Pregnancy Week 55: How to Pump at Work

woman pumping while on her phone

Adobe Stock / martina

June 19, 2024 at 11:11PM UTC
Looking back, there are a lot of little secrets that we wish we knew about surviving the time when you’re pumping at work. Many of them actually have surprisingly little to do with the actual pumping part. 

We’ve gathered up five genius tips to help you make it through a time that — just to be honest — rather sucks:

1. Don’t wear one pieces with back-zippers. 

Unless you really fancy the thrill of stripping down into your birthday suit in the office up to three times a day, do yourself a favor and start wearing two piece outfits that make slipping on those breast shields just a little bit easier.
One of the more banal aspects of pumping at work involves dressing the part. Whether or not you are using nursing bras and tops, you’ll still have to uncover a large part of your upper body Every. Single. Day. So don’t make things more complex by wearing a lot of long necklaces or zippers, buttons and anything that’s generally unforgiving of a leak or a few inevitable stains. We understand that’s a tall order and it involves a bit of creativity (and/or a lot of blazers). Trust us; there will be an end to the monochrome, stretchy cotton monotony. 
Since you’re carrying a ton of extra baggage and your feet may still not be 100 percent back to normal, you probably aren’t going to be wearing your cutest shoes, either. Until then, enjoy the comfy flats!

2. Plan to (and what to) eat. 

Pumping = making food = eating food yourself.
By now, you’ve probably heard that pumping can help you shed your baby weight. Sadly, like exercise, pumping also makes you hungry, which means you will want to eat. And if you don’t, your milk production may take a hit.
Since pumping during — or in reality, instead — of your lunch break is de rigeur for breastfeeding moms at work, you’ll need to prepare yourself. No teeny salad leaves with a non-fat dressing should be accompanying you to the lactation room during this period if you want to ensure you and your baby are at your best.
Jessica Beer recommends that you decide what foods you want to keep at work. On her second maternity, she writes:
“I remember last time I went back to work, I was struck [by] just how little time I had during the day (thanks to pumping) and how hungry I always was. It became a habit for me to keep a stockpile of food at work, and I know this time I’ll be doing the same. Since there’s no time to run out for lunch, it’s important not only to pack lunch but to have those snacks ready to go. I plan on keeping high-protein, easy snacks at the office - Kind bars, string cheese, peanut butter, oatmeal, and hard boiled eggs all make my list.”
This advice gets right to the nuts (pun intended) and bolts of it. Remember that you’re going to be tired and stressed for time, so the least you can do is pack yourself a health lunch with lots of great protein and fats to keep you going. 
One common side effect of sleep deprivation is hunger. Add to that stress of returning to work and pumping, and we guarantee you’ll want to gobble down a cheeseburger and fries rather than a sad desk salad by noon. Even if you are trying to lose weight at the same time, remember that you have to be realistic and healthy. You may used to get by with an afternoon coffee and candy in your desk drawer, but now when your blood sugar hits a low, you’ll want some healthier choices.
Sarah O’Grady in Raleigh, North Carolina advises women to drink a lot of water during the day, too. Pumping takes a lot out of you, and you need to stay charged!

3. Block out time to pump and be religious about it.

If your workplace is such that you can get away without having to have a conversation about it, just block times to pump every two and a half to three hours, and be realistic about how much time you need. 
One woman working at a big investment bank told us her company had beautiful lactation rooms but you needed to go down one elevator bank and into an adjacent building to access them. The round-trip transportation time between her desk and the room took her 20 minutes which she had to tack on to the time she blocked out for pumping. 
Sarah recommends to other women to “go into your Outlook calendar and block off pumping windows for the next couple of months. Getting it on your calendar in advance means you’re much more likely to not have conflicts come up or feel stressed because you have a busy day and can’t find the time to pump.”
If you’ve done your dry run of pump assembly, de-robing, cleaning and storage, you’ll have a sense of how long you need to pump for the amount of breastmilk you want to produce. Block that time out, set it to “repeat” every day. If you have shared or visible calendars at your workplace, just block it out as “Meeting” or “Hold." You don’t need to offer any explanations unless your manager asks you for one.
If someone is working really hard to make a meeting with difficult schedules work, you may be pleasantly surprised by how saying that you need to pump during that time can help everyone understand and move on to a new time.

4. Consider changes to your commute.

If you’re one of the millions of women who drive to work and back, you’re better off than those who rely on public transportation. Between your packed lunch and daily snacks, your regular purse and/or laptop bag and your pumping bag, you may suddenly feel like a cow analogy doesn’t begin to capture the pack-animal spirit of your days.
For Jane McDonald, this meant giving up public transportation for a while. Normally she avoided the insane highway backups in the Bay Area by taking her commuter train, BART. But once she started having to schlep her extra pumping bag(gage) everywhere she went, she decided that driving might just be worth it. 
While it meant having to shift her schedule around so she could avoid the absolute worst rush hour traffic, it was worth having all her bags of food, pumping equipment and extra supplies (like a change of clothes or extra snacks and tissues) in her trunk.
For Fairygodboss co-founder Georgene Huang, this meant giving up the train for a Green Tomato car (a bit like an eco-Uber in London with wifi) for eight weeks instead of risking getting stuck on the London Tube Circle line. The car wifi helped make the occasional traffic jam more bearable and the extra cost was offset by the efficiency of her being able to do morning international calls with her team on the way to work in the morning (which she could have never done on the Underground).

5. Bond over it (and laugh about it) whenever possible.

There’s nothing like a sucky situation to bring people together. Breastfeeding moms everywhere are a tribe of nodding, unspoken understanding and share a lot to laugh and commiserate about (see Week 60: Your Funniest Pumping Stories). Most women at work who’ve been in your shoes will have your back. Not only will you have something big in common, it may even help you logistically.
Fairygodboss’ other founder Romy Newman, for example, was ever the efficient multitasker. She had a direct report based in California who recently had twins. Since she figured a new mom wouldn’t mind the background pumping noise, she scheduled their weekly phone updates during her pumping time!

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