Returning to work after having a baby can be an emotional rollercoaster. Leaving your baby for the first time, figuring out where you’ll pump, how to communicate with co-workers about breaks, and the best way to store your breast milk can be overwhelming. Remember pumping at work is your right and if you’re a bit nervous, don’t worry, we’ve got your back with this helpful guide.
The Back to Work Pumping Checklist:
Getting yourself organized and prepared well in advance can help alleviate the stress and anxiety you are feeling about having to go back into the office. Before you start your pumping adventure at work, let's make sure you have everything you need:
- Breast pump and accessories: Choose a trusty sidekick that suits your needs. If you know you’ll have to multitask while pumping getting a portable pump like the Genie Advanced will allow you to be mobile and hands-free. A portable pump is also more convenient, because they are lighter and less bulky, to transport to and from the office. You’ll want to make sure you have spare parts like bottles, flanges, and valves on hand as well.
- Storage supplies: Stock up on breast milk storage bags or containers because every drop of your liquid gold deserves safekeeping. Labeling them with dates will keep you organized.
- Cooler bag and ice packs: Your milk's journey from work to home needs a reliable cooler bag and ice packs to keep it cool.
- Pumping bras and tops: Comfort is key! Invest in comfortable pumping bras and tops that make pumping sessions a breeze.
- Cleaning supplies: Quick and efficient cleaning is a must. Keep cleaning wipes or a small brush handy to wash your pump parts between pumping sessions.
- Privacy options: Creating a peaceful pumping space is essential. Whether it's a nursing cover or finding a designated pumping room at work, prioritize your comfort and privacy.
Knowing Your Rights:
As you start to prepare to go back to work, it’s important that you know and understand your rights as a breastfeeding person in the workplace. These rights exist to support and protect you, so let’s review some of the key things you should know:
- Who is covered: In many countries, laws protect the rights of breastfeeding people in the workplace. These laws often cover full-time, part-time, and hourly employees. It's important to research and understand the specific laws and regulations in your country or state.
- How the laws help: These laws typically require employers to provide their employees a break so they can pump during work hours. It also requires that they are given reasonable accommodations that provide some privacy while pumping.
- Rules or conditions: While the specifics may vary, common provisions in these laws include:
- Employers are required to provide reasonable break time for pumpers to pump. The frequency and duration of these breaks may vary based on individual needs, but they are generally provided during working hours. They are, however, not required to be paid. It’s best to check with your boss or HR department for your company's break policy.
- Employers must provide a private and clean space, other than a bathroom, for you to pump. This space should be shielded from view and free from intrusion to ensure privacy and comfort.
- It is illegal for employers to discriminate or retaliate against employees who exercise their rights to pump at work. Employees should not face negative consequences, such as demotion or termination, for asserting their breastfeeding rights.
- Enforcement: These laws are typically enforced by government agencies responsible for labor or employment standards. In some countries, these agencies may conduct inspections or respond to employee complaints.
Setting up a Schedule:
Establishing a routine that works for you at home and work can be a challenge, but remember you’ll learn as you go, and with everything, it gets easier the more times you do it. Here is a sample checklist of tasks to complete throughout the day to get you started:
What to Prepare the Night Before:
- Clean and sterilize your breast pump parts: Wash your pump parts thoroughly with warm soapy water and sterilize them according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Pack your pumping bag: Gather all the essentials, including your breast pump, spare parts, milk storage bags, cooler bags, ice packs, and any other items you'll need for pumping at work. Double-check that you have everything organized and ready to go.
What to Do Before Going to Work in the Morning:
- Pump or breastfeed your baby: Start your day by feeding your baby directly from the breast or pumping if your baby isn't nursing. This will help relieve any engorgement and maintain your milk supply.
- Pack your cooler bag: Transfer the clean and labeled storage bags of breast milk from the refrigerator to your cooler bag. Place the ice packs in the designated compartments to keep the milk cold throughout the day.
- Prepare milk for your baby for the day: Make sure there is enough milk in the refrigerator for your baby, until you are reunited with them at the end of the day.
- Dress comfortably: Wear clothing that allows easy access for pumping, such as a pumping bra and top. Opt for layers so that you can adjust your clothing according to your comfort level during pumping sessions.
