Most mothers pump milk during the time that they are separated from their babies. Pumping prevents engorgement and maintains the mother’s milk supply. The pumped milk is then given to the baby by the caregiver during mother’s absence. Mother also nurses the baby frequently during the time that they are together.
Before you return to your job, you’ll need to rent or purchase a breast pump and learn how to pump your breasts, and you’ll also need to consider how pumping milk will fit into your workday.
The when, where and how of pumping depends on your workplace, your work schedule and your own personal preferences. Here are some points to consider.
- How often to pump. You will need to pump about as often as your baby nurses, in other words, every two to three hours. If you work an eight-hour day, this means pumping at mid- morning, at lunch and at mid-afternoon. If your workday is shorter, you will need fewer pumping sessions; if it’s longer, you’ll need more. As baby begins to take solid food and nurses less, toward the end of the first year, you will be able to cut back on your pumping. If you pump both breasts at the same time, allow 15-20 minutes for pumping and clean-up. Allow 30 minutes if you pump each breast separately.
- Where will you pump? At your desk? In the ladies’ room? Can you borrow an office or use an empty room to pump in privacy? Ideally, the place you pump will have an outlet so you can plug in an electric pump and running water for washing pump parts. You’ll also need a comfortable chair and a table for your equipment, your lunch, or any paperwork you might want to look at while you’re pumping.
- Where will you store the milk? A refrigerator where you can store expressed milk is handy, though you can substitute ice packs and a cooler. See Storing Human Milk for more information.
There are as many solutions to combining working and breastfeeding as there are women who are doing it. Work out a plan for when and where you will pump and where and then present it to your supervisor. If you know other women in your workplace who have pumped milk for their babies, talk to them about the problems they encountered and how they solved them.
If you run into obstacles, look for solutions. Be flexible, consider your employer’s needs as well as your own, and you should be able to solve problems that arise. Remember that you’re doing this for your baby–so that she can continue to have the very best nourishment, as well as the security of breastfeeding when the two of you can be together.
- Finding time to pump. If you have regular breaks at work, these will become your pumping times. If your schedule is unpredictable, the need to pump may help you become more disciplined. If you are using an electric pump, it’s possible to read or eat lunch while pumping, even double-pumping.
- Finding a place to pump. Obviously, you’ll need some privacy. Consider the ladies’ lounge, an unused private office, or a storage room with a lock on the door. If you work for a large company that employs many women of child-bearing age, you may be able to convince your employer of the need for a lactation center, which might include a room set aside for pumping, hospital-grade pumps, and milk storage facilities.
- Alternatives to consider. Pumping isn’t your only option. Perhaps you can visit your baby and breastfeed at the caregiver’s house during your lunch break. Or, maybe your baby can visit you at work. Can you work partime hours for a few months, so that you won’t need to pump as often? Can you do some of your work at home? With a baby in your life, you’ll find creative ways to get your work done while also mothering your baby.