Prepping for Pumping: Supporting the Return to Work


Returning to work is a huge transition for many mothers. The addition of pumping can be both emotionally and physically challenging. Will baby take a bottle? What will my boss think? Will I lose my supply? If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone! Everyone’s experience will be different, but as Speech Language Pathologists and Certified Lactation Counselors, here are some of the steps our feeding specialists suggest. These will help you ease your way back to work feeling more confident and less anxious.

Firstly, know your rights. As of 2010, portions of the Affordable Care Act require employers to provide you reasonable breaks and a private space to pump. Legally, this cannot just be a bathroom. You may take these breaks multiple times throughout your shift until your baby is one year old (though many employers are accommodating beyond this).

Then, be upfront with your boss. If you know you’ll be pumping, consider starting this conversation as part of your maternity leave meeting. That way, there’s already a plan in place and less suspense for your return. Let them know how often you’d like to take a break, how long you feel is appropriate, and where you’d like to store your milk. Remember to discuss any sanitizing or washing needs. Don’t sell yourself short – 15 minutes is often not long enough to set up, express milk, and tidy. Similarly, trying to please your boss by pumping less often will likely reduce your milk supply. Be upfront and honest.

Pumping Logistics

Now let’s get to logistics. You’ll need an appropriate pump for expressing milk at work to be effective in supporting your goals. Most insurance providers cover electric pumps at little to no cost. While hands free models are hitting the market hard, proceed with caution until you feel confident in your typical supply. Often, these types of pumps are less powerful and yield lower milk output. Additionally, get to know your flange size. Most woman are using a flange much too large, which can cause pain, reduced milk flow, and be less efficient for pumping. Pumps can be confusing and frustrating. A lactation provider will be able to support you in selecting a pump that fits your needs, budget, and preferences.

You’ll also want to make a schedule. If your infant is nursing at home every 2-3 hours, consider pump breaks at similar intervals to make up for those missed feeds. Later on in your back-to-work journey, you may be able to space these out further. But we want to do everything we can to protect your supply in those first precious weeks or months. What might that look like?

What Does a Pumping Schedule Look Like?

Let’s say Sarah works 9 am to 4 pm. She nurses her 4 month old daughter, Hattie, at 8 am before they leave the house for daycare drop off. Sarah pumps for 25 minutes at 11 am, again at 1 pm for 30 minutes, then leaves work at 4 pm and nurses Hattie when they arrive home at 4:15pm. A standard recommendation would be to send about 1 to 1.5 oz of milk per hour that you are gone. So, Sarah sends Hattie to daycare with two 4 oz bottles. Now, clearly, many babies do not run by this specific of a timetable. But as you practice and get in the rhythm of pumping, your childcare days become more predictable.

Storage guidelines

It’s always important to remember appropriate storage guidelines. A quick review per the CDC:

  • Freshly pumped milk is safe at room temperature for up to 4 hours, in the refrigerator up to 4 days, and frozen up to 6 months (up to 12 months in a chest freezer).
  • Thawed, previously frozen milk is safe at room temperature for up to 2 hours, in the refrigerator for 1 day, and should never be refrozen.

Finally, introduce and practice with a bottle early. Give yourself time to find baby’s preferences before your first day back. If you’re still having difficulty, schedule a consult with a feeding specialist, or check out Help! My Baby Won’t Take a Bottle.

Going back to work can be hard, but our community is here to help! Lactation consultations are great tools to establish a plan of action. We’re here to support you all along the way. Best of luck and congratulations.