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11 Truths No One Tells You About Pumping at Work

When I had my first child, I was clueless about pumping. I puzzled out what I needed and how to do it on my own because the subject almost felt taboo to discuss with others. In a society where mothers receive dirty looks and comments about breastfeeding in public, the topic of expressing milk seemed like a bigger offense.

I became more comfortable with the subject when I was pregnant with my second. Working for a company and on a team with a lot of working mothers, we talked about almost everything. However, I now realize two things about those conversations.

The first was we always spoke of the struggles of the past: “Back when I was pumping…” Very rarely were there conversations about what we were currently experiencing.

The second was that we often shielded expecting and new mothers from these conversations. If the challenges were discussed with new mothers is was along the lines of “Oh yeah, I experienced that too” instead of “Let me prepare you for what you will experience.”

I decided it is time to talk about pumping at work. To start the conversation, I put together a list of the 11 things about pumping at work that I wish people had told me before I returned to the office after the birth of my first child.

Who should read this post

The expecting or new mom who is planning to nurse – Learn what most people will forget to tell you about pumping at work. You will not be alone if you experience anything on this list. Talk to mothers who have previously pumped and mothers that are starting out just like you. Do not be afraid to share the truth.

The mother who is currently pumping – You are not alone if you are experiencing anything on this list. Use the list as encouragement to share your real experience with other mothers.

The mothers who previously pumped – Take a trip down memory lane. Think about your experiences and realize that you were not alone. Use the list as encouragement to share your real experience with other mothers.

Leaders and employers, male and female – Whether you are male or female, it is always best to know the subjects impacting your employees. Learn their challenges so you can respect their needs and schedule. Work with your employees to allow them to pump as needed for them and their child while still completing all required hours and assignments.

Be warned. I did not attempt to sugarcoat the topic and use words to make everyone comfortable. That would have defeated the purpose of this post.

11 Truths No One Tells You About Pumping at Work


Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase through the links provided, I will earn commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you.


Privacy can be a challenge

No one tells you how exposed you might feel while pumping at work.

By federal law*, your employer must provide you a place to express breast milk. Other than stating that it cannot be a bathroom, there are few guidelines to the location requirements.

One thing you will learn is that no matter how private you think the location is, at times, you will feel like there is no privacy.

If you do not have access to a room with a lock, people will walk in on you.

Then, there is a feeling of being exposed even when no one actually sees you.

This can happen if you pump in your office. People will knock on your door in the middle of a pumping session. When this happens, you will shrink down hoping they cannot see you through the walls. You know they cannot see you, but you do not feel that way.

If you are sharing one pumping station with other nursing mothers, there will be times your schedules overlap, and you will compete for that one room. Hearing someone try to enter the room will cause a moment of panic. No matter how many times you confirmed the door was locked, you are praying it does not open.

Be ready to change your wardrobe

When people tell you to evaluate your wardrobe before returning to work because your body will be different, they forget to inform you that what fits might not be practical for pumping.

The challenge with pumping and clothing is often learned the hard way.

Most nursing mothers have an intriguing story about the first time they wore a dress.

For me, it was a blue dress. To pump, I had to hike the dress up to my shoulders. I sat there freezing in my underwear while I pumped. Nerves were high as I thought about the door not latching correctly and someone walking in on me with both breasts exposed.

It was not something I wanted to experience again! That night, I moved all my dresses to the back of my closet.

You are going to have to evaluate every article of clothing before you head to the office.

You learn one thing quickly – you need to be able to access both boobs at the same time. A shirt that effortlessly moves one way at a time for nursing might not simultaneously stretch both ways for double pumping.

Trust me; you are going to want to double pump! Otherwise, the time away from your desk will double.

A word of caution. Pumping while at work is different from nursing while at home. You might not think twice about your stomach or back showing while at home. However, this exposure might make you uncomfortable at work. Even behind closed doors, it did for me.

After a few clothing blunders, I became smart with my wardrobe; anything new I bought worked the way I needed. I searched for dresses that allowed the required movement and coverage. It was also discovered that my nursing tank tops worked great under cardigan sweaters and jackets.

You will need to say no

People do not tell us that we need to say no if we are going be successful pumping at work.

Your pumping time needs to become a priority. Decide on a schedule that is best for you and stick to it. Have some flexibility but let people know that you will be unavailable during your pumping times.

If people want to schedule meetings with you during your sessions, be firm and say no. Offer suggestions of other times or move other meetings as needed.

Do not make skipping your pumping time a habit. Doing so will impact your supply; you run the risk of your body thinking that the milk is no longer needed.

