Pumping at work can be challenging.
There are so many things you have to navigate like carrying all of your supplies with you, finding a decent place to pump, privacy, being able to actually relax enough to produce milk, breast milk storage at work and so many other issues.
It’s a challenge, but it can be done.
Moms have been pumping at work for years and with a good guide, you can do it, too!
When I was breastfeeding, these kinds of resources weren’t as readily available, so I’m happy to share all of the helpful information I’ve found with any mama who wants to be successful pumping at work.
In this guide you’ll get answers to your questions like:
What are your rights?
Do you have to pump in the bathroom?
What’s the best way to store milk you pump at work?
What about privacy when pumping?
And tons more!
Pin this guide for future reference because it’s pretty comprehensive and you’re going to want to reference it again and again.
What are the laws for pumping at work?
Nursing mothers who want to pump at work have the right to reasonable accommodations from their employer including:
- Reasonable break time to express milk for a child up to one year after birth each time she has the need.
- A shielded area that is not a bathroom and is free from intrusions.
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There are some exceptions to these rules, but first let’s discuss them further.
What is a reasonable break time/How long is a pumping break?
“The frequency of breaks needed to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary.”United States Department of Labor
Most mothers can pump in 20 minutes. Use this as a baseline and add time for travel to and from your pumping area, washing your hands, cleaning and putting away your pumping gear and storing your breast milk.
In total, taking a 30-minute pumping break should allow adequate time for most mothers. However, some will need more time and some less. Listen to your body and adjust the time accordingly so your milk supply doesn’t go down.
How often do I need to pump at work?
Ameda states that a good way to determine pumping frequency is to divide the number of hours you’ll be away from your baby by three.
This will show you how many times to pump if you are pumping every three hours. If your milk supply is well-established, you may be able to pump less often but try not to pump less than every five hours to maintain a good milk supply.
Where can I pump at work/Do I have to pump in the bathroom?
You do not have to pump in the bathroom at work.
Federal law states that an employer must provide an area that is not a bathroom and is shielded from public and employee view.
Every employer won’t have a comfy rocking chair with cushions and soft music for relaxation, but the area should be one that allows you adequate space to pump. This may be an extra storage room, a vacant office or a lounge.
As long as the space is available when you need it and is private, it is within federal requirements.
Do I have to pump during my lunch break?
Employers do not have to compensate you for pumping breaks, but if you choose to use an otherwise paid break period for pumping, then you can get paid for pumping during that time.
This means if your lunch breaks are usually paid and you want to use them for pumping then you will be able to get paid as usual for that time. If they are not normally paid breaks, then using that time does not mean you will get paid.
Do all employers have to provide pumping space and time for pumping mothers?
Unfortunately, employers with fewer than 50 employees that can demonstrate that complying with FLSA law would create an “undue hardship” are exempt.
If your employer is exempt from federal breastfeeding law there may be state laws they have to comply with.
Some states have created additional laws protecting a nursing mother’s rights at work, however no state can create laws that limit the federal protection that breastfeeding mothers have.
To put it plainly, the federal law for pumping at work is the minimum for eligible employers. Each state can add its own protections and requirements for nursing moms and employers, but no state law can reduce its protection for you.
Find your state laws here.
How to talk to your employer about pumping at work
Once you know that you’ll need to start pumping at work, talking to your employer beforehand can make the transition a lot smoother.
Many employers who haven’t had nursing mothers before may be unaware of laws affecting pumping at work. Give them a brief summary of the law and ask about accommodations they’ll be able to provide.
If your employer is exempt from both federal and state law, offer them some good reasons why they should allow pumping at work and why it could be beneficial to them.
Here are some benefits for employers:
If possible, there are a few things you may want to request that could make your pumping time the most efficient for you and your employer.
Ask for a small table to hold your supplies, an area close to a sink for washing your hands and cleaning your pump parts, and a mini refrigerator close by for storing your breast milk.
Your employer isn’t required to supply these additional resources, but you can explain that having these things close by will cut down on time away from your work.
Pumping at work sign
Even with the laws in place to protect your space while pumping, it is still a good idea to have a pumping sign to let others know that you do not want to be disturbed during this time.
Download our handy pumping signs and hang them on the door to alert others not to come in so you can relax and pump in peace.
What kind of pump do I need?
Now that you’re familiar with your rights for pumping at work and how you can talk to your employer to make the transition to work smoother, it’s time gather your supplies.
The first thing you’ll need is a good pump.
To make sure you are using your pumping breaks efficiently, having a good breast pump is essential.
Here are the different breast pumps to choose from:
A manual breast pump requires you to use your hand to control the pumping and release action of the pump.
Pros: Inexpensive, yet effective way to pump breast milk.
Cons: Takes a lot longer to pump milk and doesn’t leave your hands free to do other tasks while pumping.
Single electric pump
Single electric breast pumps include one pump and use a power cord or battery to power the pumping action.
Pros: Takes less time to pump than a manual pump and can often be adjusted to different suction levels for faster and more comfortable pumping.
