Tips for working moms: how to express breast milk at work

More information:
16 essential tips to expressing the most milk with your breast pump

Many breastfeeding moms choose to use a breast pump when they return to work. There are many benefits to pumping for both a mother and her baby:

  • Pumping allows a breastfeeding mother to provide the best nutrition to her baby even though she’s separated from them.
  • By using a breast pump, you can also relieve engorgement and pain while you are away from home.
  • Expressing also allows you to maintain your milk supply even though you are not able to breastfeed for hours. Moms who choose to return to work and not pump will find that their milk supply will dry up after hours away from their nursing baby. This means that many well meaning moms who want to continue breastfeeding until their baby is weaned will have to switch to formula since their milk supply has diminished so much. This is detrimental for your baby’s health and your wallet as you’ll have to depend on buying formula until your baby switches to solids.

Before you return to work, get your pumping routine down.

Begin expressing milk at home a couple of weeks before you return to work. This is not only a good way to have a supply of spare breast milk for when you’re away from your baby, it’s also a good way to see if your breast pump is right or if you need to replace it.

Every time you pump, you will need to estimate how long the battery in the pump will last before it starts to lose power. You don’t want to lug your pump in to the office only to find that it’s dead because you forgot to recharge it! If you have a pump that doesn’t have a rechargeable battery, you will need to make sure that you have a power outlet where you plan to pump.

Make sure the pump is comfortable to use. You might need to get some silicone cushions to place inside the breast shield or even get another size if the breast shields that came with the pump are the wrong size.

Do you need a pumping bra? A pumping bra will free your hands while you express milk, but it also means you have to change in and out of the bra at work unless you can wear a blazer over your blouse.

Some pumps have fiddly menus and settings, so make sure you know how to use your pump. The last thing you want is to be frustrated and unable to pump at work.

Make sure your cooler bag keeps your breast milk cool for however long it takes before you get back home. It shouldn’t be necessary, but you might need to add extra ice packs. Also make sure you’re happy with your collection bottles and bags. Are they big enough? Do they leak?

How often will you need to express while at work?

You can ease into pumping by using a pump in place of breastfeeding while at home. Figure out how many times you pump during work hours. If it’s only once or twice a day, you can save some money and lug around less stuff with you with a small manual breast pump. These pumps are less expensive, often under $50, small enough to throw in your purse, and quiet. The downside is that they are hand-powered, so they are very slow and exhausting to use. You will not express as much milk as with an electric pump, but they are a great option for expressing once in a while.

For working moms who plan to express 3 or more times at work, then the best breast pumps will be double electric pumps. This way you can finish pumping in less time, and if you pair this with a hands-free pumping bra, you’ll be able to work and pump at the same time.

Will your baby feed from a bottle and teat?

Some babies have a hard time separating from mom’s breasts and adjusting to a bottle and teat. Get your baby used to bottle feeding before you go and leave them with a caregiver! The comfort of taking a bottle while snuggled against mom’s breast will help the transition process. Teats come in different flow rates and softness and you may need to try out a couple different ones before you find one that your baby likes. Leave some clothes or blankies that smell like you that your baby can snuggle into while you’re away at work. All of this will help them transition from breast to bottle.

Where should I pump at work?

You will need to find an area that is clean, warm, and private. You will also need somewhere to sit and a table for your pumping equipment. If you have access to a sink, you can rinse off your pump parts after use, otherwise you can make do with some tissues and disinfecting wipes. Some women bring plastic storage bags to separate their dirty parts from their clean parts and just switch out parts each time they pump, the choice is yours.
Some good ideas for pumping areas are:

  • a private office
  • an unused conference room
  • a clean bathroom
  • storage rooms or closets

You might also want to bring a shawl or a towel for privacy in case one of your co-workers walks in on you.

What should I do to make sure I can pump at work?

The anxiety and stress of going back to work and being away from your baby can be off the charts. This will have a negative effect on your milk production and can actually prevent your let-down from coming in.

The biggest advice I have for you is to relax! Try to forget that you’re at work.

  • Bring something that smells like your baby, like a onesie or a favorite stuffed animal.
  • Distract yourself from your office environment by looking at pictures and videos of your baby on your phone.
  • Use earbuds and play soft soothing music.
  • If your office has strong AC, cover your shoulders and chest with a shawl or towel.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of water and eat something nutritious and filling like cheese or nuts before you begin to pump.

How do I keep my expressed milk fresh until I get off of work?

While you can keep your breast milk in your office’s shared refrigerator, some of your co-workers might object. Plus it leaves your expressed milk open to tampering and contamination from others. I know this isn’t likely (and I don’t like to think unwell of my co-workers), but some people will be curious and they might have a sniff (or worse!)

I like to avoid all the possible awkwardness and just bring my own cooler bag. You will need to make sure that your cooler can keep the expressed milk at under 60F for however long it will be until you get back home. Transfer your expressed milk to your refrigerator, where it can be kept for about a week, or feed it to your baby immediately. The guidelines for storage of expressed milk are:

  • 3-6 hours at room temperature (65F-80F), any hotter and you’ll want to throw the milk out after 2 hours
  • 24 hours in a cooler (60F and under)
  • 3-7 days in the refrigerator (40F and under)
  • 6 months in a freezer

More information:
16 essential tips to expressing the most milk with your breast pump

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