How to Pump at Work: The Complete Guide

Everything you need to know and step by step instructions on how to successfully pump at work.

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

As you near the end of your maternity leave, you will face the next hurdle of early motherhood for working moms: how to pump at work.  Pumping at work is a whole different ballgame than pumping at home in your pajamas.  Being as prepared as possible is imperative in setting yourself up for success with pumping at work. If you have not pumped much on maternity leave, now is the time to become familiar with how your pump works.  Check out our article on The Complete Guide on How To Pump Breast Milk if you do not yet feel comfortable navigating your breast pump.

There are three main things you will need to think through when determining how to pump at work: where, when, how.  Read on to see exactly what you need to know to pump at work smoothly and successfully.

Determine where you will pump at work

Before you go back to work, make contact with your manager or Human Resources department to arrange a place for you to pump.  By law, your employer must provide space for you to use your breast pump at work that is not a bathroom.  If you have a private office with a door you can close, then you are good to go.  If you do not and you work for a large organization, ask your manager or HR if there is a Mother’s Room or Lactation Room that you can utilize.  Determine what times you will need to pump, and ask to be placed on the schedule for the Lactation Room at those set times or as close to those times as possible.

Related article: How to Determine Your Pump Schedule for Work

If your company does not have a dedicated Mother’s Room or Lactation Room, proactively think of spaces that you could potentially use to pump at work. This can include places such as:

  • Empty office or classroom
  • Private cubicle
  • Conference room that could be blocked off during your pump times
  • Exam room
  • Large, reasonably sized closet space that has an outlet (or can potentially have an outlet added), small table, chair, and a light
  • Manager or coworker’s office (without them in it, obviously)
  • Locker room space that can be carved out specifically for you

Give your manager or HR department as much notice as possible so that they can make accommodations for you.  Do not be afraid to speak up as your right to pump at work is protected by law for your baby’s first year of life.  If your company has never dealt with a breast pumping mom before, you will be paving the way for pumping moms who come after you. You will also make it easier for yourself next time you pump if you plan to have more kids.  Remember: not all heroes wear capes.

One final tip: if your employer provides you with a space that does not have a lock, pick up a small door stopper that you can place against the door to “lock” it while you pump.

Determine when you will pump at work

If you have flexibility in your schedule and can chose when to pump, try to pump at the same time your baby would normally eat.  More than likely this will be every 2-3 hours.  Do not exceed 4 hours.  Waiting longer than 4 hours to pump when your baby is very young (3-6 months) can negatively impact the amount of milk your body produces. 

If you do not have flexibility in your schedule and cannot pump when your baby would normally eat, do not stress.  You will need to live by the rule of pumping as often as your schedule allows, aiming for three times during an 8-hour work day.  Even if that means you need to go 4 hours before your first pump, and then squeeze in two more pump sessions in the following 3 hours, then do it.  Your breasts like consistency, and will adjust and respond to your schedule.

You may also find it helpful to pump in your car on your way to or from work, or during your lunch break.  If you plan to pump in your car, make sure to pick up a car adapter for your pump. For more information on determining when you should pump at work, how often to pump at work, and how much milk your baby actually needs, take a look at our article on How to Determine Your Pump Schedule for Work.

Related article: Pump in the Car Safely and Discretely

Determine how you will store pump parts and milk

Knowing where and when you will pump solves half of the pump at work puzzle.  The other half involves how you store your pump parts after you have used them, and where you will store your milk.  There are two options for what to do with your pump parts in between each pump session.

