There are good sides and bad sides to leaving your baby to go back to work.
On the positive side, you get to continue working as a professional and you spend time each day with your peers.
On the negative side, you miss your sweet, little love-nugget so much it hurts and you spend much of your time at work counting the minutes until you can have your baby in your arms again.
If you nurse your child, this also means that your work day is punctuated by regular trips to a quiet room or closet to pump for that sweet little bundle of joy.
Let me tell you this: I have found breastfeeding to be one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things I have ever done… but pumping is not.
I hate pumping. For one, a machine does not express milk as efficiently as a baby. Also, a breast pump is much harder on your nipples than your baby’s mouth.
When nursing your baby you need… well, just your baby.
I mean, when I’m home all day with my sweetie pies, I often don’t even wear a bra!
When pumping… you don’t just need your baby, you need so much stuff. In fact, the one thing you don’t need is your baby.
The following is my list of pumping necessities that I’ve used while working away from home.
At some point or another I forgot or had to do without almost every one of these things (separately, thankfully) and it definitely made the experience more difficult.
1. Breast Pump
Obviously, you need a breast pump.
A double electric hospital grade pump like Medela or Hygeia is best.
You really don’t want to go cheap on a breast pump.
I tried it with my first child and it was a good thing (believe it or not) that she all but refused the bottle when I was gone because I never could get much milk for her from that thing.
When I was pregnant with my son I saved up for a good Medela.
Nowadays, breast pumps are often covered by your insurance company, which is really helpful.
You should also learn how to hand express your milk.
It can be helpful in a pinch if you forget your pump or any of the pieces to your breast pump.
It isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it but it does make the muscles in your hand sore if you aren’t used to it.
2. All The Stuff (Accessories)
Always double check your pump bag when you leave in the morning to make sure you have all the pieces to your breast pump or it won’t work.
I’ve gone without bottles, tubing, little plastic valves, and rubber pieces.
Not having any of these parts will render your breast pump ineffective and you’ll either have to hand express or just let yourself get engorged.
As a fail safe to this, you can also keep spare parts in your bag or in your desk or locker at work just in case.
In addition to learning how to hand express, you might want to keep a hand pump at work or in your pump bag.
I’ve never used one but I know of a friend or two who prefers hers to an electric pump so it can’t be that bad.
It’s certainly better than not pumping at all!
3. Photo Of Your Baby
This may seem silly, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Being a working mom is S-T-R-E-S-S-F-U-L! Looking at your baby helps to calm you and facilitates letdown.
If you have a picture or video of your baby, you’ll likely pump more milk than if you don’t.
Also, stress makes it more difficult to achieve letdown so as you look at your baby’s photo, take deep breaths and let everything else disappear from your mind.
Don’t worry about deadlines or coworkers or the meeting you’re going to miss if you don’t get 10 ounces within five minutes.
Relax and think lovingly of their big, brown eyes, their squishy legs, and their tiny giggles.
4. Smartphone, Tablet, Or Computer
Along the lines of having a photo of your baby, it might be best just to keep your smartphone or tablet with you when you pump so you can scroll through photos of your baby/children and watch any videos of them that you have.
In addition, because you cannot get a good supply when stressed, you need to put any work aside completely (or pumping will take twice as long anyway), and relax.
If you’re looking at the bottles as they fill, you will also stress yourself out and produce less milk.
If I’m not scrolling through baby pictures and videos, I’ll often watch a show on Netflix while I pump. It helps me to forget about my deadlines and to-do lists and just relax and think about something entertaining.
For a couple of minutes I am so engaged that I even forget about my milk supply and how many ounces I need. Then, I look down to see that my bottles have filled rather quickly and I’m done in record time!
5. Cold Storage
You should have an insulated bag and ice pack with you so that you can safely store your milk without spoiling it.
If you forget either of those on a given day and your commute to work isn’t too long, you will probably be able to use a refrigerator at work and then bring it home with you and put it in your own refrigerator or freezer right away.
You could also store your milk at your job overnight and bring the milk home the next day in your cold storage bag.
If there is no refrigerator available to you and you can’t obtain a means of storing your breastmilk cold, you might need to pump and dump.
I know the thought of that is heartbreaking, but at this point it’s just important to help relieve engorgement and maintain a healthy milk supply.