Cons: Can be expensive.
Double electric pump
Double electric pumps use two electrically powered pumps to express milk from both breasts at the same time.
Pros: The ability to pump both breasts at the same time means getting done in half the time.
Cons: Usually the most expensive options for breast pumps.
Hand expressing is when you use your hands to massage and push milk from your breasts.
Pros: It’s free to hand express breast milk and it can be helpful in emergency situations when your baby isn’t around and you don’t have a pump but need to relieve your breasts.
Cons: Slowest method of expressing breast milk and takes some practice to be able to perform correctly.
As you can see, there are many methods available for pumping breast milk at work ranging from completely free options to more pricey options.
I recommend getting a double breast pump if you are able because it will allow you to pump the fastest by pumping both breasts at the same time, optimizing how much milk you can get from each pumping session.
What other supplies do I need to pump at work?
You’ll have to carry a few supplies between work and home each day.
Keep a bag designated as your “pumping bag” and make a habit of emptying and cleaning its contents and refilling each time you get home so you never forget any important supplies.
Watch the video for an example of what to pack:
Supplies to pack for pumping at work:
- A bag large enough for your breast pump. Many pumps come with their own bag to carry them in but you may want to have an even larger bag that your pumping bag will fit in along with all the other supplies. It will cut down on the amount of bags you have carry.
- Breast pump and parts
- Insulated bag to carry breast milk home
- Ice packs to keep your milk cool during transport
- Hands-free pumping bra (tip: make sure your flange disconnects from the base in order to use this type of bra)
- Extra nursing pads
- Extra shirt in case of spills or leaks
- Nipple cream to apply right after pumping
- Bottles to pump into
- Storage bags or containers to pour milk in and store in the refrigerator
- Labels and a marker to label your breast milk. This is especially useful if you are using a shared employee refrigerator with your coworkers.
- Extra batteries in case the outlet isn’t close enough, isn’t working, or there isn’t one.
- Hand sanitizer for when you don’t have access to a sink.
- Nursing cover if it will help you feel more relaxed in case someone comes in the room unexpectedly.
- Breastfeeding and pumping will make you hungry and thirsty. Always be prepared with something to munch on and a drink to stay hydrated.
- Optional: Keep extra pump parts with you to pump multiple times in the same day. This way you won’t have to wash your pump each time you use it and you’ll have extra pieces in case something gets lost or broken.
Carrying pumping supplies to work
As I mentioned before, many breast pumps come with their on carrying case but you may want to invest in a bigger bag so you can carry all your supplies together.
Based on the list of supplies above, having a large, comfortable bag will be essential. There are several types of bags to choose from.
Having a backpack bag will help to keep your hands free and make traveling back and forth a little easier.
Keep in mind that it may be harder to find a backpack large enough to carry all the supplies you need so you may end up having to carry your lunch bag separately.
This is more of a traditional type of “baby bag” that sits on your shoulder.
Cross body bag
Read more about the Sarah Wells breast pump bag on Amazon.
A rolling suitcase may be good option for you depending on the kind of job you’ll be returning to.
If you only have one or two notebooks to carry in addition to your pumping equipment, then this kind of bag might not make sense.
But if you have a lot of office work or other tools/supplies to carry back and forth with you every day in addition to your pumping gear, a rolling bag could save your back and shoulders a lot of strain.
How should I dress to pump at work?
Dressing comfortably but efficiently can help make your time pumping at work a lot easier.
Wear a nursing bra
With a nursing bra you’ll have easy access to your breasts instead of having to remove your whole bra to pump.
Wear a nursing top
Nursing tops come in a variety of styles.
Choose a nursing tank top that snaps open in the front just like a nursing bra or this one that has a front flap that lifts to allow easy access to your breasts (so clever!).
For a more dressy or corporate feel, try a button-up top that can be easily undone at the top to allow easy access while keeping you looking polished for work.
Wear nursing pads
These are a must! Wear your nursing pads at work so any leaking milk won’t drip through your shirt. Keep a few extra pair in your pumping bag for backups in case of emergency.
How to pump at work
Follow the guidelines above and you should be able to pump at work without fear of someone walking in on you.
Every work place will look different, but once you’ve done it a few times, it should become a lot easier.
Watch the videos below of how these moms make pumping at work a success.
Pumping at work schedule
Moms who work a typical work day from 9am to 5pm will probably want to pump 2-3 times in that time frame.
Here’s a sample pumping at work schedule:
Of course this is just a sample schedule. If you work more hours or if you work less hours, you might have to add or subtract a pumping session to your work day.
Your pumping schedule will need to be tailored to your work schedule.
How do I store breast milk at work?
This can be tricky because federal laws do not mandate employers have to provide storage for pumped breast milk.
There are several things you can do.
Use an insulated bag
Many moms do this with no problem.
Purchase an insulated bag to keep your breast milk in and then place it in the refrigerator once you’re done pumping.
Use a mini-refrigerator
Ask your employer if they’d be willing to provide a mini-refrigerator close to your pumping space to store your milk. If they are unable to, ask if you can bring one to leave at work to store your milk.