For me, I pumped twice a day. The first things I did when I returned to work was to mark my calendar as busy during my pumping times.

With my first child, I was not good about saying no when someone wanted to meet during my blocked time. Often, I would pump just once a day, and there were days I felt like I was going to burst because I did not pump at all.

It was not healthy for me (risk of clogged ducts), my supply or even the company. I admit to not always being mentally there for meetings because I was focused on when my next escape to pump might come. Not to mention that clogged ducts could lead to infection which could result in missed work days.

I decided that this would not happen with my second. I scheduled my time and rarely moved it. The only time I did move my pump time was when I had the time directly before or after open.

When pumping, you have to put yourself first. Your body and baby will thank you.

Don’t be afraid to say I need to go pump

No one tells you that if you plan on pumping at work, sometimes you will have to be vocal about your need to pump.

Depending on your job, there might be times when you have all-day or back-to-back meetings. On these days, you still need to pump. Taking this time is best for you (engorgement hurts) and your baby (who needs the food).

Taking the time is also good for the company. Your concentration will shift from the meeting to pumping when you miss a session. You will focus on when you might be able to pump, and if you become engorged, that discomfort will consume your thoughts.

Remember, you are at the meeting to provide value. You are not providing your full value if you are worried about pumping.

With my first child, there were days I did not express milk until 5 p.m. I became distracted, uncomfortable, and would run to the mother’s room right as my last meeting adjourned.

With my second child, I said no more.

For day-long meetings, I would decide what sessions were okay to miss. For back-to-back meetings, I would decide which meetings I could call into versus being there in person.

Calling into meetings while pumping feels awkward at first. To help, I would select meetings where I was more of an active listener instead of a top contributor. This allowed me to be on mute for most of the call.

The first time I told my male boss that I was calling into a meeting because I had to go pump was uncomfortable for me as I did not know how he would react. As it turned out, he was supportive. I learned that day that I should not be afraid to say that I need to go pump.

Your work day might become longer

People forget to tell you that your workday might become longer if you decide on pumping at work.

If you have a job where you cannot or choose not to work while pumping, you most likely will have to make up the missed time.

Federal law does not require your employer to pay you for your time while pumping. If you are an hourly worker, you might have to clock out when you go to pump. If you are supposed to work a set number of hours, you will need to find a way to add the extra time.

If your boss does not require you to clock out or does not make you track your time, you might still need to adjust your hours. The work you are expected to complete will not go down simply because you need to take breaks to express milk. Your work day might have to lengthen to allow you the time to complete all assignments.

One option you might have is to split your lunch break. You can split your hour-long lunch break into two thirty-minute pumping sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

However, this will not work for everyone. I recently talked to a mother of twins who had to pump for 45 minutes at a time to produce enough milk. Her workday had to extend to make up for the additional pumping time she needed.

For me, I worked during most of my pumping sessions. I was fortunate enough to have a job where I could use the time to catch up on email or work on individual projects. The room was quiet and distraction free. I did not have to extend my day, but I know so many other mothers that are not so lucky.

It gives you time to catch up

No one tells you that a positive of pumping at work is that it gives you time to catch up.

During a busy work day, the world seems to slow down when you close the door to pump. It is quiet, and while people might try to find you, you can become unreachable.

For me, I always used this time to catch up. Most days, it was my work email that needed my focus. I read and sorted the email that was sitting in my inbox, and finally had the time to respond to pending requests.

Other days I worked on projects needing my attention that kept getting pushed down my to-do list. When I was caught up on work, I caught up on my personal life.

I always felt like I accomplished something during my pumping sessions.

There will be days you forget parts of your pump or the whole pump

It happens to the best of us, but no one ever shares how there will be days when you forget your equipment.

You find the time to pump. Your location is free, you settle in and open your bag, and… you realize that some of your parts are missing. Cue the tears.

I have left shields, membranes, tubing, bottles, storage bags, connectors, nursing bra, and even the whole pump at home.

When this happened, I had five options. 1) Go without pumping for the day (painful!) 2) Run to the closest store to see if they have what I need. 3) Drive home and pick up what I forgot. 4) Leave and work the rest of the day from home. 5) Pump with what I had (if I was not missing an essential piece).

Seeing not everyone has the option to work from home, I know that option four is not always possible.

Plain and simple, it sucks when this happens. No matter how organized you are, it will occur at least once.

Hands-free bras and a double pump are a necessity

Even when talking about equipment, people seldom share that a hands-free bra and a double pump are a necessity when pumping at work.

You need a lot of paraphernalia to pump. Some of the equipment is a requirement for the functionality of the pump. Other gear makes pumping a lot more convenient.

