8 Must-have Items for Pumping at Work

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If you knew me back in the day — the day being approximately two years ago — you might remember that during Emme’s first year of life, breastfeeding and pumping consumed me. It was all I talked about, all I thought about, and when I would get around to posting on my old blog, it was all I wrote about.

If you did not know me, you’re welcome.

Pumping at work is an unfortunate reality for many working moms who are heading back to the office post-baby and want to continue breastfeeding.

Now, I realize that you’ve spent the last nine months romanticizing the idea of lugging a bulky breast pump to and from the office in your sassy, standard-issue Medela bag; huddling topless in a storage closet away from the hustle and bustle of cubeland while praying that the weird guy from accounting doesn’t decide that right now is the perfect time to search for some obscure office supply; and answering questions like, “Can’t you put that milk somewhere else?” from horrified colleagues who are “fine” with your life choices, but just don’t want to see your life choices in the fridge next to their turkey sandwich. You understand, right?

Is there anything more beautiful than pumping at work?

Sadly, I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you that pumping at work is time-consuming, messy, inconvenient, annoying, awkward, and uncomfortable. Raise your hand if someone has walked in on you while pumping at work.

Represent ladies.

But the good news is that it’s doable, especially if you have a better attitude than I did about it. And to make pumping at work marginally easier on yourself, put these items on your baby registry or purchase them before you find yourself locked in a vacant office with your top off. Trust me, when you’re pumping at work, even marginally easier is worth it.

Must-have items for breastfeeding mamas who plan to pump at work, including tips for making pumping at work just slightly less painful.

Breastfeeding Mamas: 8 Essential Items for Pumping at Work

1. A Double Electric Pump

If you’re going to be pumping at work, you’ll need a breast pump, and I’m not talking about one of those little hand pumps. You’re going to want the best double electric breast pump you can get your hands on. My book club went in on a group gift for my baby shower and gave me the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump. What I like about the Freestyle over other popular pumps is that the pump is small enough to carry around in a normal bag or backpack.

If the Freestyle seems like too much of a splurge, check out the Medela Pump In Style. Tried and true, you can’t go wrong with this pump. My sister’s lactation consultant also recommended the Ameda Purely Yours, another solid, less-expensive option.

from left to right: Pump In Style, Freestyle, and Purely Yours

You could also rent a hospital-grade pump. My sister actually did this as well and kept the rented pump at home and her Ameda pump at work, so she didn’t have to carry it around.

Keep in mind that insurance now covers breast pumps, so check with your provider to see if you can get a pump for free or at a reduced cost. I received my pump about six months before the rules changed, so I’m not an expert on the new breast pump insurance policies, but my understanding is that most providers have specific brands and models that they cover.

2. Hands-free Pumping Bra

Never stop surfing the internet to pump again. The Simple Wishes bra is hands-down the best hands-free pumping bra out there.This little contraption might be the greatest invention ever for moms who pump. I would actually recommend having a spare hands-free pumping bra — I bought the more expensive Simple Wishes bra and had a slightly less expensive back-up version that I picked up at Target. (Full disclosure: The Simple Wishes Bra is totally worth the cost.)

Some of the Medela breast pumps come with a rubber contraption called a “hands-free accessory kit.” I never figured out how to use it. If you did, you probably have a degree in engineering. Either way, once your hands are free, you can spend your pumping time surfing the Web or chatting on Google.

3. An extra set of pump parts

Here’s what an extra set of pump parts gives you: options. I have friends who kept their spare parts at work, so they had slightly less stuff to haul around. This also prevented the inevitable, oh-crap-I-forgot-my-pump-parts nightmare that does happen.

I, on the other hand, tempted fate and carried my extra parts back and forth so that I had less washing to do. I would swap out new parts each day so that the other set could be washed in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of having to hand wash them every night.

4. Breastmilk storage bags

Do you have an issue with oversupply? Is each day a new adventure in finding out how much you’re going to pump? Not sure if you should bring two bottles or four or six or 12? Here’s a good tip: Don’t worry about it. Bring two bottles that you will pump into, and then pour the milk into a Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bag. Keep a supply of storage bags at the office, and you will never again have to worry about having enough bottles. Bonuses: They are less bulky than bottles, and they can go directly into the freezer if you don’t need to use the milk immediately. Don’t forget to double check that the bag is sealed tightly.

