When I found out I was pregnant, there was never a doubt I would return to work. I had been at my job for 15 years, was well established in my career, and we were comfortable as a two-income household.
I also knew I wanted to breastfeed and planned on pumping once I returned to the office after maternity leave. I had pumped several times ahead of time to get the hang of things and felt comfortable with the process.
However, as a first-time mom, I wasn’t prepared for everything I needed to know once I was face-to-face with my pump in the Mother’s Room.
A lot of what I learned, I stumbled across through trial and error (sounds like motherhood, right?). Based on my experiences, below are suggestions for making the most of your pumping sessions at work.
1. Become Familiar With the Mother’s Room/Pumping Location Ahead of Time
Check out the Mother’s Room (or your nursing location) ahead of time. Make sure it’s a comfortable place to pump and anticipate needs you might have that the space doesn’t provide.
At my job, we moved to a brand new building a few years before I became pregnant, and turns out a Mother’s Room was not in the original building plan. As an afterthought, they turned one of the phone booths into a Mother’s Room. It had a door that closed and locked, but there was no sink for washing parts and no fridge to store your milk.
There was a desk to place your pump on while in use – but I have used Mother’s Rooms at other work locations that didn’t have anything to set your pump on, except your lap (quite an interesting balancing act). It’s better to know ahead of time what you have to work with (or lack thereof) so you can plan accordingly.
It may also be the case that your work doesn’t have a Mother’s Room. You may need to discuss with your boss options for pumping. I know some moms who are able to pump discretely at their desk (my pump is so loud I’m sure half the building would have come by to see what was going on), other mothers have their own office and can close the door. I’ve heard of moms pumping in the bathroom or in their car, while others live close enough to drive home. Regardless, you need to have a game plan ahead of time.
2. Discuss Your Pumping Needs and Determine Expectations With Your Boss
I was lucky that my job was flexible and allowed me to pump three times a day whenever I needed to. I pumped at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. every day for 20-25 minutes. However, not everyone has this ability. Before baby is scheduled to arrive, set aside some time with your boss to discuss your needs and establish expectations you both feel comfortable with.
Make sure to also discuss what is acceptable behavior when you have a work obligation during your normal pump time. For example, there were times I was in an all-day meeting or training class, or visiting an out-of-town work location. My boss was very understanding and let me know it was okay ahead of time for me to quietly excuse myself and take care of my pumping needs. That way, when the situation presents itself, there are no surprises.
2. Bring Cleaning Supplies for Your Pump Parts
As I mentioned, the Mother’s Room at my work did not have a sink, and I didn’t feel comfortable cleaning out my pump parts in the breakroom (inevitably someone was always in there washing their lunch container).
I also didn’t feel particularly comfortable washing out my supplies in the bathroom (hello CEO … can you pass me my valve when you’re finished drying your hands?).
I bought some Medela Quick Clean Breastpump & Accessory Wipes and kept them in my pump bag. I was able to use these wipes to clean my pump parts in privacy after use. Then when I got home each night, I would clean them again with specially formulated bottle soap and pop them in the microwave using the Medlea Quick Clean Microsteam Bags (not sure these last steps were totally necessary, but I didn’t totally trust what might be lurking in my pump bag all day).
3. Best Way to Pump and Store Milk
I always pumped directly into bottles. I found this was the easiest and less messy way to transport milk (rather than the milk storage bags). With the milk storage bags, I always ended up dripping some outside the bag or spilling some when I tried to close the bag. Not to mention, I was typically pumping for my son’s next day meals, so they already needed to be in bottles anyway — I was just saving myself an extra step by skipping the bags altogether. If it turned out I had too much milk and needed to freeze, it was much easier to pour milk from a bottle into a storage bag.
If you are lucky, your Mother’s Room has a refrigerator. In my situation, one wasn’t available so I kept a cooler bag in our breakroom refrigerator and stored it there after each pump. I made sure to keep it in the same place, towards the back of the fridge so it didn’t get moved around as people added and removed their lunches throughout the day.
Also, label the bag with your name so no one sneaks a peak thinking it might be the lunch they packed. Lots of lunch bags look the same these days, and you don’t want someone accidentally grabbing your stash (although I’m sure they’d put it back once they discovered what was inside).
4. Carry Extra Membranes
Who knew that tiny white plastic shield could tear so easily? I always gave mine a gentle stretch each day to make sure there wasn’t a tiny tear (which could affect the pump’s ability to effectively suction).
Nothing is worse than discovering a rip and not having a backup. Buy a box of extra membranes and keep in your pump bag.
You’ll be glad you did.
5. Be Considerate of Other Pumping Moms and Their Needs
Think about the needs of other nursing mothers you may be sharing a space with. I made sure I knew who these mamas were and what their schedules were so we could work around one another. Nothing is worse than arriving at the Mother’s Room, pump in hand, only to find out it’s occupied for the next 30 minutes or so.
Not to mention, not everyone at your work may not have as many pump breaks as you. One mother I shared the space with could only pump on her lunch break once a day from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., so I made sure the space was all hers during this time since my work schedule was more flexible.
I know this should go without saying, but clean up after yourself. Nobody likes sitting down to find drops of spilled milk on the table where you place the pump (trust me, this happened to me) or an empty food container in the trash containing the remains of someone’s fish and chips lunch (this also happened to me — not exactly conducive to relaxing and pumping milk — it was my quickest pump session ever).
6. Relax and Enjoy Your Time
I don’t know anyone who really enjoys pumping, but find something that will help you relax and actually look forward to your time:
- Dim the lights if you can to help create a relaxing mood. There was a lamp in our Mother’s Room that I used (and turned off the bright overhead office lights).
- Read a book and create an “escape” to look forward to each day.
- When I had trouble expressing milk – and there were plenty of these times in that small room with four plain, beige walls – I looked at pictures of my baby on my phone or watched videos of him crying or nursing to help simulate the experience.
Mamas who pump at work, what additional suggestions do you have for helping make the experience run smoothly?