If you’re returning to your job but want your baby to continue benefiting from your breast milk, here’s how to prepare for pumping at work.
Even if you have a supportive employer, you may be concerned about aspects of breast pumping at work. Will your co-workers understand your regular breaks? Will you be able to have privacy? The good news is, with good communication and planning, you can make expressing at work a success for you, your employer and your baby.
Here are our ten top tips for pumping at work.
1: Know your rights
In many countries you are legally entitled to express breast milk for your baby at work and your employer should allow time for regular breast pumping.
2: Be prepared
Make sure you have everything you need to pump, collect, store and transport your breast milk. The most obvious thing is a breast pump (a double electric breast pump is quickest and gives the best milk yield).1 You may want to get a second breast pump for work so you don’t have to take one back and forth each day. Other useful equipment includes:
- collection bottles or milk storage bags
- a cooler bag for transporting your milk
- microwave sanitising bags
- nursing pads and a spare top in case of milk leakage
- clothes that allow easy access to your breasts
3: Talk to colleagues
You’re not obliged to tell colleagues you’re pumping, but letting them know may help with understanding and acceptance. You could seek out a colleague who’s also expressing to be your ‘pumping buddy’ and give one another mutual support.
4: Find a space
Your employer should offer a private room (not a toilet) for you to pump in. This might be a medical or interview room, or anywhere you can express comfortably without being disturbed.
5: Think about storage
Have somewhere safe and cool for storing breast milk. If it’s a shared fridge, clearly label your milk in breast milk storage bags or bottles.
6: Keep things cool
Milk you express one day can be given to your baby the next, so there’s normally no need to freeze it. When kept chilled in the fridge (and in a cooler bag when transported between work and home), breast milk remains safe for your baby to drink for three days – or up to five in very clean conditions2,3 – read our article on breast milk storage for more guidance.
7: Time it right
Pump milk whenever your baby would usually breastfeed. This will help you collect enough for his feeds and maintain your breast milk supply.
8: Practice makes perfect
Arrange a practice day so you can do a trial run of pumping at work. Or make your first day back a Friday, so you can get the hang of expressing and transporting your milk before tackling a whole working week.
9: Take a break
If your baby is cared for close to where you work, then breastfeeding breaks – where you breastfeed your baby in his childcare setting – might be a good alternative to pumping.
10: Look after yourself
Combining work with parenting and breastfeeding is tiring – especially while you’re getting used to it, or if your baby still wakes at night. Take it one day at a time, look after yourself, and rest assured things should become easier as your baby gets older and you both become accustomed to this big change.
Pumping at work: Mums’ stories
These mums all had different experiences pumping at work, but found a way of fitting it into their daily routine.
“I always had a cooler bag with me”
“I raised the issue of pumping with my line manager three months before returning to work. He ordered a blind to be installed on my lockable office door for privacy.
“I hand-expressed into a breast milk bottle in my office and kept the milk inside a labelled cooler bag in the kitchen fridge. When I was out of the building I would nip somewhere private. I always had a bottle and cooler bag with me.
“If I couldn’t express enough milk during work hours I topped it up by pumping when I got home. Then there was always plenty for my son to have at nursery the next day.” Lily, mum of two, UK.
“My company was very supportive”
“Pumping at work wasn’t difficult as my company offered good facilities and was very supportive. They gave me all the time I needed.
“Logistics-wise it required preparation to have clean equipment every day and I always had to carry my breast pump. Nowadays my company has its own multi-user breast pump in the nursery room and gives a free pumping kit to each new mum, so there’s no need to bring in equipment.
“Be prepared. Take it with humour if possible and try to relax and enjoy the moment.” Aleyda, mum of one, Netherlands.
“It was difficult to find a room to express in”
“There were certainly challenges for me to overcome when pumping at work, including the inadequacy of the available space and the awkwardness of communicating with HR staff or male managers who didn’t always understand my needs.
“With my first baby, I was at a big firm that arranged a room for me to express in. But I found it hard to take breaks and pump enough milk to keep up with what my baby needed. I wanted to keep using my laptop while expressing so my work didn’t pile up, but the room didn’t have a suitable table for this. I only lasted two weeks before having to supplement with formula.
“With baby number two, I was determined to persevere. My workplace was much smaller – a sports venue – so it was difficult to find an appropriate room. At first, I was given the first aid room, but it was really cold and anyone could walk in. Eventually they found a better room but sometimes the key would go missing!
To other mums I’d say: know your rights and use them! Be confident your employer wants to have you at work – any issues are often down to disorganisation and lack of knowledge, rather than hostility. It can be tough, but it’s worth it. I also recommend Medela pumps.” Elisabeth, mum of two, UK.
“I can work and pump at the same time”
“As well as my breast pump, I needed a hands-free pumping bra, nursing pads for leaks and easy-access clothes to save time. I can work and pump simultaneously but lots of friends can’t and have to relax while they express.
“My workplace has several ‘moms’ rooms’ for expressing – I have to book slots. I move around a lot, so I have to book rooms in different buildings and around key meetings.
“The biggest challenges are conferences or events when people don’t send an agenda so I don’t know when I can sneak out. And when things over-run I just have to leave!” Natalie, mum of one, US.
“No one begrudged my pumping breaks”
“In the first few months, I would breastfeed my son at home in the morning and be at work at 10:00; pump once or twice at work; pick him up from creche around 17:30, breastfeed him there; take him home, freeze the pumped milk, and breastfeed him again before bed.
“You need to make your pumping plan clear to your employer and colleagues early on so they can respect that. No one begrudged my pumping breaks – in fact quite the opposite. It helped that there were other parents in my department, including two new mums who also pumped. It makes a huge difference having people around you who you can share experiences with.” Jess, mum of one, Argentina.
- Prime DK et al. Simultaneous breast expression in breastfeeding women is more efficacious than sequential breast expression. Breastfeed Med. 2012;7(6):442-447.
- Eglash A, Simon L. ABM Clinical Protocol #8: Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants, Revised 2017. Breastfeed Med 2017; 12(7):390–395.
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America. 2011 Best practice for expressing, storing and handling human milk in hospitals, homes, and child care settings. Fort Worth: HMBANA; 2011.