5. Work-appropriate nursing tops and tanks

You can go ahead and move those cute dresses into a storage bin until you’re done pumping. The name of the game when you’re a working mom who pumps is to undress as little as possible. I highly recommend investing in some office-appropriate nursing tops as well as nursing tanks that can be worn under sweaters and other shirts. I liked these Gap nursing tops, and I bought two of these nursing tanks (a little pricey, but very well-made, and I may or may not still wear them). If you are using a hands-free pumping bra, you can just put the bra on over your nursing shirt or tank for maximum coverage while pumping at work.

6. Breast pump wipes

Let me tell you how not fun it is to stand in a communal bathroom or kitchen washing pump parts two to four times a day. It’s not. So don’t. I started using breast pump wipes because I had a space where I could air dry my pump parts, which is really the only caveat for using these.

7. Burp cloths

Pumping is a messy business and milk stains on your clothes at work is generally not cute. Bring a handful of burp cloths or old hand towels so that you can wipe yourself off after pumping. A friend told me she also would keep a towel in her lap to prevent splashes of milk getting on her clothing.

8. Cooler and ice packs

Most breast pumps will come with a cooler and an ice pack, but if yours didn’t you’ll want to purchase one. My office had a full-size fridge where I kept my milk, but a cooler will work if there’s no room in the mini-fridge your company was generous enough to purchase for the whole floor. Medela states that you can store breastmilk in its cooler with a freezer pack safely for up to 12 hours. Just make sure the freezer packs are frozen when you leave for work.

Did I miss anything? For those of you who have pumped at work, were there items that you could not live without? Help a working mother out by leaving your tips for pumping at work in the comments.

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80 thoughts on “8 Must-have Items for Pumping at Work

  1. Ah, Lou, I love how you can make even the most practical, and normal topics give me a giggle. 🙂 Not have kids yet, and coming from a family full of women who chose not to breasfeed, I had no idea of all the intricacies of it! I’ve had plenty of female friends at work breastfeed and keep it in the fridge, but I didn’t realise how much hard work went into a day’s work and expressing! Funnily, there was also a rumour at one law firm I worked at about breast milk going missing… never knew whether that one was an urban myth or not. 😉

    • Thanks Jess :). I am usually pretty proud of myself when I write something that I think is funny, so it’s nice to know that other people think it’s funny too. I can’t believe someone would take the milk. But people get a little crazy about the breastmilk, so who knows.

    • Good for you! That’s incredibly impressive, and honestly, I struggle with the idea of doing it again if we have a second and I decide to go back to an office job. Only time will tell.

  2. I was never able to master hands free pumping but I have the Medela Freesyle and it was worth every penny. Made it the whole year I pumped with no issues. Once we have a second, the only new part I will need is new tubing. I swear by he breast pump wipes too. The black and yellow Medela bag was advertisement enough. I did not want to stand in the break room and rinse out my parts too. Great post Lou. A wonderful resource for pumping mamas.

    • Hands-free pumping literally saved my life, but mostly because I clearly have an Internet-addiction problem. I hear you with the standing around and cleaning pump parts. No thank you 🙂

  3. Great list! While I never had to pump at work, this is definitely good information to have should I find myself in that position some day!

    Thank you for sharing with us at #MommyMeetupMondays!

  4. Great post! The breast pump wipes helped so much when I was at work! We didn’t have a break room with a sink so they were life savers. You’re right about the hands-free pumping bras, it’s my must-have! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I remember those days, pumping at work. I never had issues, my coworkers were all pretty good sports. I hope I never have to think about pumping again but this list will certainly help.

    • Most of my coworkers were good about it. The biggest issue I ran into was having a place to pump. I kept being shuffled around empty offices. The best part was that two weeks after I quit pumping, they finally gave me an office ;-|

  6. I say another essential is your personal phone loaded with pictures and videos of your baby. Looking through the photos while pumping helped me relax a little and feel a little more connected to my babies when I was pumping at work. Although, how relaxed can you really be with your are hooked up to a pump and praying no one walks in on you?! 😉

  7. Thanks for sharing all the great info! I too breast fed but I actually quit my job due to her being premature soo I didn’t have the work pump expierience. I did however pump and deliver my milk an hour away for at least a month while she was hospitalized. The best thing I ever did! She’s happy, healthy and now a sweet tween!

  8. Oh I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! While I didn’t have to go back to work after my son was born, I did pump exclusively for 5 loooong ass months and I can relate to every single one of these (except the oversupply issue…never had that problem!) The hands-free pump bra is easily the best baby-related item I own out of all the millions of things we bought…I might have ended up in the insane asylum without it. By the way, did you know that you can store your pump parts in a Ziploc bag in the fridge after each pumping session so you don’t have to wash them every time? Supposedly the cold kills any bacteria.

