There’s no denying that returning to work after having a baby is challenging. However, it becomes especially challenging if you’re breastfeeding. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 – 2025 recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months (if you’re able). From there, they suggest continually breastfeeding while introducing appropriate complementary foods for one year or longer.
… As you can probably imagine, that makes balancing work and breastfeeding somewhat of an obstacle. (This is not to say that working mothers cannot overcome it.)
If you’re heading back to work as a breastfeeding mother, today’s article has everything you need to know about creating a pumping schedule for working moms. Not only have our experts put together a sample breastfeeding schedule, but we’re answering the most frequently asked questions about balancing work and breastfeeding. Stay tuned!
Your Rights as a Breastfeeding Mom
The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) was signed into law in December 2022, and it went into full effect in April 2023. Under this law, most employees in most industries have the right to:
- A reasonable break time for pumping for up to one year after birth.
- A private, small sanctuary to pump — other than a bathroom — that’s free from intrusion by coworkers or the public.
How to Prepare to Pump at Work
With a bit of mindful preparation, breastfeeding at work is totally doable. Below are some steps to help you prepare to breastfeed at work:
Buy a Breast Pump
The first step to pumping at work is buying a breast pump. We recommend opting for a quality, double-electric pump that works quickly. (Note that these cost anywhere from $150 to $300.) However, you could also rent a hospital-grade breast pump from a local hospital, pharmacy, or baby supply store. (This option costs about $30 to $60 per month.)
While investing in a high-quality pump can be expensive at first, it’ll make your pumping sessions easier, faster, and more productive. Not to mention, your healthcare provider is legally required to cover the cost of breast pump rentals or purchases in full.
Another option is to invest in a hands-free pump that allows you to work and pump simultaneously. As you can probably imagine, these fall on the pricier side. However, they’re uber-convenient if you need to pump someplace without access to an electrical outlet.
Get Expert Advice
Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, M.D. from UT Southwestern Medical Center explains that “there is a bit of a learning curve with breastfeeding and pumping on the go. It can take a few weeks to get in the groove of what to pack in your bag, how to dress for easy pumping, and adding bottle-feeding to the mix if your baby has only been breastfed.”
For that reason, Horsager-Boehrer advises meeting with a lactation consultant after delivery. As breastfeeding experts, it’s their job to coach and support new moms throughout the breast-pumping journey.
Practice at Home
Don’t wait until your first day back to fire up the pump. Instead, allow yourself—and your baby—to get the hang of it at home. About two or three weeks before going back to work, trade one of your daily nursing sessions for a pumping session. Then, continue increasing these sessions so that your baby gets more and more used to bottle time.
Introduce Bottle Feeding
If you haven’t already tried, you must introduce your baby to bottle feeding before returning to work. And if you’re concerned about feeding your breastfed baby a bottle, rest assured that most infants take the bottle quickly. Many babies can switch between bottle and breastfeeding without nipple confusion. In addition, have your spouse or caregiver be the one who bottle feeds, as this eases the transition.
Make a Plan
To make your transition as easy as possible, Horsager-Boehrer recommends meeting with your supervisor to discuss adjusting your schedule to accommodate pumping.
“If that’s not an option, talk with a lactation consultant about pumping less frequently,” says Horsager-Boehrer. “For example, pumping twice a day might feel more manageable than three times a day. Remember that any amount of breast milk is a good thing for your baby, and pumping at work can help maintain your milk supply for regular feedings at home.”
Pumping at work takes planning. And aside from establishing a pumping schedule for working moms, you’ll need “a clean and private room, a refrigerator to store bottles, a sink to rinse equipment, and a safe place to store supplies during the day,” says Horsager-Boehrer.
Additionally, Horsager-Boehrer recommends connecting with human resources during or before maternity leave, as they can help you locate an appropriate space for pumping, storage, and clean-up. “Consider visiting these areas before maternity leave to give yourself a little peace of mind, says Horsager-Boehrer. “And if you don’t see what you need, ask for it. HR departments should be familiar with the new PUMP Act and its provisions.”
Build a Freezer Stash
Before creating a pumping schedule for working moms, you should build up a frozen breast milk supply. Many moms benefit from practicing expressing their breast milk, storing it, and feeding it to their baby via bottle.
How to Pump at Work
These pumping hacks and tips will ensure your transition back to work is as smooth as can be.
Bring the Right Tools
Set yourself up for pumping success by making sure you bring everything you need to work. Breastfeeding mothers need their breast pumps, milk storage bags, coolers (or refrigerator access), extra pumps, as well as extra breast pads and/or shirts.
Create a Pumping Schedule for Working Moms
Creating a pumping schedule for working moms helps balance work with breastfeeding. And if you don’t know where to begin, aligning your pumping sessions to your baby’s feeding schedule prevents engorgement or leaking. (Don’t wait until you’re experiencing prolonged engorgement or excessive leaking, as this slows milk supply.)
Generally, a working mom should breastfeed her baby in the morning before she goes to work. Then, she should pump every two to three hours during the day (depending, of course, on her baby’s feeding schedule at home).
If you pump around the same time each day (which is what is recommended), your coworkers will know where you are, and you won’t have to explain your absence every time. Routine also supports healthy milk production.
A sample pumping schedule for a nine-hour workday looks like this:
- 7:30 am. Breastfeed at daycare
- 8 am to 10 am. Meetings, etc.
- 10 am to 10:30 am. First pumping session
- 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Focused work, projects, etc.
