This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.

Week 44: Preparing to Pump When You Go Back to Work - An Introduction

Once upon a time we were little girls thinking about how we’d grow up to become doctors, coders, teachers (and rockstars). Even then we had a vague sense -- somewhere in the back of our minds -- that there would come a time when we felt challenged and had to overcome roadblocks to our workplace dreams.

Fast forward a couple decades to reality as a new mom. Most of us were not imagining that one of the biggest battles we’d fight at work would involve physically strapping plastic tubes to our chest a few times every day, possibly in a bathroom or a broom closet, but definitely half naked and praying that nobody would walk in.

Even those of us with the most luxurious lactation facilities have to contend with a number of challenges that amplify the physical toll of regularly extracting breast milk from our exhausted, anxious bodies. Among them:

  • Figuring out how to select (and use) the right equipment
  • Finding a way to safely store and transport your breast milk
  • Cleaning supplies and equipment (and how to do it at work, possibly in the coffee room)
  • Getting your baby to consume your expressed milk
  • Making / getting permission for the time you need to pump
  • Dressing for pumping (including special bras and outfits), as well as dealing with spills and leaks
  • Managing the anxiety of pumping “enough” and deciding when/whether to create a stockpile before you go back to work
  • Handling business travel while pumping
  • How many times a day you’ll pump and when?

Given this overwhelming array of issues, it’s no wonder that so many moms consider pumping after maternity leave to be one of the most stressful periods in their lives. Even women we consider amazingly productive and accomplished can be pushed to their limits. One of our favorite breastfeeding and working mother advocates Jessica Shortall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat., wrote her book to help other working moms survive this difficult period (which we love for its snark factor and helpful, practical tips.)

The topic of how to express breast milk and when and how to feed your baby with expressed milk is covered in so many different great resources that we focus only on the intersection of work and pumping. For example, in Week 50, we discuss your breastfeeding rights in the workplace, how to get the space and permission to pump at work, as well as how to make time and manage the logistics of pumping at work or during business travel.

Next week we explore what you need to do in terms of a checklist of products and tasks in order to prepare for pumping when you return to work. Before you tackle that, however, what you need to do first is decide whether you’re going to pump, and if so, for roughly how long. Even if you have no idea (and hey, there’s no shame in just seeing how things go given that you’ve probably only just started getting the hang of being a food source for another human being), it’s helpful to have a rough framework in mind.

The reason? Pumping at work is a big investment in time, equipment and planning. If you’re not that interested in pumping for more than a couple weeks, you probably will not have to think about stockpiling breastmilk before you go back to work. Not to mention the fact that you’ll have an easy time making certain decisions (like not buying a travel-sized breast pump to keep at your desk or more than a few items of nursing wear). #moremoneyforwine

In all seriousness, though, we’re not lactation consultants or healthcare professionals (and we advise you consult them if you’re so inclined). We respect hardcore breast-feeding mothers as well as mamas who feed their babies formula out of choice or necessity because we assume that if you’re reading this, you (a) love your babies to death and (b) are trying to do the right thing for you and your family. It’s a big, tough decision, and it’s yours to make without anyone else’s judgment.

If you do decide to try to pump at work for any significant period of time, you’re definitely taking a more logistically challenging road, which is what we’ll try to help you work through next week.

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I'm planning to pump when I go back to work but can't get my baby to take a bottle. Any advice?

I'm planning to pump when I go back to work, but I can't seem to get the baby to take a bottle. I have a few more weeks to get this sorted out - any advice for getting him to transition?

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