Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Pumping and Working — My Secrets

I was invited by The Honest Company to participate in their Feeding Stories Campaign. Conveniently, this coincided almost exactly with my return to work following the birth of my second child, which for me also meant a return to the dreaded task of breast pumping. Therefore, it seemed like a great time to revisit my tips and tricks for pumping at work. 

This post originally appeared on Life As Always in October 2014. Check out other parent's stories here.


You've heard it, you get it.


No chemical composition can ever replicate what we lucky women can make ourselves, for free.
It's nature's perfect elixir, and it comes in a conveniently portable milk delivery system.

But let's face it -- As much as we working moms who choose to breastfeed love to provide our hungry little nurslings with nourishing milk, PUMPING AT WORK SUCKS — literally.

I've made a commitment to provide my son with breast milk for his first year, which means milking myself like Bessie the dairy cow has become a part of my daily work routine. Unfortunately, some people seem bothered by the fact that breasts produce milk to nourish human life, and co-workers can be put off by accidentally using breast milk as coffee creamer (no matter how thoroughly you explain the nutritional value and immunity boosting properties). Plus, accidentally catching a glimpse of exposed lady bits being suckled by the equivalent of a mechanical infant tends to make them slightly uncomfortable.

So when I returned to work I was on a mission to become a stealth pumper, and I'm here today to share my best tips and tricks.

// privacy //

First and foremost, make sure you have a private place to pump. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." They are also required to provide "reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child's birth at each time such employee has need to express the milk."

I don't know about you, but there are few times when I feel more vulnerable than when my nipples are being sucked in and out of transparent plastic cones. Fortunately, my extremely supportive workplace makes this abandoned supply closet in a vacant office space available for working moms, but since the door doesn't lock I made myself a sign, just in case.

// preparation //

Organization is key, so get yourself prepared! My day starts at home, where I have already spent the evening before cleaning, sterilizing, drying, and packing up everything needed for the next day.

Most of the supplies will be left at home, or go with my son to the babysitter.

Four of the bottles and lids go into a little cooler pack, which I pack up and take with me to work.

// supplies //

Every three hours, I attach suction devices to my nipples while milk spurts into bottles attached to my engorged breasts to the tune of Wee-WAH... Wee-WAH... Wee-WAH. In the beginning, this caused me a fair amount of anxiety. But once I got used to the routine of it all, I've actually begun to enjoy these little breaks, and make the most of the time while I'm milking myself like a dairy cow.

Make sure you are provided with a comfortable location in which to pump. You'll need a comfy chair and access to an electrical outlet. I suggest getting a double pump so you can do both breasts at once to save time. I have the Medela Pump In Style Advanced Backpack. It comes with a little cooler bag and contoured ice pack that is perfect for holding five ounce bottles.

When my pre-programmed Outlook reminder pops up on my computer screen, I head across the hall and get settled. After I hook myself up to my medieval torture device breast pump, I enjoy a cup of coffee, a book, and often browse social media to pass the time. With a little practice, I've perfected the ability to hold both pump apparatuses with one arm while checking Facebook or reading the latest and greatest parenting book.

Hydration is a key aspect to breast milk production, so as soon as I'm done pumping I always make sure to quickly drink an entire glass of water so I don't forget.

// storage //

Of course, you will need a place to keep the milk that you pump. According to La Leche League International, fresh human milk can be stored at room temperature for up to six hours. Here is my strategy for storing my milk throughout the day:

The first time I pump, I simply place the bottles into the insulated part of my backpack and zip it back up, so that the bottles are covered and kept as cool as possible. I just leave the breast shields on the bottles so that they are ready three hours later when I come back for my second session. At that point, I just re-attach the tubing and pump into those same bottles.

After the second session, the bottles are full, so I transfer them into my little cooler and carry them back across the hall, where I pop the whole thing into a mini fridge located conveniently around the corner from my desk.

For some reason, actually seeing my hard earned boobie juice seems to bother most people, so disguising the bottles in a cooler that is placed in a rarely-used mini fridge is what works for me.

// cleaning //

You'll need a place to wash and sterilize your pump parts. After I complete each pumping session, I rinse out the breast shields, valves and membranes under hot water in a sink that's located right outside my pumping room. I don't feel the need to wash and sterilize my parts every single time I pump — that would be far too time consuming.

When I'm done with my third and final pumping session of the day, I take all of my supplies back over to my office. In our main break room / kitchen, I use a paper towel and dish soap to wash out my pump parts and sterilize them using a Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steaming bag. These things are the BEST! I use them every single day both at home and at work.

It takes a minute and thirty anxiety-ridden seconds in the microwave, during which I pray that no one enters the kitchen and inquires as to why I'm cooking a plastic bag (because then I have to explain that I'm cleaning parts that were recently attached to my naked bosom, and we both awkwardly wish for a time machine to go back to the moment before we began talking about my breasts).

After everything is cleaned and sterilized, I place all the parts on clean paper towels in the top part of my pump's backpack, and along with the steamer bag I put everything underneath my desk to dry overnight.

Another day of pumping in the books.

// transport //

Each day I collect anywhere between 16 and 20 ounces of breast milk. When five o'clock rolls around, I just grab my little cooler of liquid gold out of the mini fridge, pop it into my bag, and head home to my hungry little boy. And I definitely experience a smug feeling of satisfaction, knowing that I've been able to work a full day away from home while still providing my son with breast milk that will help turn him into the healthiest version of himself.

When I get home, I still have some work to do. I divide the bottles evenly into four ounce portions, label each one, and put them in the refrigerator. I always pump more than enough milk in one day to cover my son's meals for the next day while I'm at work (usually more).

// schedule //

After a week or two of trial and error, here is the schedule that ended up working for me:

  • 7:00 — Nurse baby and leave for work
  • 8:00 — Arrive at work, get settled in, drink water/coffee and eat breakfast
  • 9:00 — First pumping session, followed by water and a snack
  • 12:00 — Second pumping session, followed by water and lunch
  • 3:00 — Third pumping session, followed by water and a snack
  • 3:30 — Clean and sterilize pump parts for the next day
  • 5:00 — Grab cooler of milk and head home
  • 6:00 — Arrive home and nurse baby
  • 7:30 — Nurse baby and put him down for bed

At this point (five months) my son is still waking up every two to three hours throughout the night to nurse. This could be attributed to growth spurts, or adjusting to eating bottles during the day instead of nursing; we're not sure. He typically eats three 4-ounce bottles while I'm at work, and since I make more than he can consume I've also acquired a pretty impressive freezer stash of frozen breast milk, which is available for emergencies.

Pumping at work is a real pain in the nipples.

I'm not denying it. But realistically, it's just a mildly uncomfortable thing that I'm happy to endure for the good of my child. It's a transitory part of life, and eventually mys son will outgrow his need for breast milk. At which point I will probably curse the day I ever complained, because the pain of knowing that my sweet baby can actually survive without me will cause my soul to ache.

But for now, the look on his angelic little face as he gulps down what only I can provide him reassures me that I'm doing the best I can as a working Momma.

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  1. this is awesome - thank you so much!! i am due at the end of August and i am totally bookmarking this post to revert back to once i return back to work!!! you rock!

  2. I remember reading this post the first time you published it, and I LOVED your humor in it. Now, as a new mom, I love it even more! When I go back to work in the fall, I will probably only have two pumping sessions during the work day, but I appreciate knowing that you don't worry about washing everything after each session. It makes so much sense to keep the flanges attached after your session until you've filled the bottle!


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