Pumping: Maintaining Your Milk Supply When You Return to Work

It was my first day at my new job and my shift started at 7pm. There were 12 hours ahead of me but I came prepared. My pump was packed, along with my bottles, storage bags, and a snack, neatly organized into my generic pump bag. It was time to head off to the labor and delivery unit. I was so excited and eager to begin working and I had so much to learn. I will tell you, I don’t remember exactly everything that happened on my first night. It was such a blur. But I do remember not drinking enough, eating enough, and pumping enough.

As my time went on and days got busier, I found my pump sessions were getting spaced further and further apart. As a nurse, it’s extremely hard to find time to take care of yourself, so working on a super busy labor and delivery floor, i barely had time to blink. I still remember one crazy day in Summer, where our unit had 30 deliveries in a 12 hour period. I think I pumped once that day.

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Oftentimes, I found myself holding off my last pump session that would be around 7am(when my shift ended) because I just wanted to hurry and get home and sleep. So I would get home and nurse my baby to empty my breasts and then we would dream nurse. This became our routine for a couple of months until I was switched to work day shift (7am-7pm).
Day shift showed to be much busier and it wasn’t until a well baby check-up that I realized something wasn’t right. My son had lost weight! It was at that point that formula supplementation was recommended a couple times a day. I was still pumping and nursing on demand, but I also had to give formula with his feeds. I was heartbroken. How could I, as a mother, have done that to her child? How did I not realize it? (There were still things I was learning about breastfeeding. Check this out–>Things I wish I knew about Breastfeeding…)


I went searching for ways to increase my milk supply because I was determined I wasn’t going to let me baby down. I found an amazing product from Milky Mama LLC that helped to increase my milk supply.

Now, before I continue, I know there’s a lot of debate on whether or not there is anything out there that is able to increase a woman’s milk supply. People (Including some lactation consultants) will argue back and forth on this topic.

So I’ll save that topic for another week and we’ll dive in deeper. Anyways, I was paying more attention to my treats, my output and trying to make sure I was getting enough pump sessions in. I ended up stopping with the pump at a year, but we still continued to nurse up to 14 months.

This period of going back to work after having a baby and still breastfeeding made me realize that there are a lot of things I didn’t know needed to happen, or that I was doing wrong. And you know what else I realized? That I wasn’t the only one making these same mistakes! I wasn’t the only mama out there struggling, trying to find a balance. So I’m giving you the best tips and tricks to make sure you maintain your supply when you return to work. You CAN have a successful breastfeeding journey and a career. So read on to find out how!

Invest in a good pump

You’ll want a dependable pump with a good suction and features that can trigger a let down mode. Some hospitals allow you to rent their hospital grade breast pump. The monthly payments could get a bit pricey, especially if you plan on pumping for a while. Check with your health insurance to see if they offer free or reduced price breast pumps. If you are able to get a pump through your insurance company they will likely either have a vendor for you to contact or you can use different breast pump companies to order one. To do this, you would need a prescription from you OB.

If obtaining a prescription and renting is not something in your cards, you can still purchase a pump at a reasonable price. My favorite pumps are the Spectra S1/S2 pumps. These are hospital strength pumps, meaning the motors on these two pumps are strong and efficient like the ones you were to use in the hospital. Another plus, these pumps are pretty quiet, unlike some of their counterparts. The difference between the S1 and S2 pump is that the Spectra S1 has a rechargeable battery installed in it so you don’t have to be glued to an outlet.

Make sure you’re sized correctly

No I’m not talking about your shoe size or you favorite Judy Blue jeans. I’m talking about your pump flanges. I talking about this briefly in Things I wish I knew about Breastfeeding… I can’t stress this enough, how important it is to make sure you are using the right size flanges. When you buy/rent a breast pump, you are likely given the default flange sizes that come with the pumps. This is usually 24mm. Obviously, not all breasts and nipples are the same, so we can’t expect every mama to utilize the same size flanges.

Before you leave the hospital, talk with the lactation consultant to see if she is able to size you for your flanges. If they aren’t trained, meet with your local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to have her size you (Or you can visit Milky Mama LLC to have a virtual flange sizing from the comfort of your house!)It’s important to have someone that knows what they’re doing to help you with this. Many women often think that because they have large breasts, that they need large flanges. WRONG! The size of your breast does not determine the size of your nipple.

