supply is by pumping before you go to bed. 

Hopefully your baby will be sleeping a longer stretch at night by the time you return to work, and she will go down around 7-9 PM, let's say. My schedule was to still pump around 10-10:30, no matter how much comes out, so I could start building up my stash that way. Then, when you go back to work (and no matter how much your baby wakes up in the night to nurse or whatever) keep the pumping session at your bedtime to make sure you're not solely depending on your daytime sessions to keep up with bottles for daycare. This way, if you pump less than he/she requires while you're apart, you can be sure you will have enough for the next day's bottles. It also allows you to bank extra on the weekend nights. Usually I have had so much extra that once/week I have to freeze a whole batch of several bags. Breast milk can last in the fridge up to a week before it needs to be consumed or frozen. So, I rarely have to thaw milk to make bottles for school. But it's nice to have the frozen milk in case something happens (idk what) or in case you go out of town. 

6. Do you cart your pump to work and back every day? 

Yes. And everywhere else I'm going to be that the baby isn't. :)  But mainly so I can pump at bedtime and wash everything thoroughly. It's a backpack and not difficult to carry around.

7. Do those plastic freezer bags seal like Ziplocs

Yes. It's best to freeze them lying flat so they stack/store better (see this image for a visual). I tried that milk storage/filing thing on amazon, but found that it just takes up more room (unless you have an extra freezer or a giant freezer or something, in which case go for it).

8. How do you get the milk into the bottle from a plastic bag?

I use a regular plastic kitchen funnel we already had. Although now I have done it so many times that I can do it without the funnel. But...a plastic funnel. 

9. How do you thaw it? Do you warm it?

I microwave a mug of water and let it thaw in the mug, usually sitting in the sink. It takes a few minutes, so don't wait to do it while you're in a hurry. If there is no rush, the best way is to let it thaw in the refrigerator, which takes over 12 hours. Just remember that after you thaw frozen breast milk you have 24-48 hours to use it before you need to throw it out. Just be wise whenever you thaw it (like I'd have to remind a mother of that when it comes to her liquid gold).

10. Glass? Or is that silly? How many bottles do you need?

We actually have these glass bottles and these sleeves, and they've been great! After two kids and daily daycare use, the bottles look good as new. I love glass for this reason--cleans so well. And you can replace the nipples easily (in fact, for some reason, Molly has always preferred size 3 nipples, whereas Jules was always fine with size 1s they come with.) Be sure to get these discs so they don't spill in transport (can't remember if the discs come with the bottles or not). 

As for how many you need, I think a good number is at least 6 of each size. (Any other moms want to chime in on this one?) That is just my own opinion. We actually have 8 of the larger size (my babies have both bumped up to the larger size after a relatively short period of time). You also need the dishwasher basket (or two, maybe) that goes with them. 

11. How many bottles do you need for pumping? Do they all screw into the pump? How can you tell which bottles are made for formula and which for breast milk (or does that exist)?

For bottles that you use for pumping, I would say you need AT LEAST 8. I have more, and I'm glad (I may even have 10-12). This way you don't have to burn through the storage bags just to store the milk in the fridge. You will always need 4 clean ones EVERY day at work. Say you have extra milk from your bedtime pumping sessions sitting around...you'll go through the bottles fast if there are a few in the dishwasher or whatever. I think the pump comes with 4, but you can buy an extra set and I think it's worth every penny. You can actually buy nipples for the Medela bottles, which Molly liked when she was little, so we would use them somewhat interchangeably w/the Dr. Browns at first. You don't need special bottles for formula (at least not with these). Just be sure to measure the water first before adding the formula and shaking it up.

12. Anything else?

Water! Drink lots of water! I always have it with me.

If you're not yet a mother and would like to be someday, and plan to return to work after a leave, please do not let this post discourage you in any way! Yes, it's a lot to keep up with. But for me, it has been totally worth it. The time I do get to be with my babies and nourish/bond with them has been absolutely precious to me. Being away from them so much during the week, nursing has been a wonderful way to reconnect and bond in the evenings.

I do hope you give it a go. It can be really challenging to get started and comfortable with breast feeding in the beginning (sore nipples, bad latches, supply issues), but I really encourage you to try and maybe shoot for 6 weeks? That's when life starts to normalize a little, in general.

I would love to answer any questions, or hear any of your own ideas/feedback on this topic!

And, as always, Kellymom is a fantastic resource on any topic related to BF.

p.s. thanks to Hannah for posting this link on facebook (where I got the above historical photos). Love it!!!


  1. You've been such a tremendous help during my breastfeeding journey! You are truly an expert in this area :)

  2. Awesome post, Leslie! I have two cents - I used the Lansinoh brand bags for freezer storage, and they have a funny shaped lip above the zipper part that actually acts like a funnel, so it's really easy to pour thawed milk directly into a bottle :)

  3. Thanks, Lauren! That's cool, I should've looked at those. They hold more than 5 oz, right? The internet tells me they lay flatter too, since they're bigger.

  4. This is so helpful for people starting out! I was lucky to have you & other friends as a resource to ask my zillion questions :)

    You covered so much, so mostly I'm just here to cheer and say "Hurrah!" and "Amen!" - but also to add to the hydration piece = SNACKS. I got hungry often when I was breastfeeding so it helped to have snacks packed with my pumping stuff.

    Also, I know that in Texas, the law supports a woman's right to have a private, safe, clean pumping space at work, and for her employer to allow her to do so. Hopefully, employers are supportive without that pressure, but for some professions (teaching and nursing, especially), scheduling pumping can be hard, so it's good to have a plan in place with your boss, colleagues, etc. so that there's an understanding established.

    Also, I highly encourage making a little freezer stash if you can! If you're producing well, go ahead and stash milk away; it's a great security blanket in case you end up having to take a medicine that isn't safe for breastfeeding, or you have to travel away from baby, or you end up needing to stop breastfeeding sooner than you thought you would.

  5. This is so helpful and SOOO full of great tips! I'm passing it along to lots of my mama friends ;)


Proudly designed by Mlekoshi playground