If you are returning to work after maternity leave, you might be feeling overwhelmed at the idea of pumping at work. Where will I go for privacy? Will I be excused? Where will I store the milk?
Many workplaces have ramped up support of breastfeeding moms in recent years by offering private pumping spaces and more flexible schedules. Amid the 2022 formula shortage, the need became even more pressing – and more top-of-mind for lawmakers.
The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) was signed into law in December 2022 and went into full effect at the end of April 2023. Under this law, more workers in most industries now have the right to:
- A reasonable break time for pumping for a year after giving birth
- A private, sanitary place to pump, other than a bathroom, that is free from intrusion by coworkers or the public
Breastfeeding can reduce a baby’s risk of common problems such as ear infections and stomach bugs, as well as chronic or severe health concerns such as asthma, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its breastfeeding guidelines in 2022, recommending exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months when possible.
Breastfeeding can also benefit moms, reducing the risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and breast and ovarian cancer. Plus, it can be a smart economical choice for many families, saving about $1,200 to $1,500 by buying no or less formula.
The PUMP Act is a much-needed step forward for moms who work outside the home. As you get ready to head back to work, use these tips to make a smooth transition to pumping and storing your breast milk during your shifts.
5 ways to plan for pumping at work
1. Get expert advice
There is a bit of a learning curve with breastfeeding and pumping on the go. It can take a few weeks to get in the groove of what to pack in your bag, how to dress for easy pumping, and adding bottle-feeding to the mix if your baby has only been breastfed.
Try this: Meet with a lactation consultant after delivery. These breastfeeding experts can help coach and support you as you learn to use the pump. At William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, our lactation team is available every day to help new moms overcome latching difficulties, breast soreness, and cleaning and assembling breast pumps. After you return home or head back to work, feel free to call with questions about how to stay on track with breastfeeding.
Related reading: 5 things to know about buying and using breast pumps
2. Schedule time to pump
If you don’t have the luxury of a flexible schedule, break times might not line up with your at-home feeding or pumping schedule.
Try this: Meet with your supervisor to discuss adjusting your schedule to accommodate pumping. If that's not an option, talk with a lactation consultant about pumping less frequently. For example, pumping twice a day might feel more manageable than three times a day. Remember that any amount of breast milk is a good thing for your baby, and pumping at work can help maintain your milk supply for regular feedings at home.
3. Find places/resources to pump
Pumping at work takes planning. Moms need a clean and private room, a refrigerator to store bottles, a sink to rinse equipment, and a safe place to store supplies during the day.
Try this: Connect with human resources during or before maternity leave. They can help you locate an appropriate space for pumping, storage, and clean-up. Consider visiting these areas before maternity leave to give yourself a little peace of mind. If you don’t see what you need, ask for it. HR departments should be familiar with the new PUMP act and its provisions.
4. Remember your own health
Here’s a fun fact: pumping and breastfeeding requires more daily calories than pregnancy! You might find yourself hungry, thirsty, or tired during the day if you don’t pack and snack properly.
Try this: Add a water bottle and healthy snacks to your pumping bag each night. Staying hydrated and fed will help you maintain your energy and milk supply.
5. Adjust when life throws you curveballs
When things happen beyond your control – like getting sick or finding that the baby needs more milk than you can produce – it can still feel like a personal failure.
Try this: Don’t beat yourself up. Formula-feeding or supplementing have their benefits. They allow your partner or other loved ones to help more with childcare, which can take a little work off your plate.
A few more tips for pumping moms
- Find backups for emergencies. Whether you’re a doctor with a pager or you are responsible for answering client phone calls, partnering with a colleague to cover your role for 30 minutes can help ease your mind.
- Be clear and firm about pumping needs. Explain that you have to pump, and most people will be understanding. If your work environment is less flexible or you’re worried about speaking up, find an ally among your colleagues to help you feel more comfortable.
- Plan ahead for travel. If you’re traveling to a conference, ask about pumping stations in advance. More conferences are starting to rent private pumping pods for attendees and speakers. And, if you plan to fly, be sure to check the latest air travel guidelines for transporting pumps and liquids.
- Get extra pumping supplies. Consider packing extra bottles and pump attachments in your nursing bag so you don’t have to fully wash the equipment at work. Rinse after your first session and use the clean set the second time. Then, you or a family member can wash both sets at home. Do not reuse dirty bottles or pump pieces, which can collect bacteria and make your baby sick.
- Set reasonable breastfeeding/pumping goals. Some women go to great lengths to increase their milk supply, which is fine as long as you aren’t stressing about it. Don’t feel obligated to try lactation supplements or other techniques out of guilt or concern for your baby’s nutrition.
If you feel overwhelmed about pumping at work, you’re not alone. Remember: Whatever amount you choose to pump (or not), the goal is a healthy mother and baby. You’re doing a great job, mama. And we’re here to help support you.