Why it’s important

Here’s why using the correct flange size is so important. Using a size too small can cause nipple damage as your nipple rubs against the sides of the flange. Using a size too big will pull too much of your nipple into the flange. Both issues will not allow you to empty your breasts effectively and in turn, can decrease your output.

Replace your parts

You replace your worn jeans, bras, even your worn down nail polish. So it only makes sense that you would replace your pump parts. You use this machine at least 3-4 times a day for a good 20-30 min each use. It’s no surprise that these parts would get worn down and even damaged. When this happens, it can decrease your pump suction and in turn, decrease the effectiveness of the pump to empty your breasts.

So what parts exactly, are you replacing? Let’s take a look!

  • Pump Flanges: These only need to be replaced if they’ve been damaged. Don’t forget to make sure you have the right size.
  • Valves and membranes: These are common with Medela pumps. You may not know this but the flimsy white piece attached to the valve can come off. The membrane should be replaced once a month unless damaged, before then. The valve should be replaced every 3 months. Unless damaged before then of course.
  • Duckbills: These are like the valves on some pumps, so you’ll usually have either or. Duckbills should be replaced monthly. If you notice that they do not remained closed, go ahead and changed them beforehand.
  • Tubing: These only need to be replaced if they are damaged. It’s also a good idea to replace your tubing if you get a new pump.
  • Backflow protectors: Not on all pumps. You’ll replace them every 3-4 months.

Invest in a pumping bra

I get it. Pumping bras are pretty pricey. So save up a couple dollars from one of your paychecks and invest in a good pumping bra. You’ll want to be hands free while you’re pumping. Trust me, I’ve tried all the hacks. Cutting holes in sports bras, using regular nursing bras, you name it. The reason why I say use an actual pumping bra over these hacks is because: You only get a certain amount of time for your break. So you need to get the optimum amount of milk in the little time you have.

Without a pumping bra you’ll either have to hold them with your hands or use one of those hacks. If you have to hold your flanges yourself, which can cause some discomfort, you’ll also have to choose between eating a snack on your break or not. You can’t have a bite to eat if both hands are preoccupied.

As far as the hacks go, just remember, you’ll be at work, and some of those hacks could make a huge mess. The last thing you’d want is to return from your break with milk all over yourself.

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Bring easy to eat snacks

This leads back to the previous tip. You have a very limited amount of time and only two hands. What you don’t want to do, is struggle trying to eat a snack on your break while you pump. This will only end in catastrophe that is spilled milk. So bring something that doesn’t require both hands, doesn’t need to be prepped, and that package can easily be opened. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Apple slices
  • Blueberries
  • Baby carrots
  • Almonds
  • Protein bar
  • Trail mix
  • Beef jerky (bring some gum for after)

These are great snacks filled with either protein or fiber. Protein is great to have because it fills you up. Not only that, but it’s essential for milk production. Did you know that breastfeeding moms need at least about 65 grams of protein? So chow down on that protein bar mama! You’re helping your baby grow!


Consider a handsfree pump

For some moms, finding time to pump in a demanding job can become daunting. You’re being pulled in every direction and you find yourself putting off your next pump more and more. Luckily, someone had the bright idea to invent a breast pump that was hands free and could be placed in your bra so no one could see it! Say what?! You may have heard of Willow and Elvie. Both the Willow and Elvie pump are hands free AND wireless pumps. They can be used independently of one another. There is no tubing that has to be attached to either. With these two devices, you can pump discreetly at your desk or on the go.

If you’re not able to splurge on either two of those wireless pumps, you may want to consider using a Freemie. This pump is slightly cheaper and also requires tubing. It is still hands free so you don’t have to bother with it, but you would need the tubing to go under your shirt. If this is still out of your price range, you can also purchase the Freemie cups. You would then be able to attach the tubing to the pump you already have.

Make a pumping schedule

And stick to it! If you have to, be strict. You’re making your baby’s food you know. If at home your baby nurses every 3 hours, then make a schedule for yourself to pump every 3 hours. Do not put off pumping. Each time you do, you send a signal to your body that you don’t need as much milk and will think it needs to regulate the amount of milk you were producing. Putting off/pushing back pump sessions also forces you into making it a habit. This is one bad habit you do not want to start.