    • This comment has saved my sanity. I didn’t know you could just put your pump in a ziplock and reuse it throughout the day with my first baby so I was constantly having to wash it or just miss a pump session because it didn’t get washed, but now with my second, pumping has been much more successful!

  9. I breastfed both my kids, my youngest is now two and is still breastfeeding. Lucky for me, I haven’t worked from the time I had kids so I haven’t experienced these. I salute “pumping-working” moms!!

  10. I didn’t work after my babies but I did do a bit of pumping. I just had the handheld, though, since I mostly breastfed. Anyway, I’m glad to learn pumps are now being covered by insurance! I was a student when I had my first baby and even the $40 pump was a major blow to our budget. I’m so glad pumping and breastfeeding is becoming easier and more mainstream!

    • Pumps are a huge expensive, and I’m so glad that insurance is finally covering this. It burns me up that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until 6 months and there are few policies in place to make this easier for working moms.

  11. Love this post! =) Funny, yet helpful. I was never able to use the electric pump when I was breast feeding, mainly because I wasn’t able to afford one, but I did use a manual one. Maybe when we have our next one.

    • Thanks Jessica! So I know this is not recommended by breast pump companies, but I have friends who borrowed or bought secondhand pumps from friends and just got new parts and tubing.

  12. This is such a phenomenal post. I do not have any children right now, but when I do have children, I plan on breastfeeding them. So learning about all of my options before hand gives me a better idea of what I can expect for things I might need. Thank you!!!

    • Totally. I try not to lead with “Pumping at work is the WORST,” (glass half full! and all that) but it is quite literally the worst. I am still angsty about it, and I quit pumping at work a year and a half ago.

    • Hi Maria! Good one. Also, I had lactation consultants tell me that you can actually put the lanolin on the flange (that word is the worst) to help with this. For me, lanolin was not actually enough, and I had the stuff that you have to get from a compounding pharmacy.

  13. Great tips, & Kudos to all you ladies that can pull this off at work!!! I stayed at home with an electric double pump and even then it was difficult and super time consuming! (Probably b/c it was literal WORK to get me to produce enough).

    • Being in your own space is nice, but pumping is a big pain in the butt regardless of where you are, in my opinion. It just takes so long.

  14. This are great tips! I wish I would have had them when I was going through this stage. My youngest is now 7 years old and I miss the boy days but do not miss the pumping days! I always felt like I was a cow that was getting hooked up to the milking machine!
    I Can remember the comments… things like “Can;t you do that in the bathroom?” and my response was always… “would YOU want to prepare your meal in the bathroom?” that usually shut them up enough to understand. And I remember people being grossed out by the milk in the fridge and those that wondered why you could not just keep it in your office… and my response was always “would you want your milk to be warm and spoiled from not being in the fridge?” that also usually shut them up long enough to tolerate or hopefully understand.

    I can so identity with your breast feeding and pumping days…that is always so challenging when going back to work!

    Thanks so much for the tips and for sharing!

    Dena

    • Hi Dena! It’s amazing what people at work will say. Luckily, I think it’s becoming more and more commonplace for women to pump at work, and therefore, more acceptable.

  15. Great tips here! Pumping is SUCH a commitment, but it’s worth it, and this is a great list to make sure you have the stuff you need to make it happen.

  16. Such a GREAT article!

    I nursed my now three year old until she was 2 and after going back to work when she was 8 weeks old found myself pumping for TEN LONG MONTHS to send milk with her to the sitter. You’re 100% correct in stating that its awful (HAHA!) but very doable.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that we should all check out the laws and policies our states and companies have in place for pumping mothers. I live in Texas and work for a huge corporation and while pregnant with Layla the managers of my facility made sure I had a room with a lock, a comfortable chair, and a mini fridge all at my disposal and for my use ONLY. I’m fortunate to have my own office so I declined a new space and just made room for the new fridge which was great because I could store my entire pump in there!

    Now that I;m pregnant again and planning on pumping in the office I’m glad my company took such great care of me the first time. *PLEASE, MAMAS!* look into policies and laws and make yourselves heard so you have everything you need to make this stressful time a bit more enjoyable! You’ll be thankful you did when you’re not hiding out in a storage closet hoping your creepy coworker doesn’t come in! 😀

  17. Wow! I remember the days, 15 years ago this was not as simple as it is today. I worked in a restaurant with 1 bathroom. Needless to say I did not continue to pump at work. But wanted to tell you this is a great list, complete, humorous, and realistic. Great post.

