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11 Tips for Pumping at Work

Filed in: Your Career

Breastfeeding is beautiful. Bottle-feeding with formula is wonderful. Pumping breastmilk is… a drag.  Any mom would agree that it ranks high among the non-joys of early motherhood, alongside night sweats and chronic constipation.

More frustrating than the actual act of pumping is the dilemma that most working mothers face: The pressure to provide breastmilk for the first year of a baby’s life (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics) stands in direct contrast to the expectation that these women need to “bounce back” to their professional lives without special considerations.

The fight for more protections for working mothers and more innovative pump technology is ongoing. In the meantime, here are some tools and methods to help women be more efficient, creative pumpers in the workplace.

1. A door that locks. Most workplaces are required under federal law to provide employees with a room to accommodate nursing mothers. It cannot be a bathroom—after all, adults don’t prep their food in toilet stalls, and the same consideration should be extended to babies. However, it can be challenging for freelancers, travel warriors, those in the service/hospitality industry, and other women whose work brings them outside of traditional office settings to access similar facilities. Advanced planning is your best weapon against the dreaded bathroom backup plan. If you’re going somewhere for a meeting, ask about a pumping room ahead of time—chances are, it won’t be the first or last time they’ve gotten the question.

2. A variety of bras. The right bra is critical. Any hands-free pumping bra available on Amazon will do. Just look for the gorgeous bra models who seem to be doing anything but pumping, working, or caring for a baby. If you don’t want to wear a hands-free bra all day, they can be worn over nursing bras at go-time. There are also all-in-one bras that work for pumping, nursing, and other non-milk-related activities. Some of my mom friends swear by Freemies, which are pumping cups worn inside a (gasp!) normal bra. Test out different options that work for you. If one doesn’t work out, donate it.

3. Outlook or Google calendar block. Let the world see that 10am and 2pm are off-limits for in-person meetings, unless that person is down for a big distraction.

4. A Zip-up cooler bag. After pumping, immediately put all flanges and bottles into a cooler bag and stick it in the office refrigerator. So long as the used parts stay chilled, they don’t need to be cleaned after every use, which saves a significant amount of time every week. Meanwhile, the cooler bag just looks like a normal lunch. For all your co-workers need to know, you’ve got a sandwich and baby carrots in there.

5. A mesh laundry bag. When commuting, use mesh bags (the same kind used for washing delicates) to haul around freshly-cleaned pump pieces. This helps the parts air dry and prevents mold from growing in crevices.

6. The mute button. A friend once told me that an executive halted a conference call because of a “mechanical groaning” coming across the line. She politely affirmed it was her breast pump, the meeting continued, and she used the mute button accordingly from then on.

7. Easy-access clothing. Nursing mothers need quick access to their breasts. Tops must be easy to pull down, pull up, or rip off. Wrap dresses, button-down shirts, and nursing camisoles with a blazer are a good bet. Best to hold off on the floor-length turtleneck dresses for a few months, if you can resist.

8. An extra pump. Having both a “work pump” and a “home pump” takes a load off your back during the commute. Pumps are expensive and may or may not be covered by insurance, but it’s worth it to tap your online mom networks for a spare. A neighbor or a friend who is between children most likely has a pump collecting dust in a closet and would be happy to see it disappear for a few months. (And if you do need to fork over the cash for a new one, remember that it’s an FSA-eligible expense.)

9. An outlet adapter for the car. Let’s face it—for some women, the commute to work is as much a part of the workday as time spent in the office. Many women (we’re looking at you, Angelenos!) pump while stuck in traffic. Mothers aren’t called the “masters of multitasking” for nothing.

10. A hand pump. This little guy is the best solution for times when you need quick relief: a break during an all-day conference, respite during a cocktail party, and so forth. I brought mine for a one-day Acela trip to New York from D.C.  and discreetly hand-pumped under my heavy coat while enjoying the view of Olney, Maryland.

11. The MacGyver spirit. Some days, you’re going to forget bottles in the morning shuffle. Instead of risking engorgement and production loss by not pumping all day, get creative (even if it means you have to dump the milk). If you’ve forgotten bottles, options include: a freshly-opened water bottle (don’t drink out of it so that it stays sterile), coffee mugs, or, as a friend recently managed, a Ziplock baggie affixed with masking tape.


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Julia Bensfield is a freelance writer, comedian, and communications specialist based in Nashville, TN. She has two red-headed children and one naughty brindle dog. Read more of Julia's posts.


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