If you find yourself unable to stop to pump, it might be time to think about investing in that wireless/handsfree pump.

Call your baby

Sounds weird right? I know. But hear me out! You remember that feel good hormone we talked about earlier? That’s right, oxytocin. Do you ever look at a picture in your phone and immediately start to feel giddy? You start thinking about your cuties and how much you love and miss them? I bet you can feel those hormones raging. Now imagine what happens when you call that little sugar plum on the phone, or better yet, FaceTime. There’s nothing better than being able to talk to your sweet baby while on your break while helping your milk flow.

Give yourself a massage

Massaging your breasts while pumping, helps to ensure that you empty your breasts each session. It also helps to prevent clogged ducts, which could later turn into a bout of mastitis. Below is a video on how to properly massage your breasts while pumping. Warning: Contains brief nudity.

Don’t Stare

I know it’s hard to do sometimes, but try not to stare at your bottles while you pump. Don’t obsess over how much milk is coming out. You will only end up stressing yourself out. When you stress you inhibit the production of oxytocin which in turn makes it harder for you to have a letdown.

To avoid this, try putting a pair of socks over your bottles so you’re not tempted to look and see how much milk you’ve pumped. Just relax, call your baby, and eat your snack.

Focus on tomorrow

Don’t worry about how much milk you need to make for the rest of the week. When you are at work, you’re pumping for tomorrow. That’s IT. You’re not pumping for 2 days or 3. Just, tomorrow. Typically, a baby will drink between 8-12 ounces in a 8 hour period. So for every hour you are away you want to have 1-1.5 ounces of milk.This should not change as baby gets older. So if you are away from your baby for 9 hours, you would want to have about 9-13.5 oz of milk.

Now obviously all babies are different and some will drink a little more, which is why this is an average. If your child’s caregiver is pacefeeding correctly, this should work out just fine.

Pumping at work laws | Know your rights

It’s important that when you go back to work, you know your rights as a breastfeeding mother. You do not want to come back to work to deal with the stress of your employer not being understanding or accommodating because they don’t know the federal and state laws. So lets go over it shall we?

March 30, 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed. This included a few provisions which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (Section 7). In case you don’t want to read that long document, I’ll break it down. It simply states that your employer is required to give you reasonable breaks times that will allow you to express milk each time you feel the need to. This is to be provided up to a year. During these break times, your employer is not obligated to pay you for the times spent for that reason. Your employer must also provide a space for you to pump that is NOT a restroom.

There is, however, an exemption. If an employer can prove that these requirements cause undue hardship and there are less than 50 employees, this employer does not have to abide by these guidelines.

In July 2019, Congress also passed the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019. This states that

(Sec. 2) This bill requires that certain public buildings that are open to the public and contain a public restroom provide a lactation room, other than a bathroom, that is hygienic and is available for use by members of the public to express milk. The lactation room must be shielded from public view, be free from intrusion, and contain a chair, a working surface, and (if the building is supplied with electricity) an electrical outlet.
A public building may be excluded from such requirement at the discretion of the official responsible for its operation if
-it does not contain a lactation room for employees and does not have a space that could be repurposed as one or that could be made private by using portable materials, at a reasonable cost; or
-the cost of new construction required to create a lactation room is not feasible.

Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019

Don’t let anyone bully you to stop pumping. Be an advocate for yourself and your baby by staying informed.

So, you have all the best tips now, but I could t leave you without giving you something to use everyday. Idk how many times I forgot something at home. My very first day of orientation, I forgot storage bags! I quickly drank a bottle of water to hold all of my milk for that day😂. The last think you want to do when you get to work, is realize you forgot your storage bags, your bottles, or even worse, the pump flanges!

Be an advocate for yourself and your baby…

So check out the check-list. Print and download it and put it on your pump bag so you can check off everything you need for your work day. I would recommend laminating it so that you can use a dry erase marker. At the end of the day you can erase your check marks when you empty your bag, so you’re ready to prep for the next day. Pumping Door Posters Included!

You may also like:

Breastfeeding: All The Things I wish I knew

Breastfeeding Terms: A Glossary of useful terminology

The Ultimate Breastfeeding Essentials Checklist

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