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I was very nervous about pumping when returning to work. I read a lot and found several blog posts and videos on the subject but I feel like there just wasn’t enough online! It was similar to my search for delivery stories when I was pregnant — I wanted to hear everyone’s story so I could feel a little more prepared! It is a scary time to worry about the stress of returning to work and leaving your baby, but you shouldn’t worry too much about pumping. If you are like me and just looking for some insight on how others have succeeded, I hope this post helps see that it can be done!
I’ll start by stating that I acknowledge that I was lucky enough to have a great milk supply which is a struggle for a lot of moms; and have a great employer that was accommodating to me during the time I pumped at work for my two sons.
I also want to say that it is really hard. Everyone’s story may be a little bit different, but it is hard and you have to know that going into it. You are balancing so much all at once: pumping, nursing, job, finances, how to keep the house clean, how to keep your kids engaged, how to keep a happy marriage, what’s for dinner…and why is my milk production low? You may or may not go through it, but I also went through a weird and somewhat depressing stage of not feeling like your body is not your own.
Even though I had read about the difficulties that could arise, I really wanted to give it a shot because it was important to me to try. I scoured the internet for tips and tricks before I went to work and developed a routine that worked for me.
Before jumping into my day, I should mention that at that time, I worked 40 hours a week (8:30 – 5:00 pm) and it took me 45 minutes – an hour to get to work.
Here is what a typical work day for me was like:
6:00 am – Wake up / get water / go turn on the coffee
See my tip below: Water, Water, Water!!
6:10 am – Wake baby up (if not already awake) and give him last night’s prepared bottle
It is faster to get the bottle down in the morning and since the baby left with my husband before me, I saved my milk for the pump right before leaving for work
6:20 am – Get the baby ready: change clothes & diaper; play for a little and get him in the car seat to go with daddy by 6:45 am
6:50 am – Get ready for work and pump (at same time)
The hands-free pumping bra (this is the one I have) was the key to my morning success. I would just set up the pump right in the bathroom on the counter and pump while I washed my face, brushed my teeth, put on my makeup and did my hair.
7:30 am – Wash pump parts and get ready to leave
7:45 am – Depart for work
Checklist before walking out the door: Pump, Pump parts, Breast Milk Storage Bags, Storage Cooler and Ice Pack, Cloth, Water, Snacks and lunch
8:30 am – Arrive at work
10:30 am – First Pump Session
Grab your pump, pump parts, wipes & your phone and get to it!
For me, I pumped for 20 minutes (pumping both sides at same time). It takes a few minutes for your brain to switch gears from work and it helps to try to relax. It also helps to scroll through the most recent pictures you just took of your baby. Try to do that before jumping right into your book/magazine or social media on your phone so your milk can start going since your limited on time.
Once done, I would take out a cloth/rag and lay it down on the desk. Before unassembling the parts, give it a few good taps to get all the milk down. The reason for the cloth is that it always drips — there is always a little bit of milk right behind the flap piece of the Medela pumps and in the rubber part of the Spectra pump. (You don’t have to bring a cloth if you don’t want to, but I didn’t think people wanted breast milk drops on the desk.) You can leave the milk in the bottles, but I transferred mine into breastmilk storage bags since it was going home and into the freezer. I put the pump pieces back in the ziplock bag (to keep milk from dripping everywhere) and the milk in the cooler storage bag.
Before returning to my desk, I’d head to the bathroom to rinse the pump parts. I would give a quick rinse in the sink and be on my way. However, if I only had 1 set of pump parts for the day and needed to reuse it, I’d rinse and then use a medela wipe to clean it out, rinse them once more, give them a good shake and let them air dry under my desk, on top of a paper towel, hidden from view. I preferred to take two sets, though, just because it takes a few extra minutes to clean them out.
11:00 am – Back at work at my desk.
12:30 – Lunch! Your time for pumping is separate than your lunch break. I didn’t pump during my lunch. I tried to just keep drinking water to have a FULL afternoon pump session!
2:30 – Pump Session #2. It is the same drill as before, but I’d try to get an extra few minutes to really “empty” them out because the drive home was long (1 hour)! Instead of using the last 5 minutes to clean up, I would often leave them to clean up at home and try to make sure I can really get as much milk as I could by pumping a few extra minutes. I also would just leave this session’s milk in the bottles and just cap them off since I liked to make a bottle for the morning (versus putting it in the breast milk bag).
5:00 pm – Depart work and head home.
6:00 pm – Arrive home, immediately nurse the baby & put milk away.
As SOON as I walk in the door, it is a kiss hello and baby nursing time. The milk is usually READY to go — like you are ready to explode. I nursed at night because they say it really helps your production vs exclusively pumping. I’d nurse while catching up with my husband on the day, so I liked to nurse downstairs vs in the nursery. I’d also nurse through out the night (sadly for me, neither of my kids slept fully through the night while nursing).
- Wash all pump parts from the day and sanitize
- Put the ice pack in the freezer
- Get 1 bottle ready for the morning and put the rest of the milk in the freezer (I always sent frozen milk to daycare)
- Get clean pump parts ready for next day (I put it in a gallon ziplock – to keep them clean, catch the milk drips and not dirty the bag)
- Get clean cloth / burp cloth for next day, if needed
- Get lunch / snacks ready for next day
- I always get my outfit ready for the next day because you never know what might happen in the morning (blow out? crib sheet change? who knows! Read my post on tips for a successful morning routine here)
- Get baby stuff ready to go for next day
Drink water ALL DAY LONG! I would notice a huge difference in my supply if I didn’t take the time to drink water. It wasn’t easy for me to drink a lot of water until I got the Contigo water bottle with the straw (here). It is lightweight (easy to grab for meetings / walking around), doesn’t easily spill water all over when I accidentally tip it over on my desk and the straw really helps me drink more water!! The glass bottles are good but they are so heavy to carry around. Just don’t put lemon in there because it’s plastic — I had to get another one after that sad mistake 🙁 Find a bottle that works for you, but just remember to keep drinking water everyday, all day long.
You can get by with one set of pump parts, but I always took two (one per pump session) so I didn’t have to clean it that well at work (just rinse) and I’d take it home to fully clean.
Meetings / deadlines interfere with your pump schedule! There were plenty of times I had to excuse myself to squirt some milk into the toilet and run back into the meeting. I am dead serious. You just squeeze it a little when you are engorged and it will very easily squirt out. It will relieve your pain until you get pumping. Make sure you are always wearing nursing pads to keep from leaking through.
Try to have an extra full set of pump parts in your desk drawer if you can. Your mornings will not always go smoothly and you may forget something. The worst thing would be forgetting a pump valve shield and not having the pump work properly.
Forgot a piece? You may have to pump one side at a time. Forgot the bottle? You can use the milk bag and a rubber band if you have it.
Forgot the freezer bag? Keep it in your lunch bag & find a fridge. I would often forget my freezer bag and I’d put my bags of milk in a box that I had from Nature Valley granola bars! I flipped them over the edge and used a binder clip to keep the milk upright in the fridge.
If you are heading back to work soon, try not to worry! It can be done and you can make it work if you want to! I really hope this helps and maybe gives you a few ideas!