Congratulations! You are the proud mama of a beautiful new baby. You did it! Now the fun begins. As you settle into your new routine at home with your little one, you may be feeling all sorts of emotions. It can be incredibly overwhelming to enter into the realm of 24/7 care of another human being. And don’t forget that whole not sleeping part. Navigating the changes that come with your new arrival can be challenging for the entire household.
But before you know it, you will be settling into a routine that makes you feel somewhat like a human again. Just when you start to feel like you’ve got the hang of things, enter your old friend. No, I’m not talking about your first postpartum period, but that might be around the corner, too (sorry to break it to you!). I’m talking about returning to (and pumping at) work this time.
For some, the idea of getting back into work mode comes with excitement and eagerness. They are ready to get back into that routine after weeks or months of being inundated with feeding schedules, dirty diapers, and tummy time. Heading back into the office can feel like a death march for others. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, returning to work brings its fair share of logistical challenges to manage. If you are breastfeeding your baby, pumping is up there at the top of the list of things to figure out. Read on to discover tips for pumping at work so that you can save your job as well as your sanity.
Tips for Pumping at Work
1. Set a firm schedule.
Before clocking back into the office, ensure you have established a solid nursing/pumping schedule. Do your best to match that routine when returning to work. Be transparent with your bosses/coworkers and ensure that you have uninterrupted time carved out to keep your milk supply robust after returning to work.
Remember, you are entitled to this time to pump at work. While it might be inconvenient for others during the workday when you are unreachable, just remember that your baby at home will thank you for your hard day’s work. If it ever becomes an issue in the office, remind your bosses that this is non-negotiable and that you will not bend on this. Loop in HR if you need support or feel you cannot complete your pumping sessions appropriately.
2. Be transparent and invest in great signage.
Settling into a pumping routine at work requires transparency and, perhaps more importantly, great signage that lets others know that you are otherwise engaged and unavailable at the moment. Once I went back to work, one of my best and most useful Amazon purchases was a simple door sign that I stuck on my office door. It simply stated either, “Do Not Disturb,” or, “Welcome, please knock.” This simple, easy-to-read sign has been a lifesaver for me at work, and it tells the staff in no uncertain terms that I am unavailable to meet in person. Having that sign gives me the peace of mind to ensure I am getting my uninterrupted time and that coworkers know to try again later.
If you’re comfortable, let your coworkers know what you are doing so they understand and will take that into account the next time they come searching for you. I happen to work in an elementary school with primarily women. Knowing that so many of them have “been there” is so helpful. I am always so glad to disclose what I am doing because it helps me feel comfortable and free to complete my pumping session.
3. Find a pumping buddy if you can.
This might not always be possible, but having a buddy in a similar boat as you can be a lifesaver in this sometimes grueling endeavor. Knowing my friend at work is coming over to my office at a specific time each day helps me mentally pump (see what I did there?) myself up. Pumping at work can be an exhausting feat, but it’s almost like having a gym buddy that holds you accountable and makes the difficulties manageable. I am so grateful to my friend (hi, Erin!) for providing the motivation, laughs, and lactation snacks while we provide milk for our babies during the workday.
4. Did someone say snacks?
This one is a no-brainer. Pumping is hard work. As a result, you work up an appetite! Making sure to have plenty of snacks on hand is a must when setting up your pumping at work routine. You work twice as hard once you return to work as a pumping mama. You need that energy to keep your stamina up. Invest in a great water bottle that is big enough to keep you going and able to be refilled throughout the day. You will thank yourself later when you start a pumping session and suddenly feel ravenous, I promise. I know I should tell you healthy snacks only. But don’t forget to throw some goodies in there too. They can provide a midday pick me up and give you a much-needed burst of energy.
5. The logistical stuff.
Oof, this one can feel overwhelming. While pumping itself can be mentally and physically draining, throwing in all the things you need to make it happen can tip you over the edge. Do a practice run at home and create a checklist of everything you need to have a successful day of pumping away from home.
There are obvious things such as the actual breast pump, pump parts, collection cups, and flanges. You’ll also have to consider how you will transport your expressed milk, which means you must add ice packs and cooler bags to the list. One of my favorite supplies is the pumping wipes—a complete game changer! You no longer need to wash out your pump parts hunched over the bathroom sink to be ready for the next pumping period of the day. Instead, grab a wipe and quickly clean your parts. It is easy, safe, and effective. Not to mention a time-saver.
Next, you’ll need an excellent pumping bra if you want to go hands-free during your pumping sessions (a must, especially at work!). I also keep a robe in my pumping bag in case I feel cold during my sessions. I have utilized it on more than a few occasions! Not only is it warm, but it is also cute and cozy, which helps me feel less “medicinal” during my pumping sessions. I also invested in an adorable mini-fridge to store my expressed milk right in my office instead of the communal breakroom. All of this definitely can appear and feel overwhelming. But once you have your plan in place, it ensures smoother days of pumping and transporting your milk.
6. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
This one is huge but such a critical piece of the pumping journey. Preparing your supplies as best you can the night before work can make the biggest difference in your day. Not only are you running around before work tending to the baby, making sure enough milk is left for the baby for the day, doing drop-offs, and oh right, trying to squeeze a shower in, but you also need to make sure you have your pumping supplies cleaned and ready to go for the day. To combat this as efficiently as possible, I prepare and organize my supplies the night before as best I can.
Pack your cooler bag with your collection cups, flanges, and enough tops to store all of your expressed milk. Organize your pumping bag with your pump in it, as well as your clean pumping bra, robe, and wipes. Leave everything by the door and throw in last-minute items as needed the next morning. My worst pumping days at work are the days I fall asleep early on the couch without packing my supplies. I always end up scrambling around the next morning while trying to make it into the office on time. Spending those few extra minutes at night can make a huge difference in your morning routine as well as set the tone for the following day.
You can do this!
Pumping at work is an added stressor as you navigate parenthood, return to the workforce, and juggle your new normal. Give yourself grace and patience as you settle back into a routine. Remember that however you choose to feed your baby is the right way, and your mental health needs to be at the forefront of this decision. If pumping at work is proving to be too much or affecting you negatively, consider stopping and using alternative methods to feeding. But if breastfeeding/pumping is your preferred method, use these tips for pumping at work to develop a plan that works for you and stick to it. Before you know it, you will be back home with your little one and soaking up all the snuggles from the day. Make that milk, mama!