Pumping Angst: Facing the Challenge of Breastfeeding at Work

I hate pumping.  That’s the truth.  Even the sound of the pump reminds me of just how much I feel like a milk-cow when I’m hooked up to that contraption. 

With my older son I went back to teaching part time after just six weeks off.  Every day I pumped at work and carefully toted bottles of milk home to be stored for future use.  It was tough during my workday to sprint down to the small pumping room, relax enough to be able to produce milk, and rush back to class all within ten minutes. 

It was especially heartbreaking when anything happened to those precious bottles of white gold we call breast milk. One day after hand pumping for an hour while trying to do paperwork, I was thrilled to have produced six ounces of breast milk.  I carefully screwed the lid on the bottle, not realizing that the milk would leak through the nipple.  When I arrived home, the bottle had tumbled onto its side, the floor of my car was covered with breast milk and the bottle was nearly empty.  I cried and seriously considered throwing myself on the floor for a full blown hysterical fit. 

This reaction sounds a bit extreme now—even to me.  But we can’t underestimate how much sleep deprivation adds to the challenge of working, pumping, and motherhood. 

Now with my second child, I’ll have a good two and a half months home before I’m ever back to work.  When I do go back, my husband will be able to bring the baby in so that I can breastfeed at least a few days a week.  Plus, I’ve arranged to take one day per week off so that I can spread my leave over a longer period of time.  I’ll work two days, take a day off, and then work two more days to complete the week.   For more on creatively arranging your work schedule with baby, tune into next week’s post.

Still, I’ll have to pump.  I’m hoping I can do more of it over the summer and stock up, but I’ll inevitably have to pump at work too.  This time I’m thinking about bringing a picture of my baby, a bunch of dried lavender, or something else homey into that horrid little room to make it a bit friendlier.  I’ll also be more versed in milk storage and hopefully more relaxed about the whole ordeal.   Do you have any other tips on making pumping a bit better?  How have you handled the challenges of pumping at work?  Thanks for your advice!



  1. I had to pump exclusively for almost 12 weeks for my preemie before he was able to learn to breastfeed so I definitely became the pumping queen-pump at home, the hospital, the car on the way to the hospital-you name it lol! One of the biggest helps to me in the early days to help with the let down was visualization. I would actually visualize little flood gates opening and milk flowing/rushing out. And it worked! So take a deep breath, sit back and find what visual works for you to stimualte the let-down. This actually worked better for me than a picture or even his clothes with me. A comforatable chair is a must also. If you have a private office Medela does make a bra type thing that you can pump hands free so that might be a nicer option than racing down the hall to another room. I also really like the gerber sealable bags for storage. You can write the date with a sharpie on them. I would place the sealed Gerber bag inside of a ziploc bag and then place that inside a larger freezer bag so that if I had a leak (which only happened once with the Gerber bags) it wouldn’t contaminate the whole lot. This was the procedure we had to follow at the hospital and I continued it at home until he could breastfeed-which he did for 16 months! 🙂

  2. I’m pumping at work right now!

    For me, the best way to do it is with an electric pump – I believe I’m using the exact one you’ve got pictured. But I only pump one side at a time – it requires too much balance to double pump, and it is harder to do it discreetly.

    I always wear long, flowing scarves. Even though I have the luxury of closing my office door, I’ve found that the scarf all-but-obscures the protrusion under my shirt. Plus it covers up those inevitable leaks and drips from connecting/disconnecting. And yes, it is June in Washington DC, so the scarf gets some looks. But it is the only way I’ve managed to make it work.

    And there are pictures of my adorable kiddos on my desk – that helps, too. But it takes some nerve to do this – and I know a couple of my colleagues are mildly horrified and avoid my office like the plague when I’m pumping. (This is not necessarily a bad thing – it guarantees me 20 minutes of quiet at least three times a day!)

  3. I can’t imagine having to start and finish pumping within 10 minutes! I scheduled a half hour twice a day when I first went back to work after my son was born. And yes, I hated it too. I used an electric pump and did both sides at once (we had a small but very private locking room at my office for this purpose) and read magazines (it’s too hard to keep a book lying open when both hands are holding the pumping gear). I caught up on all the Smithsonians and National Geographics I hadn’t had time to read for a year! I also asked for a bulletin board so that I and the other moms could pin up photos of our kids and any funny parent-related cartoons we found.

    Good luck to you with that. It sounds like you have a good plan in place.

  4. librarymama says

    I had a really hard time pumping. I hated it so and it was hard for me to relax. I had a picture and would visualize so that helped get the milk out. It was made much more pleasant when I figured out how to do handsfree so I could read, email my friends, blog etc while pumping. This seriously was the best tip ever!

  5. I pumped full time for a year for both my kids so I can offer this – if you have a private office it makes a huge difference! Try to relax as best as you can. Put a cd in, catch up on your email, read a book. I will say I was more relaxed in the time I was pumping because it was the one time at work where your coworkers accepted that you were unavailable and on a break of sorts!

  6. I pumped while teaching this past spring as well–I scheduled my days so that I only had to teach two days a week, not realizing I needed more time between classes to pump. So often I also had 15 minutes to pump (and sometimes to eat my lunch at the same time). What I found worked was to visualize, as well– and to visualize as I was approaching where I would pump (one of a couple cramped supply closets in the buildings I taught in). Like Dori, I’d visualize milk flowing. It was a little uncomfortable setting up the pump, but it started right away and I made the best use of that 15 minutes….