6. Storage Bottles Or Bags
My Medela pump comes with bottles that can be capped for storage. The cap is interchangeable with a nipple so my baby can drink directly from these bottles.
In addition, I like to bring breast milk storage bags with me just in case.
They take up less space than bottles, and they freeze well.
Also, if my milk supply is particularly good one day and I fill up the bottles, I can transfer that milk into a couple of bags and keep on pumping.
I freeze any milk put into the storage bags and give my baby the milk in the bottles the next day.
7. Cloths For Drying And Cleaning
No matter how careful you are, you’ll probably dribble a little bit of milk around the table or chair where you are pumping.
I grab one of my child’s cotton prefold diapers and lay it own underneath my pump.
I also keep a couple of clean, dry washcloths in my bag to wipe up the rims of bottles and other places that got milk droplets spilled or splattered.
In addition, I do try to take all the pieces to the bathroom to be rinsed off before storing them in my bag until I can get home and sanitize them because once breast milk dries on it’s a bit more difficult to remove.
8. Comfortable Bra
If you are away from your nursling and you have to pump on a schedule (that usually has much more time between feedings than it should), it’s nice to have a well-fitting, stretchy bra that will accommodate any engorgement without pinching.
Your bra should be comfortable and supportive. You don’t want to be thinking about your breasts when you aren’t pumping and if your bra is ill-fitting, it will be hard to think of anything else.
Breast pads or nursing pads are a must when away from your breastfed child.
You really don’t want to leak all over your work clothing.
No matter how natural and wonderful breastfeeding is, that’s going to be embarrassing.
10. A Quiet, Private Place
Legally, your job must offer you a private space to pump that is not a bathroom so go ahead and make a big stink about it if they don’t.
I remember when I came back to work after maternity leave, it took me and my administrators a full hour to figure out which space in my school would be private and appropriate for pumping.
One of the staff kindly vacated his office space and allowed me to pump there during pumping times that my classroom was full of kids.
Other coworkers volunteered 15 minutes of their time to monitor classes on the days when I didn’t have a break.
When I did have a break, I used those times almost exclusively for pumping in my empty classroom, which meant sacrificing a good portion of my prep time.
Finding the space and time to pump is not easy, but it’s absolutely necessary and it is protected by law.
If you work in retail or food service, finding a space might be even more difficult. Maybe the break room can be closed off for you, or there is a manager’s office that can be used.
If not, then you might be able to pump in your car if you can find a private enough parking space.
The bottom line is that you must have a quiet, private place to pump or you’ll find the task nearly impossible.
Even if you have no problem nursing in public, pumping in public is somewhat awkward no matter what you are comfortable with.
In addition, your quiet place needs a locked door.
You need to know that nobody will be barging in on you while you pump.
I have always had a locked door in my pumping space and I still had people with keys to my room unwittingly barge in on me.
It was embarrassing – both for me and for them – and it made it very difficult to relax and continue doing what I had to do once it had happened.
11. A Comfortable Chair
You want the most comfortable chair you can find to pump.
Of course, this depends upon where you work.
If you work in an office, you might be able to find a comfy chair, even if you don’t have a private office.
If so, drag your comfy chair with you into your pumping space so you can relax and do what you need to do for your baby.
Again, if you aren’t able to relax, you won’t be able to produce the milk you need.
12. Easy Access Clothing
I usually wear two piece ensembles rather than dresses.
I go for stretchy shirts or shirts with buttons.
If I wear a dress, I choose one that opens at the top.
I want something that gives me easy, quick access.
On the rare occasion I forgot about needing to pump when choosing my wardrobe, I ended up with a dress up under my armpits and my entire body beneath exposed.
I did this at least once, and it just happened to be the day that one of the new tech guys at my school ignored the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my door and let himself into my classroom to fix a problem on my computer.
To say that we had an awkward first meeting is an understatement.
Much like changing diapers or waking up a couple of times each night, pumping is one of those not-so-fun chores you endure because you love your baby.
It’s tedious, it’s awkward, and it often eats up time that you would rather spend getting your to-do list checked off.
Yet, you do it because, despite the inconvenience, your little one is worth the effort and you know that they are depending upon you for that good, immunity-boosting, brain-developing, baby-body-building superfood.
So, keep on chugging, mama, and if you’re new to this, then hopefully my list of pumping-must-haves will be helpful to you!