There are times when you may need to be separated from your child for work, school, or medical reasons. It is important to know that you can still provide milk for your child and maintain your breastfeeding relationship while apart or unable to nurse.
HOW OFTEN WILL I HAVE TO PUMP WHEN I GO BACK TO WORK OR SCHOOL?
How long you are apart from you baby influences this decision. Ideally, you would pump as often as your baby would nurse. This may not be possible with your work/ school schedule. Most nursing parents find that pumping every 2-3 hours maintains their milk supply and does not cause them to become uncomfortably full.
For example, if a mother worked an 8 hour work day, she would nurse her child before coming to work, then pump mid-morning, at lunchtime and then mid-afternoon. She would nurse her baby when she returned home.
Read more about Working and Breastfeeding.
SHOULD I SINGLE OR DOUBLE PUMP?
Using a pump that can express milk from both breasts at the same time will save the most time. It may take about 15 minutes to pump both breasts instead of 30 minutes or more to pump each breast separately. Double pumping also provides very strong stimulation to keep a good milk supply. Prolactin, which is an important hormone for making milk, becomes very elevated when you double pump.
IS THERE ANY WAY TO DECREASE THE NUMBER OF TIMES I HAVE TO PUMP AT WORK?
If it is possible for you to go home at lunch, or have someone meet you on your break with your baby, you can breastfeed instead of pump. Some employers have onsite child care and this could allow you to take your breaks with your baby.
Some babies develop a pattern known as “reverse cycle breastfeeding.” This means that your baby will sleep more while you away and breastfeed more when you are together. If this happens, you may find you need to pump less when you are away from your baby because they are consuming less milk while you are apart. It is important to keep your baby near you at night so that you may nurse easily and get as much sleep as possible.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A BREAST PUMP?
The type of breast pump you need depends very much on your situation. Your ability to pump well will depend on matching your specific needs to the best pumping system that meets those needs.
If you are returning to work or school, a good pump will be needed. There are many options to choose from. It is important to choose one that will meet your specific needs. Some things to consider are cost, efficiency, how easy it is to transport and how much noise it makes.
If you only need to pump occasionally, a hand operated pump may be the right one. They are small, easy to carry and use and are not very expensive (for example, they may cost around $20).
If you will routinely be apart for 8 or more hours, a double electric pump is likely the best choice. These are recommended if the time you have to pump is limited and/or you will be pumping 3 or more times per day. These pumps are automatic, and they have a suck release cycle that mimics the pattern of a baby nursing. They can be fairly large, and come in carrying cases that resemble a large handbag. These cases hold all of the accessories needed. They can be relatively quiet. They cost between $150 and $300 in the US or may be covered by your health insurance.
Another option is the hospital-grade pump, also called the multi user pump (USFDA). This is a very strong pump and should be used when separation is extensive or a child is unable to nurse, such as pumping milk for a premature baby in the hospital, or if you need strong stimulation to increase your milk supply. These are rarely purchased. Instead, most families rent them from a hospital or from a Durable Medical Equipment Company. Note: Some double electric pumps are marketed as hospital grade but are not.
Many parents find it helpful to talk with their friends about whether or not a pump is needed, and if so, what kind worked best. Be sure to ask what features worked well and what didn’t.
WHAT ABOUT USED PUMPS?
Pumps can be expensive which can make used pumps seem appealing. They are often listed on eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook sale groups. Maybe a co-worker or friend has offered to give you the pump she used for her last child. The trouble is, consumer-grade pumps aren’t generally built to last much more than a year or so–the average length of time that a parent might be pumping for one baby. When a pump starts to wear out, it doesn’t suddenly stop working. Instead, the suction and cycling mechanisms very slowly start to break down and work less efficiently. Eventually, you realize that you aren’t pumping as much milk and the suction doesn’t feel as strong (or perhaps feels too strong).
Also, consumer-grade pumps are often not closed systems like a pump you might rent from the hospital. Milk and moisture may have entered the mechanical parts, where bacteria, mold, and viruses can grow. Is this really a risk? There isn’t great research either way. Some bacteria and viruses die within hours or days. Some of them like tuberculosis bacteria, can survive for a very long time.
So, consider the source, use your best judgment, and at least buy a new pump kit (membranes, tubing, valves, etc.).
Pumping while away from your child can be challenging. Finding the time and space to do it, as well as relaxing while you do it can be easier said than done.
Parents who have successfully pumped are a great resource and can provide many suggestions to make the process easier. Here are some of those suggestions:
- Find a quiet place where you are not likely to be interrupted. You may want to look around your work area before you go out on leave to find the best place. It does not have to be fancy, but it should be private. The restroom is not an acceptable place to be asked to pump. Be aware that there are laws in place in the US to protect you.
- Relaxing is important. Many parents look at pictures of their babies, listen to music, drink water or have a snack. Some use their phones to watch videos of their babies or face time the baby and caregiver.
- Some parents find that hand expressing for 1-2 minutes before using the pump gives them better results. The warmth of their hands and “skin on skin” first provides good stimulation so that their milk flows more easily.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids so that you do not become overly thirsty. If you can snack as well as get a good meal break, this is helpful as well.
- Invest in a hands-free pumping bra. There are many options on the market, or you can make your own. If you make your own, simply use a sports bra and cut holes where the flanges will go through.
- Invest in a good pump with flanges that fit you properly, not too tight, nor too loose.
- If you see a decrease in your pumping production, check the pump and pump parts.
- Some parents find that covering the bottles can help them relax and not focus on how much is being pumped at a time. This can be achieved by covering the bottles with baby socks or wearing a nursing cover over the entire pumping system.
There are federal laws in place in the United States to protect you when pumping:
Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA
This fact sheet provides general information on the break time requirement for nursing mothers in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”), which took effect when the PPACA was signed into law on March 23, 2010 (P.L. 111-148).
Read more about Working and Breastfeeding, LLL USA
How Do I Make Pumping At Work More Enjoyable?, LLL USA blog
Hand Expressing, LLLI
Break Time for Nursing Mothers, US Department of Labor
Breastfeeding and the law– including break time for lactating parents and state laws to protect breastfeeding and pumping
Rachel’s Story: Expressing My Milk, LLL USA blog
Ashley’s Story: Pumping Past One, LLL USA blog
Weaning from the Pump, LLL USA blog
Making It Work: Why I Avoid the Freezer Stash, LLL USA blog
Breastfeeding While Attending School, LLL USA blog
How do I make pumping at work more enjoyable?, LLL USA Facebook
My pumping output has dropped. What can I do?, LLL USA Facebook
How can I heal nipple damage while EPing?, LLL USA Facebook
I have oversupply from pumping. How do I cut back?, LLL USA Facebook
How do I continue to nurse after I stop pumping at 1 year?, LLL USA Facebook
IS YOUR CONCERN OR QUESTION NOT COVERED HERE?
Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated April 2021
Resource partially adapted from LLLI materials.