  1. Clean parts in between every use.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning pump parts after each use.  Keep in mind the CDC takes the most conservative stance on every health issue since it is a government organization.  These specific guidelines came about after a preterm infant passed away in the NICU from exposure to bacteria that was traced back to the mom’s kitchen sink and pump parts.  It was an extremely isolated, yet fatal case.  If you wish to follow these guidelines while you pump at work, you will need to purchase a few additional products to help you clean them quickly and effectively.  If you have access to a sink, you will need:
    • On the-go drying rack – this is the perfect compact size that you can tote to the sink, wash your parts, and place them on to air dry until you need them again
    • If you do not have access to a sink, but want to clean off your pump parts between each use there are a few no-rinse, no-water solutions available on the market:
      • Breast pump cleansing wipes – As easy as it sounds.  All you have to do is wipe down your parts with a handy wipe.  You can do this from the comfort of your office or lactation room.  The only negative is the costs of the wipes.  It will cost you around $0.32 per wipe per pump session.
      • Breast pump sanitizer spray – This is similar to the wipes, but in spray form.  The helpful thing about this spray is that it does not require rinsing.  You can also use this on the surface that you pump on or near.  This would be a great option if the area you pump is not the cleanest.
  2. Place your used unwashed pump parts in a wet bag after you finish pumping, and place the wet bag in your work refrigerator.
    Wash your pump parts at home at the end of the day.  This means that you will not clean or wipe off your pump parts in between each use.  Your pump parts may have milk residue on them, but they should be fine, unwashed, in the refrigerator for an 8 or 10-hour workday.  Breast milk has antibacterial properties (see here and here).  Just like the milk you pumped into a bottle is not going to spoil in the refrigerator while you are at work, the milk on your pump parts will not spoil in the refrigerator while you are at work.  Many, many moms employ this method.  It is the simplest and most affordable.  Two hand praise for something that’s affordable on this pumping at work journey!
  3. Buy an extra set (or two) of pump parts so you can pull out a new set of parts each time you pump. This will be the ideal situation if you do not have a refrigerator to store your pump parts, no place to air dry your pump parts in between pumping sessions, or if your work environment is such that there is no sanitary area to clean your pump parts. There are several off brand options for less expensive parts that work just as well as name brand. We recommend one of these options for your spare set of accessories: Spectra parts or Medela parts.

Tip: Some moms employ method #2 above using a wet bag, but also purchase additional sets of pump parts that they alternate with every other work day. They do this to reduce the amount of time it takes to wash and air dry parts at night. They take one set to work, hand wash and air dry at night OR place in the dishwasher, pack the new clean set for the next day while the other dries or is in the dishwasher, and then repeat it all the next day. Packing everything you need the night before will greatly reduce the stress you experience on work mornings.

To help you figure out the exact steps you will take when you pump at work, and to help you figure out which process you would like to employ in how to store your pump parts, here is a picture breakdown of each step of the pumping process.

1. Breast pump set-up at work:

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

2. Pump at work:

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

3. Combine breast milk into one bottle, and attach new bottle to used flange.

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

4. Place pumped milk in cooler (or bottle bag):

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

5. Place both flanges and bottles into wet bag

OR you can clean with soap and water OR get out new set of pump parts. (NOT ALL THREE!) For this example, we chose to store pump parts in a wet bag.

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

6. Place cooler and wet bag in work refrigerator.

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

Rinse and repeat!

Related article: How to Store Breast Milk After Pumping

If you received your breast pump from your insurance company, it likely only came with two pump bottles.  You will need more bottles and a small cooler to store your pumped breast milk.  Depending on what type of pump you have, we recommend:

  • Kiinde System + Kiinde Cooler Bag – This system allows you to pump directly into milk storage bags, regardless of what type of pump you have thanks to included adapters, bypassing the need for bottles altogether.

We wish you the best of luck in deciding what process works best for you and your work environment.  Check out our article on How to Store Breast Milk After Pumping for help on determining what to do with your breast milk once you get it home. There is no question that pumping at work is a huge commitment of your time and money.  Remember that this is only a season and will pass sooner than you realize.  You may be away from your baby while at work, but you are still providing him or her with extremely beneficial nutrients and wholesome goodness.  You’ve got this, mama!

A step by step guide (with pictures!) on how to pump at work. All the instructions you will need on how to pump breast milk at work! Filled with pump at work tips. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

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