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 45: Preparing to Pump at Work - The Equipment

Today we explore the products you’ll need to get a hold of before you go back to work and start setting aside quality time with DP (dear pump).

The Cast of Characters (And Their Price Tags)

The Pump

You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that a breast pump is covered by many health insurance plans (huzzah!). But then comes the inevitable let-down. First, you will learn that the creme-de-la-creme of pumps isn’t covered by insurance.

In the small world of breast pumps, the Queen Bee is known as the “hospital-grade pump.” Though in need of a branding and name makeover, this pump is generally regarded as the best (read: fastest and most comfortable) for extracting breastmilk. Sadly, in addition to costing upwards of $2,000, it weighs as much as your baby. So even if you rent it for home use (at a monthly cost that’s more like your pre-baby monthly allowance for latte dates), you won’t be lugging this thing to your workplace.

Some enlightened employers place the base of these hospital grade pumps in their lactation rooms (you bring in the bits you attach to your boobs for obvious reasons). If you’re one of these lucky ladies, then you have access to the top-of-the line product at your work site. That means your appointments with DP will be as smooth and brief as possible.

For the rest of us, we have to find a balance between buying a pump that’s light and convenient enough for travel to and from our workplaces, but also efficient at getting the job done. Hopefully your choice is covered by your insurance plan. Otherwise, plan on shelling out a few hundred dollars for a breast pump.

There are plenty of breast pump reviews for those of you interested in what other moms say. Some of the best known brands include Medela, Spectra, and Phillips, but there are many others. In the end, there’s nothing like holding one of these babies in real life, so if you have the option, check out a local store where you can compare weights, sizes and functionality.

We know some women have chosen to keep one pump at home and another one for travel or at work. If you can afford to do this, it can save you a lot of transportation hassle.

The Accessories

Some mothers swear by multi-tasking while pumping (which allows for eating your salad or checking your email on your phone). Whatever pump you buy, make sure it works with any hands-free bustier you plan on strapping over yourself. Translation: make use of electricity and avoid the hand pump if this is you! Also, if you plan on using a nursing bra, try fitting the bustier over your nursing bra to see if it actually works. No point in buying a bustier and nursing bra that don’t work together unless you’re resigned to strippping (see below).

Some pumps come with batteries so you don’t need to find an electricity source. This may be especially important if you are pumping in an awkward place like a bathroom or converted utility closet with no outlets (or if you’re a member of the the mile-high pumping club for frequent fliers).

The Clothing

As one mom, Tara Lawall, says, “Taking your top off at work is pretty exciting...So that alone should give you a sense of how not-so-exciting my life has been up to this point. But the first time you take your top off at work, your mind may do a little, ‘You’re so wild. Woo!’” 

After the 10th time you take your top off, you may be wondering what other alternatives there are. Retailers have an answer, of course. There are plenty of specially designed nursing tops, dresses and bras that can be unclipped, pulled down and shifted to make room for DP. The benefit of these clothing items is that you don’t have to strip your entire top (or down even further if you’re wearing a one-piece dress) in order for DP to have at it.

Sadly, nursing bras do not tend to come cheap -- despite being a limited use apparel item. Shelling out $20-$40 for them is normal, which may be how much a basic nursing top costs. Just remember that if you have a nursing top, you’ll have to take off your entire bra in order to access your breasts, so you might as well have worn a normal blouse to begin with. Otherwise, you have to take off your top, take off your bra and then put your nursing top back on. In other words, go doubles with the nursing bra and top, or just don’t bother.

What you choose to do here is a matter of your budget and also your pumping circumstances. If you can afford at least one quality nursing bra and a couple of nursing tops, you’ll be able to wear them on those inevitable occasions when you really don’t want to be doing a half-strip (e.g. during a client on-site or all-day conference). Pick a neutral-toned top in case you need to repeat your outfit a couple times a week. Oh, and prepare yourself for the inevitable spills and leaks. Pick your colors and fabrics assuming they will happen….because they will.

The Cleaning

We’re talking about body fluids here. Ok, yes, it’s nutritional nectar to your baby, but you have to make sure that you clean your pump parts with warm soapy water, dry your parts and then reuse them. 3-5 times. Per. Day. That’s a lot of cleaning, and doing so at work can be very awkward.

Try to find a discreet bathroom or kitchen area to do this if you don’t have a sink in your lactation rooms at work. Drying will have to take place with paper towels rather than a drying rack, unless you’re comfortable putting your pump parts in the shared dishrack in the coffee room.

You might also wonder whether you should sterilize your pump parts between uses. While this may not be absolutely necessary, for those of you who are very cautious, there are microwavable sterilizer bags available that should be discarded after a certain number of uses.

Otherwise, we recommend just preparing yourself to discreetly clean between pumpings by having a stash of paper towels, tissues, travel sized washing liquid and a small, reusable brush. Put this all together somewhere in your pumping bag.

If this sounds overwhelming and you can afford it, you might want to throw money at the problem. By which we mean: buy enough breast shields and other parts in duplicate or triplicate so that you come to work with 3 freezer-sized ziploc bags full of clean bottles and pump parts -- one bag for each session with DP. At the end of the day, bring home all the dirty parts and do your cleaning and drying at home.

Just writing this made us feel exhausted.

The Bag

Make sure you get a sturdy extra bag you’re happy with and that fits everything you need to schlep around. Do NOT use your handbag or large purse for your pumping paraphernalia, even it’s large enough that you can stuff your sad desk lunch salad into it. Your baby’s breast milk and pumping equipment should be kept in a separate environment from your lipstick, phone and gum. If not for hygiene reasons alone, there are simply just too many items and parts to keep track of, so for your own sanity and organization, you’ll want a separate space.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on a new bag, and theoretically any kind will do, but make sure there are plenty of compartments for the cleaning supplies, breast pads, bottles, and space for a cooling box and the bottles you’ll be bringing home. If you can close (or zip) the top, that’s ideal for privacy and to avoid spilling the contents. Most breast-pump companies will happily  sell you a bag that accomplishes everything you need for about $50. Sadly, they aren’t always the most stylish. Plus, they can be very large.

Jeanie Chen, a product manager in New York, found that her pumping bag was so large and heavy that she would always have to wear it on one shoulder, with her purse on her other shoulder. On her commutes, these two bags would hog valuable subway real estate, but as she put it, “At least it helped buffer her against people pushing into her actual body during rush hour on the 6 train platform.”

The Bright Side

Plan to budget at least $300-$500 depending on the pump you choose and how many extras and accessories you plan on buying. Yes, that’s money you would rather spend on a couple of pairs of new shoes, but think of it this way: you’re feeding your baby the best you can.

And hopefully, once you’re through having kids, you can trash or donate your pump to a mother in need and make Marie Kondo proud.

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