How Often Should I Pump at Work?

Everything you need to know to determine your pump schedule at work.

One of the biggest decisions you will face as a working breastfeeding moms is deciding how often you should pump at work.  There is no getting around the fact that pumping at work will be an inconvenience. Depending on your industry and line of work, it will either be a slight annoyance or a major disruption. Remember that this is only for a season, and like pregnancy, it will be over before you know it. Plus, the benefits you are providing to your baby far outweigh the hassles that accompany pumping at work.

Conventional wisdom is to pump whenever your baby normally eats.   If that works for you and your workplace, go for it.  It is the simplest and easiest way to arrange your day.  However, if your baby is only 12 weeks old and has never been on a schedule or if your work schedule is structured so that it is not a possibility for you to pump at work when your baby would normally eat, then read on.

Related article: The Complete Guide on How to Pump at Work Successfully

 There are several factors to consider when determining how often you should pump at work:

  • What time(s) do you plan on feeding baby in the morning before work?
  • What time do you need to be at work?
  • How long is your commute? Can you pump on your commute?
  • How long of a pump break do you have?
  • How often is baby nursing at home?
  • How much milk do you need for baby’s bottles?
  • What is your breast milk storage capacity?
  • What is your work schedule like?  Are certain times of day easier/harder than others for you to pump?
  • Will you have work coverage, if necessary, during your pump break?
  • Can your pump session coincide with lunch and/or another break?
  • How old is your baby?
  • What time do you leave work?
  • What time will you feed baby after work?

All of these questions will inform when you need to pump at work.  We know they are enough to make your head spin!  If you do not have specific answers to them yet, do not fret.  But do think through them so you can form a rough pump schedule for work prior to going back to the office.  It will make it much easier on you if you have a basic idea of what your day will look like.

How much breast milk do I need to pump at work?

Several research studies done over the years state that breastfed babies need, on average, 25 ounces of milk per day.  Based on that number, we can estimate that a baby needs 1-1.5 ounces of milk per hour each day.  Taking it a step further, if we assume that a baby is able to go 3 hours between feedings (and most can by 3 months) that means a baby will need a 3-3.5 ounce bottle every 3 hours that you are away from him. 

As a quick disclaimer, always check with your pediatrician to see what feeding interval he/she recommends for your baby.  Three to four hours between feedings is the accepted standard for most babies over 3 months of age.  However, every baby is different.  Different babies take in different amounts of milk.  A baby’s intake can range from 19-30 ounces per day, so you may find that your baby takes a bit more or less than 1-1.5 ounces per hour.  You and your pediatrician know your baby best.

Do I give baby more milk or bigger bottles as he gets older?

The 25-ounce average per day remains the same regardless if baby is 2 months old or 11 months old.  That means that the amount of breast milk you need to pump at work will not change as he gets older.  You will continue to offer the same amount of breast milk until he is at least 1 year old.  Keep this in mind when dealing with childcare, and as you determine your pump schedule for work. 

Even though you will introduce solids around 5-6 six months, breast milk and/or formula should be your baby’s main source of nutrition for the first year of his life.  The composition of your breast milk will change to meet your baby’s needs (source).  There is a reason it is called liquid gold!

As you introduce solids around 5-6 months, your baby may take less breast milk.  However, continue to offer the same amount of breast milk in her bottle or cup.  Stay in communication with your childcare provider and ask them to let you know if and when it seems like your baby is consistently not finishing his bottles.  If he is also regularly eating solids and not just playing with his food, then this may be a sign that you can reduce the amount of ounces you send to childcare each day. 

As always, speak with your pediatrician if you have any questions at all.  You do not have to wait for baby’s next appointment.  You can call the office with questions about feeding—pediatric nurses get these questions all the time!

Related article: Everything You Need to Know to Transition Baby to Cow’s Milk

How does my breast milk storage capacity affect how often I should pump at work?

Before we get into figuring out how many times you need to pump at work, let’s talk about breast milk storage capacity.  Breast milk storage capacity is the amount of milk your breasts are able to hold at their fullest.  The amount of breast milk moms are able to produce will vary from mother to mother.  Just like our breast and nipples are different shapes and sizes, the amount of milk our breasts can hold is different. 