- 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm. Lunch and second pumping session
- 1:30 pm to 3 pm. Meetings, etc.
- 3 pm to 3:30 pm. Third pumping session
- 3:30 pm to 5 pm. Focused work, projects, etc.
- 5 pm. Pick up baby from daycare and breastfeed
Pump Until Empty
During each pumping session, strive to pump until both breasts are empty, as this plays an integral role in stimulating milk production. And once you get the hang of it, most pumping sessions last between 15 and 20 minutes. However, some women take longer–and that’s totally okay!
Remember Your Own Health
Horsager-Boehrer tells us that, “Pumping and breastfeeding requires more daily calories than pregnancy! You might find yourself hungry, thirsty, or tired during the day if you don’t pack and snack properly.” She recommends adding water and healthy snacks to your pumping bag each night. “Staying hydrated and fed will help you maintain your energy and milk supply,” says Horsager-Boehrer.
Adjust When Life Throws You Curve Balls (Because It Often Does)
When things happen beyond your control—like getting sick or finding that your baby needs more milk than you can produce—it can feel like a personal failure. However, Horsager-Boehrer reminds us not to beat ourselves up. “Formula-feeding or supplementing have their benefits,” she says. “They allow your partner or other loved ones to help more with childcare, which can take a little work off your plate.”
Storing Breast Milk At Work
Now that you’ve successfully created a pumping schedule for working moms, how do you store it? Well, all you have to do is follow these simple steps:
- Pack a bag. Find a decently-sized bag that will fit your breast pump, a travel-sized cooler with an ice pack, milk storage bags or bottles, and any necessary cleaning supplies. (You’ll need to wash your supplies after each pumping session.)
- Transfer the milk. After each pumping session, transfer your expressed milk into a small bottle with an airtight lid. Oftentimes, you can use the same bottle for the milk from both breasts. Then, put the bottle in your cooler and wash your supplies. Then, put everything back in your tote.
- Refrigerate the bottles. When you get home, simply transfer the bottles from the cooler to your refrigerator. Clean and dry any dirty supplies, then put your ice pack bag in the freezer so it’s ready for tomorrow.
- Repeat. Send your baby to daycare with the three bottles of freshly pumped milk. Grab three empty bottles and get ready to do it all again. That’s it!
How to Increase Breast Milk Supply for Pumping
Aside from choosing the right breast pump, there are additional ways moms can increase their breast milk supply for pumping:
Increase Pumping Frequency
Most breastfeeding mothers pump every three hours. However, pumping more often stimulates the breasts to produce more milk. If you’d like to increase your milk supply, try pumping both breasts for 15 minutes every two hours. Do this for 48 to 72 hours, then return to your normal pumping routine.
If that pumping frequency doesn’t seem feasible to you, try power pumping. If you’re not already familiar with this breastfeeding technique, it involves pumping for ten minutes, then taking ten minutes off, for an entire hour. While you might not get any additional milk after the first ten minutes, it’s important to continue for the entire hour. And if you keep it up for four to five consecutive days, it can boost your milk supply overall.
Take Care of Your Body
Getting enough rest, drinking enough fluids, and consuming nourishing foods (especially protein) is essential to improving and protecting your milk supply. In addition, certain foods — called galactogogues — may help increase milk production. These include:
- Yams, beets, and carrots. They are chock-full of beta carotene.
- Dark, leafy greens. They contain phytoestrogens, which support lactation.
- Green papaya. It’s rich in vitamin C, which is necessary for lactating mothers.
- Fennel or fennel seed.
- Grains. As a well-known comfort food, the consumption of grain releases oxytocin – which is a hormone involved in milk production.
Prioritize Skin-to-Skin Contact
As you probably already know, skin-to-skin contact occurs whenever a mother holds her baby against her bare chest. However, what you might not know is that there are ample health benefits:
- Improves infant weight gain
- Encourages breast milk production
- Maintains the baby’s internal temperature
- Helps the baby absorb and digest nutrients
- Encourages a stable heartbeat and breathing
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Still confused about crafting a pumping schedule as a working mom? Below are the answers to the most frequently asked questions:
How often should I pump at work?
A newborn will take a bottle of breast milk every two to three hours. And because you should align your pumping sessions with your baby’s feeding schedule, aim to pump every two to three hours as well. However, at the end of the day, no one knows your baby better than you do. Therefore, how often you pump at work depends entirely on yourself and your baby’s needs.
What is the best way to store breastmilk at work?
There are several ways you can store breastmilk at work. If your workplace has a refrigerator, you can keep your bottles there and use a cooler to transfer them back home. Additionally, you could bring your own personal cooler and ice pack and store the bottles of expressed milk in there. Truly, the choice is yours.
How can I increase my breast milk supply for pumping?
As we mentioned, increasing your pumping frequency, taking care of your body, and prioritizing skin-to-skin contact can help increase a mother’s breast milk supply for pumping.
What should I bring to work for pumping?
In order to pump at work, breastfeeding mothers need a breast pump, a travel-sized cooler with an ice pack, milk storage bags or bottles, and any necessary cleaning supplies. We also recommend bringing extra breast pads and/or shirts just in case.
Can I breastfeed and work at the same time?
Yes! The PUMP Act protects new mothers who have to breastfeed or breast pump during their work day. Follow the above instructions to develop a pumping schedule for working moms. Then, see our instructions for storing breast milk at work.