Pumping At Work

You don’t have to quit breastfeeding when you go back to your job. Here are the techniques and tools to help you pump successfully.


When Jo Anderson became pregnant, she knew she wanted to breastfeed her baby for as long as possible, even after she went back to work. But when she returned to her job as a public-relations executive in San Diego, she found that continuing to breastfeed was more difficult than she had anticipated. “Finding the time to pump was hard,” says the 37-year-old Anderson. “Even though my employer was understanding and supportive, my job is pretty demanding, and it was tough to get away several times a day for the 20 or so minutes it took to pump.” But Anderson’s work didn’t end there. “When I got home at the end of the day,” she says, “the last thing I wanted to do was wash and sterilize the pump and bottles and then get my milk ready for the next day.”

Yes, continuing to breastfeed once you’ve returned to work takes commitment, but it’s worth the effort. Not only does it allow you to meet your baby’s nutritional needs in the best possible way, but it also helps make long separations more bearable because you know that you’re giving him a special gift several times a day. “Sure, pumping was inconvenient at times,” Anderson says, “but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.” Following are answers to some of the questions you may have about pumping and tips to help you make your return to work as smooth as possible.

I really want to breastfeed, but is it worth the hassle once I return to work? As Anderson points out, continuing to breastfeed once you’ve returned to work can add time and work to your day, but the benefits to your baby are endless. Short-term perks include fewer ear infections and respiratory illnesses and less diarrhea. Longer-term benefits include a reduced risk for asthma, allergies, childhood obesity, diabetes and some childhood cancers, according to Marsha Walker, R.N., I.B.C.L.C., a lactation consultant in Weston, Mass., and former president of the International Lactation Consultant Association.

I know I need a good breast pump. Should I buy or rent one? You may be able to rent a hospital-grade pump from a birthing center or hospital for about $1 to $3 a day, but if you plan to continue nursing for several months (and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding your baby for at least the first year), in the long run, it may be less expensive to buy. Whether you choose to rent or buy, consider getting a double pump (one that can pump both breasts simultaneously). When should I start pumping? For the first 10 days to three weeks after your baby is born, your life will revolve around nursing. “This is the crucial time for establishing an adequate milk supply,” Walker says. For this reason, breastfeeding experts recommend against using pacifiers, bottles or formula until breastfeeding is going smoothly for you and your baby. After those first three or so weeks, try to pump daily after the first morning feeding. You can either store your milk in the freezer for when you return to work or, when your baby is a bit older, your partner or other family members can give the baby breast milk from a bottle.

But won’t it interfere with nursing if I start giving my baby a bottle? Not necessarily. Once you and your baby have established a comfortable nursing relationship and he is at least 6 weeks old and gaining weight properly, offering an occasional bottle probably will not disrupt your routine, according to Walker. In fact, many experts maintain that you should try introducing a bottle at least two weeks before you return to work. (Some maintain that the earlier you do it after the baby is 6 weeks old, the better; if you wait too long to introduce a bottle to your baby, he may refuse it.) Since many babies will not accept a bottle from mom, this is a perfect opportunity to get your partner or other family members in on the act. But be prepared to leave the room (or even the house); if the baby sees you, he may want your breast rather than the bottle.

How much milk should I have on hand when I go back to work? A week’s worth or more is ideal, so the sooner you start pumping and building up your stores, the better. Remember that you will bring home fresh milk every day, so what’s in the freezer can be considered the emergency or backup supply. (You occasionally may not be able to pump as much milk as your baby takes in a feeding; you can make up the difference with the milk you’ve stored.) Also, be sure to keep a few emergency cans of formula on hand in case your supply of breast milk dwindles. When is the best time to pump once I return to work? Ideally, you should pump during the times when your baby would normally nurse. But if you can’t match your pumping schedule to his feeding schedule, don’t worry—just be sure to pump during your breaks and/or lunch hour. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get as much milk from the pump as you’d hoped or if, on some days, you have time to pump only once. You can always make up the difference by pumping in the evenings and on weekends.

How do I safely store my expressed breast milk? Store breast milk in sterilized glass or clear-plastic bottles or in plastic freezer bags designed for breastfeeding; be sure to date each bottle or bag. The length of time breast milk can be safely stored depends on the type of refrigerator or freezer you have, but general guidelines are:

  • In a refrigerator at 32°–39° F: eight days
  • In the freezer compartment of a refrigerator/freezer: three to four months

How do I get my milk home? Breast milk can be safely kept at room temperature for up to 10 hours without danger of bacteria growth. But to be on the safe side, put your milk in a refrigerator or insulated cooler with ice packs until you head home. Then, before you put the milk in the freezer, separate it into 2- to 4-ounce servings so you don’t waste any of your hard-earned “liquid gold.”

How do I thaw my milk? Hold the sealed bottle or bag under running warm water or place it in a bowl of warm water for several minutes. Never heat breast milk in a pot of boiling water or in a microwave oven; doing so will destroy some of the milk’s beneficial properties and can lead to uneven heating and the risk of burning your baby’s mouth. After the milk is heated, shake it well (it’s normal for the milk to separate into cream and milk layers); test its temperature before giving it to your baby.