Do not play the comparison game or feel discouraged if you have an under supply or oversupply of milk compared to other moms you know.  It is all down to your breast milk storage capacity.  And even science has not fully figured out why some women produce more or less than other women, but genetics is thought to play a large part.  So thank or blame your own mom. 😉

To explain breast milk storage capacity a bit further, your capacity is the amount of milk your breasts are able to hold at their fullest.  This is probably first thing in the morning (if your baby isn’t up nursing all night!). This is directly related to the amount of glandular tissue, or lobules, in your breasts. 

Rendering of breast anatomy to illustrate breast milk storage capacity

The amount of breast milk you are able to produce has nothing to do with your breast size; breast size is determined by the amount of fatty tissue you have in your breasts.  Your breast milk storage capacity determines how long it takes for you to feel full.  If you have a smaller breast milk storage capacity, your breasts may feel full when filled with only 2 ounces of milk. Whereas if you have a larger breast milk storage capacity, it may take 5 ounces to make you feel full. 

Breast milk storage capacity and breast milk production explained. Breastfeeding tips to increase breast milk supply. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips #pumpingatwork

Because of these differences in breast milk storage capacity, moms with larger capacities can go longer between pumping sessions than those with smaller capacities.  Unfortunately, without some type of diagnostic testing, it is not possible to know your exact amount of breast glandular tissue, and therefore, your breast milk storage capacity.  However, this above infographic can give you an idea of where your breasts fall.

So, how often should I pump at work?

As we have established, determining your pump schedule for work will depend on your answers to the above questions and on your breast milk storage capacity.  Some moms will need to pump 4 times at work, where other mothers can maintain their supply by only pumping 2 times a day.  The goal is to pump frequently enough that you completely empty your breasts in order to signal your body that you need more milk—just like if you were nursing your baby at home.  Assuming that you need to pump every three hours, a sample schedule would be:

Pump schedule for work for moms that need to pump at work. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingatwork #pumpingtips

The times in purple are optional and can be added on if you find that are not pumping enough milk during your pump sessions at work (see also: Proven Ways to Increase Breast Milk Supply), or if you need to build up a freezer stash.  Some moms even find that they need to add on a pump session in the middle of the night in order to meet their baby’s daily bottle needs. 

You can also shift these times around an hour or two, or even flip for nighttime if you are a superhuman and working night shifts.  If you know that you are able to go 4 hours between each pump session, you can pump at 10:30am and 2:30pm.

Since every mom’s schedule and breast storage capacity is different, every pump schedule for work will look different.  Do not be afraid to use trial-and-error in determining what works best for you.  It will likely take you a week or two back at work to figure out what works best for you and your baby.

One final word of advice on your pump schedule for work is to actually schedule your pump sessions on your work calendar.  You do not have to write “PUMPING MILK” on the calendar appointment, but marking yourself unavailable during your predetermined pump times will:

  1. Let your coworkers know you are not available for meetings or chitchat during certain increments throughout the day.  If there is something they need to discuss with you face to face, they need to catch you before or after your pump session.  This may be awkward for the first few days, but if they see you being strict with your pump schedule for work they will understand and—hopefully—respect your time and your need to pump.  Thank them for understanding if the occasion presents itself.  This will set the tone for the next year (or however long) that you plan to pump.
  2. It will remind you to pump.  Your engorged boobs may also remind you that it is time to pump.  Oftentimes we can get extremely busy at our jobs as we try to get reports done, students wrangled, patients cared for, and all other manner of fires put out.  Doing so helps keep our minds occupied and off how much we miss our babies.  However, some moms can use busyness as a reason to not pump.  We understand.  But having a reminder set in your work calendar will force you to acknowledge your pump schedule and to pump out that liquid gold for your baby.

Good luck on being as flexibly inflexible as you can with your pump schedule for work!

The complete guide every new working mom needs to answer the question: how often should I pump at work? Includes a pump schedule for work and how much breast milk you should be pumping. | Work Breastfeed Mom #breastmilk #pumpingtips