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All About Pumping At Work

Today was my second day back at work. I will have to write a post later on how I feel about going back to work but in the meantime, I wanted to write about pumping at work. I only have a couple days under my belt but I thought I would share my experience so far.

First of all, here is my list of supplies:

Medela Pump in Style Pump

Dr. Brown’s 8 oz bottles (3 packs)

Dr. Brown’s bottle lids (2 packs)

Medela Quick Clean Wipes

J.L. Childress MaxiCOOL Bottle Cooler

Pumping bra

Small towel or bib

Old hoodie

Gym bag

And here is my advice for each month, assuming you take a 12 week maternity leave. If you have to go back to work before 12 weeks, you can adjust according to your needs. 

Month 1

When Eliza was about 3 weeks old, I tried the pump for the first time.* I only produced about 2 ounces and was panicked. I immediately thought, “how am I supposed to pump at work if I can’t produce enough milk???!!!” My friend told me to CHILL OUT. Just practice pumping and the milk will come. Looking back, I realize I was being a total spaz and she was completely right. So, my advice is to just use the first month or so as practice and not worry about pumping full bottles of milk. If you can squeeze out a couple bottles over the course of a week then great, you now have enough for a night off. To that end, I will also add not to worry about stockpiling a million ounces in your freezer. Use the milk you pump to give yourself a break in the first couple months. 

*Note that most doctors say you shouldn’t try the pump until your breastfeeding relationship is well-established. That may take 2 weeks or it could take 4 or more. Eliza was great at latching from the start so I never had any feeding issues which is why I was comfortable trying the pump in the first month. Use your judgment. 

Month 2

Continue to practice with the pump. You will find that you will start to produce more milk at each session. A good practice session would be to wake up 30 minutes before baby wakes in the morning and pump a bottle. You will most likely pump 5 ounces or more in the morning if your last feeding was 2.5-3 hours prior. Then give that bottle to the baby when she wakes up. You can supplement with the breast if it isn’t enough. This will 1) give you experience with the pump, and 2) give baby experience with the bottle. 

Say you want to see a movie on a Saturday night and you are lucky enough to have a babysitter but you need 2 bottles of milk. On Thursday and Friday, try giving baby one breast at each feeding and then pump the other breast. Or try giving baby both breasts and pumping from both after you feed her. I found that the first method worked fairly well for me. Often, Eliza would feed from one and take a couple sips from the other, leaving the second breast fairly full still so I could pump out the rest.

The greatest advice I can give is to do the best you can do and take a break when it is offered to you. For example, my sister offered to keep Eliza overnight. My first thought was, “wow, 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep!” but my second thought was, “I only have 2 bottles of milk pumped and she will need at least six bottles.” My husband ran to the store and bought some premixed Similac and I ran upstairs and pumped whatever I could. We ended up mixing the breast milk with the formula to make the six bottles. Guess what happened? We caught up on some much needed sleep and Eliza got to spend some bonding time with her aunt and everyone was happy. 

Month 3

Start to replace at least one breast feeding a day with a bottle feeding. I suggest starting with baby’s bedtime feeding. I gave Eliza 7 ounces of breast milk in a bottle at bedtime and then I pumped the next day’s bottle after I put her down. This allowed me to see how much she was taking in before bed and ensure that she “tanked up” so she slept through the night (more on that in another post). It also got Eliza comfortable with taking a bottle every day. 

Towards the end of the month, I started giving her two or three pumped bottles/day to get us both acclimated to what was about to happen.  

Starting Work

All that prep work has led up to this – pumping at work. In the morning, I pack all my supplies into the gym bag and cart them to work. The pump is heavy and it is a pain but, hey, I need the workout. I have tried lots of bottles and decided on the Dr. Brown’s because they screw into the Medela pump and so I can cap them, put them in the MaxiCOOL cooler, and then transfer them to the refrigerator when I get home. Some people don’t like the Dr. Brown’s because the bottles have several parts to wash but Eliza seems to like them and it doesn’t seem to take much time to wash a couple extra parts. 

I send Eliza to daycare with three 7 oz bottles so I need to pump at least three bottles each day. So far, my schedule is:

6:15 – wake up, pump 3 oz from one breast

7:00 – wake and breastfeed Eliza

10:30 – pump 5-7 oz at work

3:00 – pump 5-7 oz at work

7:00 – breastfeed Eliza

10:00 – pump 5-7 oz

Anything extra I save so I can have a few bottles stocked up for a night out. 

When it comes time to pump at work, I close and LOCK my office door (I made my intern check to make sure my door locked). Note that if you do not have an office, most likely your employer has a “mothers’ room” or “pumping room”. I have to take off my shirt or dress since I don’t wear nursing clothes to work. There is surprisingly very little work appropriate nursing clothes out there. I found a couple nice shirts but most everything is very casual or hideous. I put on the pump bra and the old hoodie (because my office gets cold). Then, I pump for about 10 minutes, cap the bottles, put them in my cooler, get dressed, clean the pump with the quick clean wipes and unlock my door. That is it. 

Overall, I would say that the pumping experience has been fine. The whole process takes about 15 minutes so it is not as disruptive as I thought it would be. I had planned on pumping three times at work: 10:30, 1:30 and 4:30 but I discovered on my first day that pumping three times at work just isn’t practice with my meeting schedule and workload. I was going to use my 10:00 pm pumping session to make extra bottles so Rich can take over a morning or evening feeding but now I have to use that bottle for her daycare. So I decided to use the 6:15 am session to build up extra stock for that purpose. 

If I don’t pump enough at 10:30, 3:00 and 10:00 for three 7 oz bottles, I supplement the bottles with formula to make up the difference. I heard that your supply can decrease when going back to work due to stress. Also, the pump is not as efficient as a baby. Whatever the cause, I usually have to add an ounce of formula to each bottle, which I don’t think is too bad. Like I said, I am saving the milk from my 6:15 am session for emergencies, nights out, etc. 

I might start going to the gym one or two mornings a week. If that happens, my schedule will look like this:

6:15 – wake up, pump bottle for Rich to feed Eliza

7:00 – Rich feeds Eliza from bottle

10:30 – pump 5-7 oz at work

3:00 – pump 5-7 oz at work

7:00 – breastfeed Eliza

10:00 – pump 5-7 oz

It should be no problem for me to pump at least 7 oz at 6:15 am and, I hope, more to add to my stockpile. 

So, that is my process so far. If anyone has any tips, tricks, etc., I am all ears. I hope this overview is helpful for anyone thinking about pumping at work.

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  1. How’s the pumping going now that you’ve been at it for a few weeks? I found that I have to pump three times while at work (9am, Noon and 3pm) to keep my milk supply up (I’ve been back at work full time for a month now). I’ve also added in an early morning pump… Ugh. Keeping up with my little one’s appetite is a serious commitment!! But I am determined. I also have a stockpile in our freezer, like you do, but I’m scared to use it yet, I’ve been hoarding it like a miser… Although your writing about a night-out makes me think I should use a little bit for some mommy time one of these days… ;o)


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