Modern Mothering: 8 Things to Know About Pumping at Work

More women are working, more women are breastfeeding, and more employers are finding ways to support moms at work. Still, working and pumping can be a real challenge.Several times a day, I sit topless in my office while hooked up to a suction machine that includes a pump, tubing, bottles, flanges, and a hands-free bra contraption that allows me to continue checking email while I express breastmilk for my baby. Of all the weird new things that motherhood brings—the detailed conversations about diaper contents, the epic shifts in sleep, a tendency to wave “bye, bye” to other adults—pumping at work ranks right up at the top.

Of course, not everyone can or wants to breastfeed, and all moms deserve support however they feed their babies. That said, compared to 20 years ago, more American women are opting to breastfeed their infants, and more are working outside of the home—in fact, women with children are the fastest-growing segment of the work force, according to womenshealth.gov. Some mothers are able to breastfeed during their workdays, but many of us—52 percent according to a study in Pediatrics—pump and store breast milk. And that can come with challenges, from finding a place to do it to mastering the device itself.

But trust me when I say that with a few tips and a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it.  And if you need more help, the La Leche League can hook you up with local classes, support groups, or lactation consultants for breastfeeding mothers who work. Here Meg Stalnaker, an independent Board Certified Lactation Consultant based in Portland, Oregon, shares her tools for success:

1) Know that the laws are with you.

In March 2010, the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated that employers provide “reasonable break time” for nursing mothers and private, non-bathroom areas to express breast milk during the workday.  It also required that all health insurance cover the cost of a breast pump.

2) Be your own advocate.

With the law being relatively new, not all employers are up to speed, so you may have to help them along. Make sure your employer knows your rights and their responsibilities. This section of womenhealth.gov can help you get the conversation with your HR department started.

3) Master the pump.

Before you return to the office, practice using the equipment!  The machine isn’t exactly intuitive, so you might want to enlist a friend who’s already done it, or a lactation consultant to explain how to put the parts together, how high to turn it up, and answer any other technical questions. Breast pumps have a lot of little parts that must be clean and in working order. Make a checklist for the pump bag so that you can quickly confirm that you have everything you need (like extra batteries if you don’t have access to an outlet) before you leave for work. Whether he is packing your bag in the morning, or washing pump parts in the evening, get your partner in on the action, “Breastfeeding is a whole-family affair,” says Stalnaker.

4) Communicate with your child’s care provider.

Whoever you entrust with your child, make sure they know how to handle expressed breast milk. At KinderCare Learning Centers, bottles are clearly labeled with a child’s first and last name, the date, and the contents (breast milk, formula, etc.), and they are kept temperature-controlled. KinderCare teachers follow careful warming guidelines and are trained to gently swirl and never to shake bottles of breast milk. (Shaking can degrade nutritional components.) Moms are also welcome to breastfeed onsite during the day if they are able.

5) Schedule your time.

“Your pumping pattern should mimic your nursing pattern on non-work days,” says Stalnaker. Sticking to the same eating and feeding cycle on days when you’re away from your baby will help keep your milk supply up. If you put pumping in your calendar as a standing appointment, work commitments will be less likely to interfere.

6) Chill out.

While your office probably isn’t the first place you think of when you want to unwind, relaxation helps produce more milk. Try not to work on your smart phone while you pump; instead, look at videos or photos of your baby, listen to music, and eat a good snack.

7) Use the buddy system.

According to Stalnaker, being around other lactating women can help our bodies to produce more breastmilk. If there are other women pumping in your office, try to sync up your break schedules. Pack a big scarf for added privacy if desired, and spend the time chatting about your beautiful babies.

8) Don’t forget to button your shirt!

I had a fellow-pumper friend at work who posted a note right at eye-level on her office doorframe. It simply said “shirt”—a tasteful little reminder to button-up before the next meeting.

Good luck and great job, Mamas!

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