Motherhood is a balancing act. Just when you get the hang of caring for a newborn, it may be time to return to work. If you’re a breastfeeding mama, that means you’re going to need to feed your baby or pump breastmilk while on the clock.
Breastfeeding is a win-win-win for you, your baby, and your employer. By supporting lactation at work, employers can reduce turnover, lower their recruitment and training costs, cut rates of absenteeism, boost morale and productivity, and reduce their health care costs. What’s more, companies have a legal obligation to allow employees the time and space to pump breastmilk.
So, pumping at work is good for business and the right thing to do—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
You're not alone if you’re overwhelmed by the thought of figuring it all out. We’ve put together these pumping at work tips to help get you through it.
Know your rights
Most U.S. employees have the right to pump breastmilk at work, thanks to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the more recent Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) passed in December 2022. More specifically, nursing mothers are allowed to take reasonable time to pump in a clean, private space (not a bathroom!) for up to one year after giving birth. Some states may provide even further protections; look up your state laws here.
Your right to pump at work applies whether you are hourly or salaried, whether you do your job in a physical workplace or from home. Your employer cannot deny you these breaks and accommodations, and they can’t punish or fire you for taking time to pump.
There may be eligibility exceptions if your company employs fewer than 50 people and accommodating a nursing mother would cause undue hardship, but such cases are pretty rare.
Make a plan
Like most things in life, you shouldn’t have to go this alone. In fact, your boss and HR department can be your allies in deciding how best to pump at work. Communicate your breastfeeding plans and work with them to document where, when, and how you’ll pump. We have even more tips for speaking with your manager.
Reserve the time
Plan for two to three pumping sessions per eight-hour workday or shift. Your pumping schedule should match your baby’s typical nursing times so your body gets the necessary signals to continue producing milk. For example, you may nurse your baby before heading into the office, then plan to pump at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. This would leave you ready to feed your little one again at their bedtime.
Most pumping mamas can drain their breasts in 15 to 20 minutes with a double electric pump. Allow yourself at least 30 minutes per pumping session (more if you need to account for travel time to your designated pumping area) so you have time to set up, clean up, and store the pumped milk. Don’t rush it!
Once you settle on a schedule, work it into your daily routine like any other meeting or obligation. If your company has a shared calendar system, block off the time so your colleagues can’t double-book you. Call the recurring appointment “Personal,” “Reserved,” or “Pumping”—whatever you’re comfortable with and suits the company vibe. A predictable pumping at work schedule is best for you AND helps your coworkers understand what to expect.
Choose your space
Again, your employer must provide you with pumping space that is both clean and away from others’ view. It cannot be a bathroom, even a private one, because of the unsanitary conditions. Breastmilk is food for your baby!
In a perfect world, your workplace already has a dedicated lactation room. Or, if you’re lucky to have your own private office, you can simply close the door and lower the blinds. A “privacy, please” sign can help prevent interruptions.
If your company does not have a lactation room, find an office, conference room, or private spot where you can shut—and preferably lock—the door. Ideally, this space has a comfortable chair, table, and electrical outlet. (Although a power source is less of an issue if you use our convenient Wearable Pump!) Even better if your pumping station is near a kitchen where you can wash parts and store the expressed milk afterward.
If you work remotely or from home, remember you have the same rights as you would in person. You must be allowed to take breaks to pump or to breastfeed your baby if they are being cared for in your house or nearby. Schedule these sessions just as you would at your workplace. You cannot be expected to work or take part in phone or video calls during this time.
If possible, try to pump in a location different from your workspace. It’s nice to keep some separation, and you may prefer to associate nursing or pumping with a cozier spot.
If you travel for work, the same rules apply, but you may need to be even more resourceful. Find lactation rooms throughout your journey, from airports to convention centers to client offices. Get more tips for traveling for work while breastfeeding.
Communicate your intentions
You don’t need coworkers all up in your business, but a little communication can go a long way in supporting your pumping journey. Let people know upfront that you’ll be unavailable at scheduled times, and if you feel comfortable it can help to explain why. You could also ask your manager, HR representative, or even a trusted colleague to share this info on your behalf.
You’ll also help normalize breastfeeding, which is a great thing!
Been exclusively breastfeeding? You want to practice pumping before you return to work—ideally, two to four weeks in advance. This way you can get used to expressing milk with your pump and your baby can learn how to drink from a bottle.
Pack your bag
Your favorite work purse may be the cutest, but it might not be able to corral all the items you’ll need for pumping. Get a diaper bag or large tote and bring the following with you each day:
- Your breast pump with all its parts
- Extra batteries as back-up
- Bottles and/or breastmilk storage bags
- Pumping bra (Pro tip: both our Wearable Pump and DiscreetDuo™ Wearable Pump can be used with a normal bra!)
- Nursing pads in case of leaks
- Extra set of clothes, or at least a sweater or blazer—again, in case of leaks or spills
- Big water bottle, so you can stay hydrated throughout the day
- Wholesome snacks like fruits, veggies, and whole grain crackers
- Insulated bag with ice packs for taking your liquid gold home
- Labels—this is especially important if you’re not the only pumping mama around
Feel like you’re forgetting something? Check out our Back to Work Checklist.
Set the scene
You may need a little inspiration when it’s finally time to sit down to pump. Looking at one of the many baby photos and videos on your phone may help with your let-down. You can use your pumping time to relax, listen to music, or eat lunch.
You can also check your email and review documents, but only if you want to. You’re not required to multitask during your pumping breaks, but catching up on work may help you feel less stressed. Just know that how you choose to spend the time may affect whether you are compensated for the break time (depending on your role and where you live).
We’ve all had workdays that went sideways, leaving you with no time to eat, much less pump breastmilk. Avoid skipping pumping sessions, though, as this tells your body to produce less milk. Plus, going too long without feeding or pumping can lead to leaks and uncomfortable engorgement.
If you only have a few minutes to pump, go for it. You’ll still be stimulating your breasts, and something is better than nothing. However, drained breasts will replenish more milk so pump until empty whenever possible.
Clean your pump parts
Chances are you’re going to pump at work twice a day, maybe more. Wash the pump parts with soap in a dedicated basin and air-dry them between uses. Bonus points if you have access to a dishwasher!
Another option is to invest in an extra set of bottles and pump parts. That way, you can rinse them on the spot and wait until you get home to properly clean them—a major time saver.
Store and transport
Once you’ve finished pumping, you’ll want to refrigerate the breastmilk at work until it’s time to clock out. (Yes, pumped milk can last four hours at room temperature, but this way you’ll have some extra peace of mind in case you get delayed.) Place the storage bottles or bags in the fridge or a personal cooler lined with ice packs. The same cooler can carry them during your commute home.
Your milk can stay in the fridge if you plan to use it within the next few days. Otherwise, into the freezer it goes (don’t forget to date it!). Learn more about safely storing breastmilk.
Making It Work
You’ve got this, mama! Like everything else you’ve encountered throughout pregnancy and new motherhood, learning to pump at work will take time, practice, and patience. Soon you’ll settle into a rhythm and proudly earn the badge of “working and breastfeeding mom.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need along the way. We’re here to support you—and chances are your work family is, too.
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