Use the office refrigerator
Although not ideal, this can be a viable option. If you need to use the community refrigerator at work, be sure to wrap your milk and supplies up and keep them separate from all the other lunch bags and food.
Label them so no one accidentally grabs your bag.
Use your breast milk storage bags and label them with the date. Put them in your insulated bag and keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to leave for the day to keep your milk as fresh as possible.
How do I clean my breast pump at work?
There are several ways to approach cleaning your breast pump at work.
Carry extra parts
Instead of using your time to clean your breast pump parts, carry extra pieces that you can use the second and third times you pump.
Keep the dirty parts separate from the clean parts and just wash them all when you get home.
Medela makes breast pump cleaning wipes specifically for this purpose. It will save you time and keep your pump sanitary for the next use if you don’t have a sink nearby.
Store your pump parts in the refrigerator
This method follows the thinking that if breast milk is kept fresh in the refrigerator, then the parts of your breast pump that have come into contact with breast milk should be okay as well as long as they’re kept in the refrigerator between pumping sessions and taken home to be properly cleaned each day.
Wash with soap and water
If you are lucky enough to have a sink close by your pumping station, you can wash your pump parts in soapy water so they’ll be ready for the next session.
Can I pump while traveling for work?
Yes! You can pump breast milk even while you are traveling and away from your baby.
Pumping while traveling for work requires a few extra steps, but it’s definitely worth it if you want to keep your milk supply up while away.
There are three approaches to pumping while traveling: pump and dump, pump and carry, and pump and ship.
Pump and dump
Some moms choose to use the pump and dump method while traveling as a way to keep their milk supply from drying up while they are away from their baby for a few days.
In this case, all you need is a good pump. I recommend an electric pump so you can empty your breasts as much as possible during each pumping session.
Try to stick with a consistent schedule like every 2-3 hours to pump. The goal is to keep your body producing as much milk as possible until you can get back to your baby.
Pump and carry
Moms who wish to save their milk might choose to pump and carry it with them while away.
For this method you’ll need a pump, storage bags, an insulated cooler bag, a pen or marker for labeling and access to a freezer.
Pumping and carrying does require pre-planning. You need to call ahead to your destination and make sure there will be a freezer available for you to store your breast milk.
Also keep in mind that there will be some level of screening when flying with any liquids, so make sure you leave in plenty of time to get through security at the airport.
Pump and ship
It is now possible to ship your breast milk home if you will be away from your baby for an extended time with the help of companies like Milk Stork.
For pumping and shipping your milk home, make sure you have your pump, storage bags, a cooler bag and shipping supplies.
Here’s how it works…
Milk Stork will have your package waiting for you at your destination (usually your hotel).
Each time you pump, store your milk in the included breast milk storage bags.
Once you’re ready, pack your breast milk in the Milk Stork cooler and activate it to keep your breast milk refrigerated during shipping.
You’ll be notified when your milk arrives home for your baby!
It’s really quite genius how this company works and although I didn’t have to travel for work while I was still breastfeeding, this would have come in really handy for traveling other places during that time.
You can find out more information about Milk Stork on their website.
Challenging professions for pumping at work
While it is the law for employers to provide pumping space and time for a nursing mother if they fit the qualifications, it is still harder to do in some jobs than others.
Teachers may find it especially difficult to get time away from their classrooms in order to pump throughout the day.
If you are a teacher and you need to pump at work, talk to other teachers who have been through the process and ask for advice on how to make it work.
Watch the video below (starting at the 9:25 mark) to get some ideas from a teacher who has done it successfully.
Waitressing is another job where it may be difficult to find time and space to fit in pumping sessions.
Nichole from Mama.mindmuze gives her first-hand experience of pumping at work as a waitress and some helpful tips to make it as efficient as possible.
Read Nichole’s story here.
Tips for pumping at work successfully
1. Know your pump
Use your pump and get familiar with it before returning to work so you don’t have to waste time figuring it out during your breaks.
2. Communicate with your employer
You may feel uncomfortable discussing your pumping needs with your boss, but communicating beforehand will allow them to have things in place for you and make your transition a lot easier.
3. Be prepared
Pack your pumping bag each night before work. That way you’ll have time to check and double check that you have all the supplies you need.
Keep a checklist handy so you won’t forget anything.
4. Have a backup plan
You never know when something could go wrong and you want to be prepared just in case.
Double electric pumps work best for pumping at work but having a small manual pump in your bag as a backup can save the day if you drop your electric pump or it isn’t working for some reason.
It’s an inexpensive option that will be super helpful in a pinch.
You’ve got this!
Pumping at work is possible and with a bit of planning ahead, you can make it work.
Once you’ve done it a few times it will get easier and you can enjoy continued breastfeeding success.
More pumping and breastfeeding resources
- Power Pumping to Increase Milk Supply
- 45 Ways to Boost Low Milk Supply
- 30 Ways to Relieve Nipple Pain from Breastfeeding and Pumping