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  19. Lou,

    I do not have children yet, and have never had the pleasure of pumping at work (or anywhere, for that matter). But your post made me laugh and relate because of all of the friends and co-workers I have that pump at work. At my old job, we had a spare office that most of the mom”s pumped in when they had a free moment. It was slightly more private than a closet, but wasn’t any bigger than one. They would also have to find room to squeeze their milk into the fridge, which proved difficult!

    Great post. I will definitely pass this on to my mommy and mommy-to-be friends!

  20. I disagree with the dress comment. No need to hide those clothes. Bring them back out once you can fit back into them (which is soon due to calories firmed breastfeeding). What I use is a comfy robe. If I’m wearing a dress I take it off and put on the robe while I pump. This can also protect your pants. Note, I fortunate to have a private nursing mothers room.

  21. So when your milk is good for the 12 hours in a cooler, so are your pump parts! I would only wash mine when I got home for the day and kept them in a gallon zip lock bag in the fridge while I was at work. No expensive wipes, no cleaning parts at the sink at work, and generally less time cleaning up! which is great when you have exactly 30 minutes to pump and get back to work. Good luck mommies!!! Pumping is hard work and sometimes frustrating, but your babies thank you!

  22. The only thing I take to work is a Medela Harmony breast pump AKA a manual pump, a ziploc baggie to store the parts in the fridge after I rinse them, and small mason jars so I only have to take 1 large Medela bottle to pump in to. I work in a shared office so hooking up to my electric pump with the hands free bra is unrealistic and unnecessary. Plus, the manual pump is SO much quicker. It generally takes me 15 minutes to get 5-6 oz. every 4 hours. I pump in the bathroom so I want it to be done ASAP.

  23. Great list…
    Got a tip from a lactation consultant for hands free pumping. Instead of those specialty pumping bras or pain in the butt straps just cut holes in a sports bra and whal-a! This allowed me to check emails and get lots done with my Freestyle Medela pump.

    Also, I made a “Priavcy Please” sign for my door, just because it’s locked doesn’t mean people won’t hunt down a key and come busting in on you.

  24. Great list…
    I am pumping at work with the Medela Pump-in-Style. This is my 3rd baby but I only pumped at work with my 1st and 3rd. My 3rd is now 9 weeks old and I plan to pump until he is 6 months. The only thing I would add to your list…When I finish pumping, I put my pump parts in a zip lock bag and put them in the fridge with the freshly pumped bottle. Each time I pump I use the same parts and bring them home at the end of the day and wash and bring back fresh, clean parts for the next day. This saves a lot of time and embarrassment (if a co-worker walks in on you washing pump parts). I also work in a office full of men with only 3 other ladies. The men are all very understanding when I have to go in my office, shut the door and “relieve myself”. My boss’ only request is I keep the radio on, haha. I hope this helps some other pumping mom that might be trying to figure out an easier way to do things. Thanks for your list 🙂

    • Get the book 12 Hours Sleep By 12 Weeks Old: A Step by Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success—lifesaver! If you follow the author’s advice, you will have a sleeping through the night baby. Currently training my 2 month old and he is doing great!

  25. Great advise! I’m almost at the end of my pumping career! 12 months strong! yay! Instead of the wipes, I bought quart size Ziploc and refrigerated my parts after each pump during the day so I didn’t have to wash them during the day. I got this tip from another blog and it has made my life so much easier!

    Best of luck to all my fellow pumping mamas!
    Lacey

  26. Hi, I’m wondering if you wear that hands free bra all day, or just put it on when you are ready to pump?
    That would have made life easier. I’ve recently read you can make a cheap version yourself by cutting small holes in an old sports bra. Not sure how well that would work, but I found the interesting.

    • Good question! I just put it on when I pumped. I’m assuming that’s what other people do, but I could be wrong! The hand-free bra isn’t particularly supportive, so wearing it alone wouldn’t have worked for me ;). And wearing it over a nursing bra or nursing tank with built-in bra would feel bulky, I think.

    • I use my sports bra with holes I cut in it a lot more than my expensive bra because it is customized to my anatomy and it is a little more supportive. I haven’t gone back to work yet, but when I did a recent 10 hour (each way) trip I wore my self cut-out sports bra with breast pads in them. This worked well for the most part, but my nipples did start feeling like they were in a pasta maker by hour 8.

