Working Moms: Pumping at Work 101
By: Amy VanHaren – Founder & CEO of pumpspotting
Pumping at work can be one of the greatest challenges of returning to work after maternity leave for feeding moms. Women who are breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or pumping, on average, spend 20-30 hours doing so every week, and according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, half of the women feel they need to make a choice between working and breastfeeding or pumping.
I feel this deeply because I’ve been there. As a working, traveling mom of two kids I found myself on regular cross-country flights while also needing to keep up with pumping. This meant that I pumped in Ubers, on airport floors, and even once between two businessmen on a flight. (To be honest, I’m very comfortable talking to almost anyone about breastfeeding now, so that may have been a turning point!) I drove to warehouses to buy dry ice so I could ship my pumped milk home for my baby. I did all this while waking up at night multiple times too–you guessed it–pump.
So if anyone was going to create a better way to support feeding parents at work, it was going to be me. Shortly after I founded pumpspotting, I wanted to gather breastfeeding parents so I turned a 40-foot RV into a beautiful nursing and pumping oasis, affectionately named it Barb the Breast Express, and drove cross-country talking to 5,000 parents about what they needed to make breastfeeding easier for them. And the number one need from parents was support while working.
On paper, supporting feeding parents is a no-brainer: breastfeeding saves families $875 a year, and for every $1 a company invests in breastfeeding accommodations, they see $6 in ROI. And yet, of course, not everyone has Barb-style lactation room accommodations at work (yet, we’re on a mission!).
So whether you’re a seasoned veteran who knows there’s always room for improvement, or a first-time parent coming off maternity leave, these are my very best tips for pumping at work.
Navigating pumping while working, whether in the office or at home, is all about logistics. Block off the time in your calendar at the times you usually feed your baby and try your best to stick to that schedule. It’s easy to miss sessions and that can have an impact on your supply, so put those times in a bold color and aim to be consistent. Keep in mind you may need a few minutes on either side of each pump to get to and from the pump room or wash parts.
Get an extra set of parts and plenty of bottles so you’re not constantly rinsing between pumps (clean everything once when you’re home at night). Make sure to have plenty of storage bags, ice packs if you need them, and a small cooler to transport your milk home. Investing in the extra accessories to make pumping and transporting easier will go miles towards making it a smoother experience. Having a hand pump on hand is also a great idea for needing to pump (without power) in a pinch.
Pack your pump bag the night before and make sure your water bottle is filled and snacks are ready.
Make the Time Enjoyable
Staring at a blank wall with two tubes attached to your body is hardly a productive use of one of the only breaks you’ll likely get all day. We get it: pumping can majorly impact your workflow during the day or take away time you might spend at lunch or chatting with coworkers. So finding something enjoyable to do while you pump goes a long way. Read, listen to a podcast, chat with a friend or stare at cute pics of your baby on your phone while you pump to make the time feel like a break and not a burden.
Make the Mothering Room More Comfortable
Hopefully, your employer sees eye to eye on the benefits of accommodating pumping mamas, and will share your enthusiasm for sprucing up the mothering room. There are a few simple things you can do to make the space more comfortable. Think of it as a lounge instead of an office, and pick comfy chairs or calming paint colors for the wall. Add a colorful fridge and stock it with water or snacks to surprise and delight the pumping moms who need a break from their day. Leave sticky notes with words of encouragement for other mothers if the space is shared. Even simply adding a basket or bin for each mom to store her things will go a long way!
Dress for the Occasion
You’ve got to look professional for work – but frequent pumping breaks will only be more frustrating if what you wear hinders getting down to business. Wear comfortable clothing or breastfeeding-specific shirts, and avoid anything that zips up the back or that dress that will require you to strip completely naked just to pump. The right bra – even one that facilitates hands-free pumping – is also key, as is protective gear like breast pads or a towel in your bag for any spills or leaks. Pro tip: Keep an extra shirt in your bag just in case of unexpected leaking!
I created the pumpspotting app to ensure that feeding parents never feel alone. Companies can create closed communities on pumpspotting to provide specialized resources and elevated breastfeeding accommodations, or individual parents can tap into their own community for support, encouragement, and advice. Either way, it’s important to get support when you need it – and that’s precisely what our mission is at pumpspotting.
Amy VanHaren is the founder and CEO of pumpspotting, a breastfeeding platform making it easier for parents to feed and companies to offer breastfeeding support. She is an entrepreneur, mother, writer, speaker, and two-time breastfeeder who has built communities and led creative digital storytelling and marketing for over 20 years. She experienced deep isolation while trying to navigate working and breastfeeding and saw a better way to unite and empower all the nursing and pumping parents of the world – so she went on to create pumpspotting. Amy has been named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur and awarded as a high-impact startup by MassChallenge.