Prepare for Pumping at Work

Breast Milk pumped at work

Jamie Grill / Getty Images

If you are going to work after having a baby, you have probably thought about how you will integrate pumping during work hours into your schedule. Maybe you know other employees who have already been successful at making this work, or maybe you will be a trailblazer at your job. Either way, there are things that you can do to make your life a bit simpler when it comes to pumping.

Preparing to Pump

A little prep work before you go back to work can help you be more comfortable while working and pumping. It can increase your confidence and help to make it easier to stay on track with pumping and breastfeeding.

Learn About Pumping

Just as with nursing, pumping takes some getting used to. For this reason, you may want to start pumping a few weeks before returning to work. You can even sign up for a breastfeeding class. Not only will you learn some helpful tips and tricks (like how to increase your milk supply by pumping), you'll also get the chance to ask targeted questions.

Want to take that up a notch further? Look for a class specifically on breastfeeding and working. Many lactation consultants and hospitals offer these types of classes. This is a great way to increase your knowledge.

Know Your Rights

Breastfeeding is considered the optimal way to feed your baby. Several major medical organizations recommend breastfeeding, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding (meaning only breast milk, via breast or bottle) for the first 6 months of your baby's life. Then, as you introduce complementary foods, the AAP recommends continuing breastfeeding for a year or longer, or as long as you and your baby desire it. 

Hardships can make it difficult for many women to follow this policy, however, particularly as they reenter the workforce after having the baby. This is where protections from the Affordable Care Act’s "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" law comes into play.

The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide “reasonable break time” and a private space (not a bathroom) for breastfeeding mothers to express milk for one year after giving birth. 

In late December 2022, President Biden signed two new bills into law that protect the rights of pregnant workers and nursing parents. The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act expands on the rights protected in the Affordable Care Act. It requires these rights to be extended to salaried employees, not just hourly employees. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant people. It takes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act one step further, by mandating those reasonable accommodations, like allowing food and drink on the job, and providing seating when necessary.

If you’re not covered by the federal law, don’t panic. Your state may have laws that protect your right to pump at work. Be sure to ask your HR representative at work or check out your state’s breastfeeding rights.

Gather Your Materials

You'll want to have all the necessary gear ready before going back to work. And once you are back at work, it’s helpful to pack your pumping materials the night before. It can be all too easy to forget something, and nothing is worse than getting to work only to realize that you only have one of your flanges.

  • Breast pump: It’s tough to pump at work without…a pump. There's a wide array of pump options and styles, from manual pumps to hands-free pumping bras. You can even use a hand expression technique to release your milk. Just make sure everything is in working order and ready to go.
  • Relaxation materials: Your milk may not always come down when you're ready for a pumping session. Relaxation is key to encouraging your let-down reflex. Try looking at a picture or video of your baby while you pump. A warm compress can also help get your breast milk flowing.
  • Milk storage: Make sure you have plenty of milk storage bottles and bags to store your milk after you’ve pumped.
  • Cooler bag: Keeping your milk cool throughout the day is essential. The ideal storage for expressed milk is a refrigerator. But if you don’t have access to one at work, any type of insulated bottle bag or cooler with an ice pack will do. Just don’t forget to put your milk in the fridge or freezer when you get home.  

Have a Good Pumping Spot

Get your lactation space ready. This can mean finding a place to pump, store your supplies, and sit comfortably. Some employees choose to multitask while pumping, while others find that taking a mental break is more conducive to pumping milk faster. A little trial and error will help you figure out what works best for you.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-e841. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3552

  2. Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers. Fed Regist. 2010;75(244):80073-80079.

  3. United States Congress. H.R.3110 - PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.

  4. United States Congress. H.R.1065 - Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

Additional Reading

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.