What to Do When You're at Work:
- Follow your pumping schedule: Stick to your predetermined pumping schedule to ensure regular and effective milk expression. Aim for pumping sessions every 3-4 hours, mirroring your baby's feeding routine.
- Find a suitable pumping space: Locate the designated pumping area or request a private space from your employer. Set up your pumping station with your breast pump, accessories, and any personal items that make you feel comfortable.
- Relax and unwind: Pumping can be a serene moment for you to focus on self-care. If you’re able bring a book, listen to soothing music, or practice deep breathing exercises to help you relax and optimize milk production.
- Clean your pump parts: Ensure you allocate enough time to run warm soapy water through your pump parts each time you pump.
What to Do When You Get Home from Work:
- Store your expressed breast milk: Transfer the milk from the cooler bag to the refrigerator as soon as you arrive home. Label and organize it according to date and time to maintain a systematic storage system.
- Clean your breast pump parts: Wash all the pump parts with warm soapy water or use a dishwasher if they are dishwasher-safe. Allow them to air dry or use a clean towel to dry them thoroughly before the next use.
- Enjoy quality time with your baby: Cherish the moments of bonding with your little one. Breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, knowing that you have provided the best nourishment for their growth and well-being.
Tips to Help You Make the Transition:
Transitioning back to work while still breastfeeding can be an emotional challenge. Make the transition gradual. Slowly easing back into work will make it feel less overwhelming. Start introducing pumping and bottle feeding a few weeks before returning to work. Recruit help from family and friends so your baby gets used to other people feeding them. It's like a little dance between you, your baby, and the pump—a rhythm that'll get smoother with practice.
Practice pumping and ensure your flanges are the correct size. If you’re new to pumping it can take a little trial and error to find the correct breastshield size. You’ll want to make sure that is all sorted before it's time to go back to work. (If you need more help on finding your right breastshield size check out: How to Choose the Breastshield Size That’s Right For You.) You’ll also want to spend some time finding the pumping techniques that work best for you. Discover what helps you relax—a true crime podcast, soothing music, or even a cherished photo or video of your baby.
Seek out support. Connect with other people in your life who are also navigating this pumping-at-work journey. Online communities like the Pumpables Community, support groups, or a friend who's been there can provide invaluable help and empathy.
With a new little baby relying on you, it's hard to remember to prioritize self-care, but nourishing your body, staying hydrated, and resting whenever possible are crucial to helping to manage your stress levels during this transition. Stress can affect your milk supply and taking care of yourself helps you be the best you can be for your baby.
How to Handle Awkward Situations:
Awkward situations are part of life, including when pumping at work. Here are a few suggestions to help navigate those moments:
Help educate your colleagues. Share information about the benefits of breastfeeding and pumping with your coworkers. It's a chance to raise awareness and foster a supportive environment.
Be sure to communicate your needs. Be open and honest with your boss and coworkers about your pumping schedule and boundaries. Help them understand that these pumping breaks are vital for both your and your baby's well-being.
If you encounter challenges or feel uncomfortable, don't hesitate to reach out to your HR department. They are there to support you and ensure a positive pumping experience.
How long should I pump at work? Aim for at least 15-25 minutes per pumping session, but remember that everybody and every pumping session is unique. You’ll want to try to pump every 3-4 hours, in the beginning, to stay on your baby’s feeding schedule and help maintain your supply.
How often should I clean my breast pump parts? Rinse pump parts in hot water with soap after each use. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and sanitizing. It also could be helpful to have one or two extra sets so you can wait to wash and sanitize when you get home.
How should I store my breast milk? Keep your liquid gold safe by storing it in a clean container with a secure lid in a refrigerator or cooler bag with ice packs. Follow proper guidelines for storing breast milk to maintain its quality and safety.
Going back to work after having your baby might feel tough, but you've got the power you need to get through this pumping journey. Face the tough times head-on, lean on your support system, and understand that feeling a bit weird at first is normal. With a bit of planning and some self-belief, pumping at work will feel like part of your daily routine before you know it. Never forget, you're amazing and the effort you're putting in for your baby is something to be proud of. You've got this!