Two useful items I believe you must have are a double pump and a hands-free nursing bra.

Currently, insurance companies cover the cost of a pump. Each insurance company has different rules on how you must purchase your pump and which pumps are eligible.

If you have the option, select a double electric pump. Unless you want to feel like you are spending all day expressing milk, you are going to want to pump on both sides at the same time.

There are hand pumps available, but don’t bother with these. You will need an electric pump for everyday use.

The pump I used was the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. It was the best of the options provided to me by my insurance company, and I had no complaints during either of my two combined pumping years.

A hands-free nursing bra is a must. Without it, you will only be able to pump one side at a time defeating the purpose of the double pump.

Yes, you could hold each side, but that is too much work. I am not saying that because I am lazy but because it really is a lot of work. You must hold each side just right. Plus, do not even think about adjusting the pumping speed or anything while pumping unless you have a third hand.

The hands-free bra I liked best was the Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra. It was adjustable in size and sturdy.

There will be days you do not pump enough

No one ever shares that while your baby might get all they need when nursing, there will be days when you just cannot pump enough.

Even if you typically pump an abundance of milk, there will be days when the milk just is not coming. If you are a mother that tends only to pump just enough, the days when you pump even less are emotionally painful.

For my first child, I had more than I needed. Most days, I pumped more than she drank. When I had an off day, I would just dip into the previous day’s leftovers.

With my second child, I was not so lucky with my milk supply. Most days, I pumped just enough. Other days I was increasing my time in the mother’s room hoping to encourage more milk.

If you are consistently not pumping enough, make sure you talk to your baby’s doctor about supplementing formula. Some mothers supplement when they are away and are still able to exclusively nurse when they are with the child.

If it is just a random day that you cannot pump enough, try not to get discouraged. Tomorrow will be a better day.

You will want to give up

Mothers never seem to share that pumping at work is hard.

I have not heard one mother say that they love pumping. Being hooked up to a machine that is sucking the milk out of you is just no fun. In my opinion, mothers that pump exclusively are Wonder Women.

On top of the mechanics of pumping being no fun, it can produce emotional havoc. There will be days when you will want to give up. That is entirely understandable, and you are not alone. While it seems mothers never seem to share this emotional side, they too have moments where they want to give in.

When you do not pump enough, you will consider switching to formula. If you are already supplementing, you will really consider switching to formula 100%.

On the days where fitting in the time to express milk is a chore, you will want to give up. You will think how much easier it would be to schedule meetings or client visits if you do not have to block so much of your time for pumping.

When your workday becomes longer so you can pump, you will want to quit. You will think about how you could be spending that time with your child.

I am here to tell you to keep at it!

On the days you do not pump enough, keep going.

On the days your schedule is a nightmare, keep going.

On the days you miss your child, just remember that you are doing it all for your baby.

Pumping sucks but it is incredible at the same time.

It is amazing

Despite all the challenges, the most important thing people forget to mention about pumping at work is how amazing it is.

You are expressing milk daily to provide food for your baby, from your body, when you are not there. As a working mom, what is better than that?

You will feel so accomplished when you reach your goal end date. It is worth it. You are worth it. Your baby is worth it.

As a mother, you are amazing for deciding to sacrifice your time and putting in the effort to pump at work. Remind yourself of that fact whenever you start to feel discouraged.

Did you pump at work? Share your experience in the comments.  

My favorite pumping products

Here’s a list of my favorite pumping products. You can learn more about them and make purchases through the below links. 

Breast Pump – Before purchasing, check with your insurance provider. Each plan has a different list of covered pumps and has a purchasing process that must be followed. After reviewing the pumps covered by my plan, I picked the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. I had no issues with the pump and it worked great. The only downside is that it is a little loud. Not overly loud but louder than other newer options. 

Hands-Free Nursing Bra – I loved this hands-free bra! I used a different one at first and I knew I had to find a better solution. This bra is sturdy (very little sag as the bottles fill) and adjustable (one bra that continues to fit perfectly as your weight changes). Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra

Milk Storage Bags – Seeing I had a Medela pump, I used the Medela Pump and Save Breast Milk Bags as they directly attach to the shields. I tried others but I liked the Medela storage bags the best. 

Cooler – The Medela Breastmilk Cooler Set is a must if you’re pumping at work. I loved it for two reasons. First, it comes with an ice pack that is shaped to fit the bottles. Second, with the icepack, it kept the milk cold for 10 hours – a must need when you do not have access to a refrigerator.   

Have other products that you loved? Share your top products in the comments.

*Read the federal law on expressing breast milk at work and see if you state offers greater protections by visiting http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx