5 tips for more successful pumping at work

Medical electric breast pump to increase milk supply for breastfeeding mother and stack of diapers isolated on white background. Baby child care concept

I’ll go ahead and say it: pumping sucks (pun totally intended, by the way). Compared to the feeling of your little one tucking into you as you marvel over every inch of his or her sweet face, the idea of hooking yourself up to a nicely-packaged milking machine is about as appealing as…well, hooking yourself up to a nicely-packaged milking machine.

But for some women, the relationships they have with their breast pumps are necessary. In 2013, 62 percent of women who had given birth in the last 12 months participated in the work force, according to a report by the United States Department of Labor. And with the rate of breastfeeding newborns going up nationwide, it’s safe to assume that a good portion of those working moms are balancing the demands of their jobs with the often tricky task of pumping breast milk for their babies.

I returned to work in early 2009 when our son was just seven weeks old. At first I only went into the office twice a week for five or six hour stretches, but that time away from him still required me to pump–both to maintain my supply and to stock his caregiver’s freezer with plenty of breast milk to keep my baby happy. While I never loved pumping, after a little trial and error, I ended up getting pretty good at it. Here are few tricks that helped make my pumping experiences more pleasant and productive…

1. Invest in the best.
Before I left for college, I got some great advice from a family friend: “Never buy the cheap trash bags.” I think the same advice goes for breast pumps. Obviously you’ll need to consider your budget (and/or insurance coverage) when it comes to whatever breast pump you end up getting, but you also need to think about cost per use. If you work full time, you’re going to be hanging out with that thing a lot. You want a reliable pump that gets the job done.

2. Know your workplace rights.
And here they are, courtesy of the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (emphasis is mine):

“Employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the employee’s child. The frequency of breaks needed to express breast milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary. The space provided by the employer cannot be a bathroom, and it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public.”

Pumping will be a much less stressful part of your day if you don’t have to worry about your boss hassling you every time you get up from your desk. Along the same lines…

3. Advocate signage.
Pumping will also be much less stressful if you don’t have to worry about Tim from accounting walking in on you while you do it. If your employer doesn’t have an HR Department to clearly designate your pumping space, don’t be afraid to do it yourself.

Back in my pumping days, I worked at a very small company where I was one of two women and the only mother. The only space available for me to pump (other than the bathroom) was the one private office in our suite. Thankfully, its occupant had a good understanding of my pumping schedule and graciously gave me the space whenever I needed it. Even though I always shut and locked the door, I spent my first few days back at work terrified that someone was going to bust into the room and find me with my boobs hooked up to a machine chug-chug-chugging along. Turns out my fears were easily assuaged by simply taping up a sign to let people know what was going on behind that door. It was a small thing, but that extra step towards ensuring my privacy helped me relax which, inevitably, made my pumping time more productive.

(My sign was just a piece of printer paper with “Moo!” scrawled out in black Sharpie, but go with whatever presentation works for you.)

4. Consider your wardrobe.
Work clothes can be a challenge for nursing mothers because you need to choose pieces that look professional but also give you easy access without requiring you to basically disrobe while your co-workers are in the next room. Layering nursing tanks under button-up shirts or sweaters worked well for me, but this fancy-schmancy nursing T, this tunic, and especially this dress would’ve made all the difference. Dresses didn’t even feel like an option for me! Maybe next time.

5. Indulge your senses.
As any breastfeeding mother will tell you, it’s not just the feel of your child latching on that causes your milk to let down. The sound of your baby’s coos (or cries), the smell of his or her skin…it all works together to create this very primal, biological experience. Don’t be afraid tap into that when it comes time to pump. In addition to looking at pictures of our son while I pumped, I also listened to recordings of him babbling or hummed some of the lullabies I’d often sing to him while nursing. My most effective sensory trick? Dirty pajamas. Each workday morning, I’d tuck the PJs he wore from the night before in my breast pump tote bag. When it came time to pump, I’d hold them up to my face and just breathe him in–it worked like a charm.

I’d love to hear about pumping tip/tricks/hacks that worked for you! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments…


  • a sign is a must!! I just returned to work about 3 weeks ago, only working weekends at this time. I just finished a pumping session had the door LOCKED and someone who had a key entered, with her son . Luckily for me I was decent and was wiping off my flanges. Needless to say the next session I had a little sign that stated do not enter at this time .

  • Schedule your pumping time! Single most important thing that made it easier at work for me. Put it on your outlook calendar. You can keep it private or whatever, but having it on the calendar keeps it prioritized, reminds you to do it (which was hard for me to remember as I compartmentalize), and doesn’t allow others to infringe upon your time.

    Oh, also, if you have more than one breast pump, just keep it at the office! So much easier not having to schlep another dang bag home every day.

  • Coordinate your time. I work at a school & found their meal times was best, their noise level actually drowneded out the pump hum. I greet all my little children, quick check in with teachers, grab a plate put up my sign (Open /Food Production) & lock door. I set myself up, start my timer & then eat while skimming through her pics or catching up on social media. Don’t forget to drink ALOT, water, tea, milk etc just keep hydrated.

  • Sometimes I wash my nursing bras in dreft (the same detergent that I wash my babies clothes in) the sudden smell right before getting ready to pump would seem to help my let down! Kind of a weird thing that works for me!

  • I teach fourth grade and pump in my classroom. I hung curtains over the window in my classroom door and hung a sign that says “when the curtains are closed, DO NOT ENTER.” I sternly informed my students on the first day of the importance of obeying the sign, and so far so good! The biggest difficulty is just committing all of my prep and planning time to pumping!

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