  7. Ugh! I feel your pain! I had a preemie so I pumped every second of the day in order to have enough milk for the next feeding. Finally, my baby caught on to breastfeeding, but I had to go to work the next week so he was back on the bottle & I am back pumping! Because he didn’t nurse for the first little bit, I wasn’t able to get a stock up of breast milk. It’s stressful knowing that if you don’t get enough milk out, you won’t have enough to give to the sitter, then you have to take off work to feed, and on and on…!
    I liked how you related breast milk to “white gold.” I, too, have said those same words and wanted to cry my eyes out whenever it gets spilled or I forget to put the milk in the fridge and have to throw it out.
    I wish I had advice on how to make pumping at work better. I lean my head against the locker and rest my eyes and think of inventions that would allow me to sleep and pump at the same time…I’ll let you know if I come up with anything!
    I just had to comment. Your post hit home to me today!

  8. Christina says

    I checked your blog for something to interesting to read while pumping at work and found this post, how funny. Couldn’t comment at the time though, hands busy!
    I just went back to work last week, so I’m learning a new routine. I pump three times a day at work. The best thing to help me relax is that I talked my manager into getting me a lamp, so I can turn off the harsh overhead lights and turn on the lamp which makes such a huge difference in the mood.

  9. tncastro says

    I am expecting my first baby in October and will only take two months off for maternity leave and have to go back to work. So this article and comments everyone posted was very helpful for me to be prepared for my pumping days! I am researching which pump to buy. If anyone liked any particular pump and would recommend, please post your recommendation!

  10. I failed at the working and pumping! I did it for each kid for a couple of months and little by little my milk supply decreased, it became harder to find time to pump during the day – it meant giving up my prep time, and I was tired. At some point, between sleep deprivation, keeping up with a job, a house, a baby, etc, I had to forgive myself and salvage my sanity. But both kids got a good start with breastfeeding even if I didn’t make it to the magical 12 month mark. I think being able to feed during the day sometimes and not going more than 2 days before you get a day to build back up the supply will make a huge difference. I highly reccomend fenugreek capsules!

  11. Oh, one more thing. If a bottle spills and you have to supplement with formula, it’s not the end of the world! I know that you want to avoid the formula supplementing on a regular basis because trust me, that is the beginning of the end of your milk supply. BUT, if it’s because of a spilt bottle, well Joy, there is no point crying over spilt milk! ha ha. Your baby’s immune system won’t plummet with the first drop of formula. I definitely think sane mommy is way more important to baby’s development than breastmilk. Studies show that babies raised by insane overstressed mothers have way more problems than babies raised on formula. =)

  12. I had to go back to work 9 weeks after our 1st son was born via emergency C-section. I was NOT excited about pumping at work, mostly because I work with a warehouse full of men… I had to stake my claim to the only room with a lock on the door (besides the bathroom) 3 times a day, sometimes tromping up the stairs and having to kick a few salesmen out for 15 minutes… not fun.

    But I did it… even when they’d yell thru the door for me to pick up a phone call and I’d have to remind them my hands we’re “full” – I just had to grin and bear it, having a sense of humor really helped me get thru. I pumped for about 11 months, and had enough in the freezer to make it thru with breastmilk exclusively until his 1st birthday! I also pumped up to three times a day at home, either early in the morning or sometimes late at nite, to keep up the supply and demand ratio… it was VERY difficult, but worth it.

    I found a super book to help me out, it’s called “Working Without Weaning” by Kirsten Berggren.

    Now – with our 2nd son, who will celebrate his 1st birthday next month, I have been much more relaxed for a few reasons… First of all, I’d done this before – didn’t have to explain what I was doing and why I needed the office and time to myself. I was also blessed with a 2nd baby who is a very efficient eater and would rather nurse from the source, so he ended up only averaging 3 bottles of about 2 oz. a day while I was away AND my body seemed to be very clued in on how to make milk and I had an abundant supply when I did pump.

    So I only had to pump once in the morning before work and once during the day to keep up… it is heaven (especially since I dodn’t have a load of free time at home to pump extra what with a 2 year old running around as well as a newborn and working full-time and). I quit pumping at work a couple months ago, after he’d had exposure to yogurt and soy milk and we were sure he wasn’t allergic… then I only had to pump once in the morning and he did fine. Then, after a 2 week vacation, I decided I was done pumping all together and he is still doing great. We tried to supplement with formula a bit but he refussed to drink it, so I suppose we fudged a little on the “wait until they’re a year old for dairy”… but I suppose that’s what a little experience does for you – we know he’ll be just fine.

    I still plan to nurse until his birthday at least – but probably not too far beyond, he’s got some monster teeth and I’m not a big fan of them either.

    Being realxed and patient with myself were the most important lessons for me. Our bodies are pretty darn amazing!

  13. I just stopped pumping at work this past March when my son turned 1.
    Pumping at work was hard. I had a private office, which made it easier. I posted a cute picture of my son on the door and asked folks not to knock or disturb at all. It helped to do something light, like catching up on emails or academic stuff, nothing stressful at all. I stored the milk directly in bags and used a little ice pack to keep them cool. I did not want to deal with the office refrigerator (yuck!).
    I had to remind myself to snack in btw meals and to drink water to keep me going. Hope this helps!

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