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6 Tips for Pumping Breastmilk at Work

6 Tips for Pumping Breastmilk at Work

Last updated on May 28th, 2024 at 11:26 am

You have breastfed your twins from the very beginning of their lives, and now you have to go back to work.  It takes dedication to continue nursing when you are away from your little ones – obviously, a mother’s breasts were designed to feed her babies directly from the source.   But, thanks to technology, increased awareness and breastfeeding-friendly laws, there are some ways to make it a little easier (not easy!).  The following are some tips from those who have been there.

Tip 1:  Invest in the Right Equipment


A double electric pump is a great investment for a mom who works full time out of the home. Single or manual pumps will make it difficult to express as much milk efficiently.   The Food and Drug Administration has a guide to pump options here.  Styles that are portable work well.   (Just think of all the money you are saving by not buying as much formula, or maybe none!)

medla pump kit

Second Pump?

Many moms have told me that having a second pump, perhaps a cheaper one than their primary pump, at home was a lifesaver.  This way they did not have to lug a pump back and forth every day.  For my third child, a singleton, I kept my old pump from my twins at home and invested in a newer pump (wow, those things did improve in the six years between my children!) that I could usually leave at the office.  When I had to pump at home or if I had an out-of-office obligation in the morning, I didn’t have to worry about not having a pump.

Sufficient Accessories

Another worthy investment is an extra set of those hard-to-find accessories to keep in the office.  One friend of mine found as she was preparing to pump in the office one day that she had lost that “little white thingy” on the pump (the membrane).  “It’s not something you can get at Walgreens,” said said.  She emailed a few friends at offices in the vicinity and was able to get one.  Another forgot to bring back the pumping bottles she had taken home the night before.  Luckily I lived nearby and she was able to sneak out to come to my apartment!

pumping tank

Hands Free Bra

This allows you to work while pumping if your work involves reading or typing.  Examples of such bras are here and here.  You can also make your own by cutting small slits in a tightly fitted bra, or use rubber bands as the excellent website kellymom explains.

Tip 2: Know Your Legal Rights and Insurance Options

Insurance Covers Pump Rentals and Purchases

The Affordable Care Act has made reimbursement for breast pump rentals a reality. There is a provision in the law that requires that non-grandfathered insurers in-network pay for the “costs for renting breastfeeding equipment” and visits to lactation consultants (find more info on this here.) Most insurers will cover personal pumps as well as hospital-grade rental pumps. Insurers will provide you with a list of their covered pumps that they can arrange to have shipped directly to your home or through a medical supplier.

Rights for Pumping Time and Space

The Affordable Care Act also requires employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”  Employers also must provide a space to express milk, and that space cannot be a bathroom.   Firms with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA break time requirement if the employer can demonstrate that compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship.  Some questions and answers on the federal law are here.  Your state may provide additional rights.  A chart is here.

Tip 3:  Maximize Milk Supply

Especially for twin moms with two hungry little mouths, milk supply is a challenge when you have to rely on the pump.  A pump is not as efficient as a baby at removing milk.  Some of the same advice you may have heard when trying to boost supply at home apply – mother’s milk tea, fenugreek (a friend of mine took 12 capsules a day), oatmeal, water and as much sleep as is possible as a new mom. Additional things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your pumping output:

  • Replace the white membrane periodically, as it can get worn and affect output.
  • Ensure that you have the right nipple shield size – many women are larger than the standard size that comes with many pumps. (I was surprised to find out from a lactation consultant that I had been using the wrong one.)
  • If you like tracking things, keep a chart.  A friend kept a very detailed spreadsheet of her pumping output to know how much milk she had on hand, and also to see the patterns of her output to help see what was affecting it (like the oatmeal or fenugreek).
  • Try to nurse the babies directly as much as you can given your schedule. I tried not to pump if there was any way I could nurse, and I manipulated the feeding schedule as much as I reasonably could to cluster as many feedings as possible when I was home.

Tip 4:  Customize Your Pumping Rituals to Make Pumping Less of a Dreadful Task

Do Not Disturb sign

One key for many moms to successful pumping is minimizing the anxiety that comes with it.

Make a Comfortable Place

For those who have an office with a door to lock, consider putting a “do not disturb” sign on the door.  One friend even put a large post it with the time (“Do not disturb from 3:10-3:40pm. Please call or email.”) The sign can relieve anxiety about a knock on the door. If you don’t have an office, as explained above, your employer may be required to provide space.  Many large companies have pumping rooms they don’t advertise, so make sure you have asked a human resources person before you assume one doesn’t exist.  Sometimes you can be creative – one mom used an empty office or that of an absent employee (she checked with the receptionist), or even a conference room that had no meetings.  There may be a room in the building you work in that your company can arrange for you to use.  Another used a handicapped bathroom – not ideal (and hopefully less common now with the new rules) but she made the best of it.  Another pumped in her car with a car battery pump and a nursing cover.

Schedule Reminders

If you are at a computer during the day, putting reminders in your calendar of your pumping sessions may help.  When you have control over meeting times, you can schedule them around pumping sessions, and when you don’t, you can play around to see when your pumping session can fit.

Strategize Washing

Washing pump parts can be one of the most annoying parts about the pumping process.  Some do it in the bathroom, others in the sink in the office kitchen and some bring their own soap.  I let mine air dry under paper towels at the back of my desk and did not sterilize the parts every time, though if there is a microwave in your office, the microwave sterilizing bags can work.  Another mom kept breast pump wipes in her bag for when she was not near a sink.

Simplify Storage

Many pumps come with a nondescript thermal container with ice packs so if there is no office refrigerator or you are out of the office, you can store it there during the day.  (Just don’t forget it when you leave – I had post its on my computer to remind me!)  Here is a chart from the CDC of how long pumped milk lasts with various storage methods.

Tip 5:  Be Flexible for Unexpected Situations and Travel

Few can maintain a perfect pumping schedule, and while I fretted over missing a session, or missing my planned time, the consequences were not dire if that happened on occasion. While not ideal, your milk will not dry up with one missed session!

Out-of-Office Meetings

Often people are more understanding than you would expect – one mom found that when she had extensive meetings at other offices, the receptionists were very accommodating when she asked for a space to pump.  Remember to bring the battery pack that comes with most pumps in case there is no outlet available.  If you are stuck in a non-office setting, a bathroom can be a last resort – moms told me they pumped in the bathroom of a courthouse during a break from a hearing, the bathroom of the Bronx Zoo during a company outing and, of course, airport bathrooms. Samatha Bee of “The Daily Show” said she pumped with a manual pump in the back of a van under a poncho during a shoot.

Shipping Milk

Overnight travel presents a unique problem. A post from a friend about how she shipped home frozen breast milk is here. For shorter trips you may be able to store the milk with an ice pack or in a refrigerator in the hotel.

Tip 6: Be Proud!

Twins are a challenge, and breastfeeding is too (for a chart of common obstacles see here) so together it is really a lot to handle.  I found pumping breast milk was a lot easier when I swallowed any embarrassment and let people know what I was doing for my babies and what I needed. I was pleasantly surprised many times at people’s reactions.   Moms who had done it before had smoothed my path.  Let’s raise a glass (or a bottle of expressed breast milk) to making it smoother in the future.

Rebecca Hughes Parker is an attorney and journalist who lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and loyal (male) dog. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The FCPA Report, a legal publication containing analysis and insight about bribery and corruption issues. Previously, she was a litigator at a large law firm and an award-winning broadcast journalist. She received her undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Harvard University in government and her law degree from Columbia University.

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