For first-time nursing moms, there’s nothing that can prepare you for the commitment of working full-time while breastfeeding. It will take many sacrifices on your end, you’ll probably feel a lot of guilt at times–either for not working enough or not producing enough milk–but trust me when I say that it can be done! The biggest thing is to go into it with reasonable expectations: it will be a lot of work, and you’ll need to be patient with yourself if there are times when your supply drops. After a year of doing this with my own daughter, I put together a list of time-saving tips and hacks on how to work full-time and breastfeed. I promise you’ll nail down a system that works for you and it will start to fit right into the rest of your routine, without even having to think about it.
How to Work Full-Time and Breastfeed
What You Need to Pump at Work
First things first, you’ll need to have a few essential items in your nursing bag. If you’re lucky enough to work in a place that has a Mother’s Room for nursing moms, that’s amazing! If not, no problem–there are still plenty of ways to make it work.
Essential items for pumping at work
- A pump – I highly recommend the Spectra S1 breast pump. It’s a rechargeable, hospital-grade pump which means that you don’t have to plug it into an outlet to use it and it works fast.
- Freemie collection cups – These are truly worth their weight in gold when it comes to pumping at work and this is why: you can wear a regular nursing bra or tank (make sure it fits snug) and be hands-free. That means you can work, use your phone, eat your lunch, etc. as you pump. This alone will save you a ton of time!
- Nursing tank tops or bras – You don’t have to restrict your wardrobe as much as you might think while you’re breastfeeding. If you wear a nursing tank underneath a regular shirt (doesn’t have to be a button-up), you can simply lift up the outer shirt, place the Freemie cups into your nursing tank, and put your outer shirt back down. I like the nursing tanks better because, when you do have to lift up your shirt to put in/take out your collection cups, you’re still covered up.
- Gallon-size Ziploc bags – The gallon size is perfect for placing two collection cups side-by-side and then folding the excess under, so that you can store your collection cups in the refrigerator after each pumping session. I’ll talk more about this later, but get the gallon size and the ones with the zipper (not the press and seal) closure.
- Milk storage bags – Any brand will do. I personally used the Kiinde bottle system, so I used their bags. Even a generic bag is fine, whatever is easiest for you.
- Push-top permanent markers – You’ll need this to label the bags with the date/time of your pumping session. Go with the push-top so you don’t have to fumble with caps while trying to also juggle milk.
- Cooler and ice packs – If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, you will need a cooler bag and ice packs to keep your milk chilled during the day until you get it home.
- Paper towels – When you remove the collection cups, you’ll want to wipe off your breast, as well as the part of the collection cups that were touching your skin for any milk residue. You’ll want something absorbent. If you’re able to pump in a bathroom or mother’s room with paper towels already, no need to bring your own, however, these are helpful to have on-hand for pumping on the road.
- Hand sanitizer – You’ll want to sanitize your hands before/after each session, especially if you don’t have a sink. In any case, this is just smart to have on-hand.
Tips to Quickly Pump at Work
Pumping at work really isn’t as scary, or as difficult as you think. It will become habit after only a few weeks, and you’ll be able to get in and out in 15-20 minutes if you need to.
Here are a few tips to help you pump quickly and efficiently at work:
- After each pumping session, place your used collection cups into the ziploc bag and then put them in a refrigerator or cooler until the next session. You do not need to sterilize the parts between sessions as long as you keep them cold (just be prepared for cold pump parts at your next pumping session). This will save you so much time when you’re pumping during a busy workday.
- If you feel like you’re not getting enough milk or feel like you’re not “empty” after completing the expression mode, go back to the stimulation mode again to initiate a second letdown. Once the second letdown occurs, switch back to expression mode and continue for another session–obviously, this is only possible if you have the time.
- When you get home, toss all of your pump parts into the dishwasher to sterilize them for the next day. You can also use these microwaveable sterilization bags or these sterilization wipes to sterilize the parts without a dishwasher.
- As a general rule: room temperature milk is good for 3 hours, refrigerated milk for 3 weeks, and frozen milk for 6 months to a year. Be sure to label the bags with the time and date of your pumping session. When bottle-feeding your baby, it’s best to give them breastmilk that was pumped around the same time as their feeding. (I honestly never paid much attention to this rule, but some women do.)
Other Tips for How to Work Full-Time and Breastfeed
- You only need to pump as many times as your baby would normally eat, unless you’re trying to increase your supply. As your baby starts eating solids, the amount of milk they need will taper off, which means your pumping sessions will, too. However, if you’re going back to work–as many of us do–before they are six months old, then you’ll probably need to plan on pumping 3-4x during your workday and possibly an additional time if you have a longer commute.
- Pumping early in the morning will always produce the most milk, and your supply will taper off throughout the day. If you can, try to fit in an extra morning pumping session that is beyond when your baby would normally eat. So, as an example, my daughter typically woke around 7 a.m. when she would have her first bottle, so I would pump at 5 a.m. (a time she doesn’t normally eat). This will help you to maintain a slightly increased supply and/or offset days where your supply might be lower than normal, or it’s difficult to fit in all of your pumping sessions.
- If you feel like your supply is dwindling, try eating foods to help with the supply, such as lactation cookies. I would at times snack on these during a pumping session, if I felt overly stressed to the point that my supply was suffering.
Example Schedule for Pumping with a Full-Time Work Schedule
Baby’s Typical Feeding Schedule:
The below is an example of a 12-week old baby who feeds approximately 5x per day, roughly every 3 hours.
In this situation, the mother should plan to pump as close to those feeding times as possible during the workday, plus add on an additional morning pumping session around 4:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. to maintain a slightly higher supply than the baby needs, in case of any emergencies.
Pumping schedule based on baby’s feedings
In the above example, the pumping schedule would look like this:
5:00 a.m. – Pump while getting ready for work (the extra morning session to maintain increased supply).
7:00 a.m. – Pump while commuting to or at work
10:00 a.m. – Pump mid-morning
1:00 p.m. – Pump while eating during lunch break or mid-shift break
4:00 p.m. – Pump while commuting from or prior to leaving work
7:00 p.m. – Nurse baby or pump while baby gets a bottle.
If you’re heading back to work soon, I hope you find this post helpful to get you started. I know it’s a huge commitment but, trust me when I say, it is do-able! If you truly want to breastfeed your baby, you can!
Looking for more motherhood posts?
Try these reader favorite’s below, or click here for all things motherhood!