  27. I haven’t gone back to work yet, but I did recently take a 10 hour (each way) car ride for Thanksgiving. What I did for that was the following…
    I have an old sports bra that I cut out holes in the front big enough for my double pump flanges. My expensive one doesn’t feel as supportive. I wore breast pads in the sports bra so that my nipples, which are already so sensitive, weren’t sticking through the holes all day. I would just take the pads out when it was time to pump. I wore a large button-up flannel shirt (I was a teenager in the 90’s so that wasn’t a problem lol) as to reduce any visualization from vehicles from the sides.
    My Medela pump in style advanced (the one that comes in a backpack), which I was able to get through my insurance at a reduced rate, came with an adapter that was battery powered (takes 8 AA batteries). They also sell a cigarette lighter adapter, for those that pumping in the car would be a frequent occurrence.
    I had a gallon sized ziploc bag for the clean supplies and another one for the dirties. When we stopped for lunch I washed in the sink. We stopped at Chik-fil-la, which is family friendly and thus I felt I would be less likely to be judged for washing pump parts in the bathroom, not that it matters what other people/strangers think. My cleaning wipes hadn’t come in yet.
    I also carried about 5-6 bottles (16.9 oz) of water for rinsing parts/bottles/nipples on our many stops. After what I knew would be my last pump of the trip, I rinsed my pump supplies with Listerine (I just happened to have a medium sized bottle in the pocket behind my front passenger seat), then rinsed with water at the next stop we made. This would at least reduce bacterial growth until I arrived at my destination to do an actual soap and water washing or boiling. I wouldn’t recommend using the pump after using the Listerine without also then later washing with soap and water.

    • These are some great ideas. My sister has the car adapter for her pump and it works great. If I have another baby, I’m definitely going to borrow that

  28. You hit the nail on the head! Great tips and must haves. I have the Ameda Purely Yours pump (covered by my insurance). I just returned to work and am pumping for my second son. Having the right mindset truly is the difference this time around. Good luck ladies and kudos to you all!

  29. Not a mom yet but happy to report that my office built a lactation room off of the break room where moms can pump in private. Has doors, a fridge and a sink.
    Pumping in a supply closet would not be fun!

  30. I always had an extra shirt or two in my classroom( I’m a teacher) in case I leaked or spilled while pumping. I also had those microwave bags to steam clean the parts in case I forgot to so so the night before, which happened a few times those first few months. Thankfully I didn’t had too many issues with nursing, but pumping was definitely the toughest part for me.

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  32. Our company provides Mothers Rooms for new and expectant mothers, which is a plus. With my first I used to tuck a burp cloth under my boobs to avoid splashing and to gather the ‘scent’ and I would leave it with baby during the day. I swore by the wipes, and I kept a scrub brush and small bottle of dish soap to clean the parts at the end of the day. Also because the room is shared, I labeled my cooler and ice pack (which I put in the freezer).

  33. I pumped at work for a little over a year. I’d agree with all of these although I never used a hands-free bra. I liked th pump n’ save bags. I donated milk to a milk bank and they sent me some Medela bags and they were great because pumping directly into the bag simplifies the process. Less washing and one less step. I’d also add dish soap and sterilizing bags. I always washed my pump parts at work and sterilized them there once a week. It was easier and that way I never had to worry about forgetting clean parts at home! Oh and #9 on your list should be a phone or computer. That way you have something to do for the 15 minute you’re stuck pumping!

  34. Anyone have any ideas for pumping at work while wearing a bullet proof vest? Not looking forward to returning to police work AND having to pump at work at the same time… Not so sure swollen milk boobs are going to feel so great compressed down 12 hours a day.

    • I wish I had an answer for you! My husband is a police officer, and there are so (still) few women on the force. I do know one woman who recently went back to her job as an officer, and the whole pumping thing was not easy–it’s a tough position to be in. Not only are you out in the community where you don’t have easy access a safe, private space to pump, you have to wear a specific not pumping friendly uniform AND you’re likely going to have to help your mostly male coworkers and supervisors understand and be supportive about your needs as a new mom because they probably don’t get it. My best advice would be that you might consider asking for light duty/desk duty when you return for a period of time, which will give you more flexibility to pump regularly and more predictability in your day. If that’s not possible, I’d get into a routine where you pump immediately before/after work, and once during your shift. No idea what you can do about the vest 🙁

  35. Reading this while pumping at work ?? Great article. The only item I would add that has been useful to me are the Medela quick sanitizer bags. It requires water & a microwave, but it supposedly kills 99.9% of the bacteria in 3 mins or less! Keep up the good work, mamas!!

  36. Oh how I feel your pain. I am currently a pumping mom at work and let me tell you how tired I get of the looks and the question of when are you going to stop? Or people telling you that it’s a choice to pump! Um I didn’t know it was a choice to feed my baby?! I’ve been walked in and I have to pump in this small dusty closet so I totally get it. Those hands free bras are the BEST! Good to know I am not alone! 🙂

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