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Guide to Breast Pumping at Work


If you're not aware of a pumping policy at your workplace, don't assume there isn't one - and if you know there isn't one, don't assume that a suitable space and time to pump can't be provided. (Your employer might even be legally required to provide a both; currently more than a dozen states have such legislation).

Lindsay Lebresco, an advisory board member at the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council, found that her employer was receptive to her request and even asked Lebresco to help develop a comprehensive lactation program, complete with subsidized breast pumps, lactation consultants, and an education program. “Women need to be their own advocates,” Lebresco says. “We have this idea that employers should have these programs in place, but the reality is that it often goes overlooked until someone brings it up" - not surprising in Lebresko's workplace, where the HR team was made up of a middle-aged man, a grandmother and an intern.

Time to talk to the boss?

Just the idea of talking to the boss about pumping leads some moms to give up breastfeeding altogether when they return to work. That doesn't surprise Lisa Spiegel, director of Soho Parenting. "Women are embarrassed to ask, because it’s their breasts, it’s intimate." Some strategies:

  • Be clear about what you need in terms of space and time. {See below)
  • If you think you'll find the conversation difficult, make it about your baby rather than yourself. “Sometimes it’s easier to be an advocate for your child," Spiegel says. "Take a deep breath, dive right in, and it will be far less difficult than you think. Remind yourself that you are an adult asking another adult for something for your baby. All you are going to hear is Yes or No."
  • Try rehearsing the conversation, Susan Burger, president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association, advises. You'll be less likely to feel - or seem - intimidated and more capable of presenting a matter-of-fact request for a clean, safe place to pump.
  • If you're still nervous, Lebresco recommends starting off the conversation with something less personal than pumping - you could ask if there's at-work daycare, for example.
  • Another great tactic is to mention the financial benefits to a company that supports breastfeeding by employees. Studies show that breastfed babies tend to get sick less often than those who are fed formula, which means lower healthcare costs and fewer days off work for moms who pump. Lebresco brought this information along when she met with her HR department. “When you start talking dollars and cents, management gets it very quickly,” she says.
  • The more time you allow for these issues to be worked out, the better, so don't wait until the day before you'll be back on the job!

Where to Breast Pump at Work

A lactation room is any private space that has the following - even a storage room might work.

Basic Version
  • an electrical outlet
  • a comfortable chair
  • a sink
  • a door that locks
Deluxe Version

All of the above, plus:

  • a refrigerator (if there's no fridge you can get by with a cooler and ice packs)
  • a computer
  • a window
  • a table

If your employer will not accommodate your request, you’ll need to go under the radar and get creative with your pumping time and place.

Many women pump in their cars during breaks, covering up with a jacket or shawl and plugging into the cigarette lighter with a car adapter. Invest in a cooler to store your expressed milk; clean your pump with a damp rag or premoistened wipe and sanitize it when you get home.

If you don’t have a car or you can’t get there during the day, try the employee restroom; though obviously not optimal, many women find it will work in a pinch.

What Time Should I Pump?

Making the time to pump can present a whole other challenge. A double pump helps cut down on the time it takes to express milk, but it still might be hard to find enough breaks in the day, especially if your baby is very young and feeds frequently; if you want to stick to a breast-milk only diet, you'll need to express milk as often as your baby would nurse.

  • If you work in an office, block off time in your computer calendar, as Lebresco did - though you'll need to be flexible and allow for unexpected or emergency demands on your pumping time. 
  • If you're a nurse, teacher, or other worker whose job doesn't provide many breaks, you'll need to discuss your needs with your manager If necessary, invoke the law; all states mandate a certain number of breaks per hour worked, even if this is the only time in your career when you actually take advantage of the legislation. And don’t let anyone give you grief for your decision to pump on break. “A woman's breasts are not the property of her employer and I don't see how the employer has any right to tell her what she can and cannot do with her breasts when she is on a break,” Burger says.
  • Invest in a good pump. A double electric pump works fastest - you should be able to express enough milk and clean up in 15 minutes.
  • Frantic, no-lunch-break schedules require creative solutions as well: teach yourself to express manually and pump an ounce or two every time you use the restroom; store the bottles in your purse with an ice pack.

​​The Milk

You've figured out the time and space, now you just have to produce the milk. Uh-oh - easier said than done when you're watching the clock. A few mom-tested tricks:

  • Visual aids. Some women find that a picture of their baby helps with letdown. Put one in your pump bag and spend a few seconds with it before and as you start pumping. Others have had luck reading a magazine or practicing meditative breathing.
  • Spiegel suggests trying any of the above and not agonizing over the amount of milk you’re collecting; many of her clients quit breastfeeding prematurely because they got frustrated at the amount they were able to express. Even the best breastpump action doesn't precisely mimic a baby's suck are can't produce the same results. “Whatever you get at work in terms of ounces, expect that, and don’t worry that you are somehow inadequately feeding your baby,” Spiegel says. You can compensate by feeding your baby more frequently while you're home, or even by supplementing with a little formula if necessary.

Your Co-workers

Although it has its the challenges, pumping when you are not with your baby is the best thing you can do for your child and for your milk production—and this is exactly what you should proudly tell colleagues who dare to make snide comments about any aspect of your pumping at work. Despite the sophisticated lactation program her company developed, Lebresco’s colleagues were not always supportive of her pumping. But for every rude comment or look she received, she tried to remember that there were many more women looking at her and thinking or saying “good for you.” And more importantly, good for that baby waiting at home.

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