Breastfeeding and the Working Mom

Don’t cry over spilt milk. Unless of course it’s breast milk then cry as much as you want.

Since returning to work after my second baby I have learned a lot about what other women go through when they return to work and attempt to breastfeed. I say attempt because I feel like it's a struggle to achieve a great relationship with your breast pump. 

With my first child, I went back to work part time 2-3 days per week. I considered myself lucky because we lived across the street from my work and my husband watched our baby on the days I worked. During the days I worked, I either pumped or my husband brought our baby to work during my lunch break. It was the perfect set-up.

I don’t tell you this to brag but I tell you this because my situation has changed ever so slightly and made me appreciate what other working moms go through. I still work part time with my second baby but I no longer work across the street. I actually work an hour away from my home. My husband can't just bring our baby on my lunch break and I not only have to pump during work, but I also have to factor in driving time. I can no longer say to my husband, “Please hold her off for 10 minutes with a pacifier until I get home.” I now say, “See you in an hour. Please give her a bottle and I will pump when I get home.”

"Welcome to the real world, she said to me condescendingly" -John Mayer

Finding a Pump

I have only used 2 different pumps in my breastfeeding time. I have a small Medela Harmony manual pump for traveling ease and I have a Medela Pump in Style Advanced that I use at work and occasionally at home. I chose these products based on reviews I read online. I have no complaints about either one. The double motorized pump is great for fast efficient pumping while I'm at work. I mean who really has time to feed their baby and then hand pump. You would literally be there all day. It's time consuming enough to use a motorized pump let alone using a hand pump. There is a purpose however for the hand pump because it's compact and lightweight. I'm glad I have a hand pump that fits anywhere for traveling. I have used it when I was dealing with clogged ducts and engorgement right before going on vacation. The only thing that saved me was taking the hand pump along to prevent the clogged duct from turning into mastitis (my worst nightmare). 

Along with the breast pump there are breast pump bras that hold the devices in place to free your hands for other tasks. I bought one thinking that it would be amazing to pump and work on my computer at the same time. In my opinion they are more hassle than they are worth. By the time I get everything situated I could have been pumping during that time. With such little time to pump as it is, every minute counts. Plus when I'm done, I usually spill a little milk all over myself. I've decided that I spend more time messing around with it than I save by having my hands free. I also have large breasts and despite getting a large pumping bra I still feel like they are squished to the point that I'm more prone to get a clogged duct because it holds back some of my milk. It may be helpful for some ladies but it has not proven to be successful for me. 

It's important to disinfect the parts of the pump that come in contact with milk. I usually boil the parts 1-2 times each week. Between each use I wash with hot soapy water or or stick them in our high temperature dishwasher. you can go to their website for a lot of helpful information regarding pumping, storing an other breastfeeding related information.  BTW I don't receive anything from Medela for giving you this information (see my disclosure statement). It's literally just the pump I use and have had a good experience with. 

Wasted Milk

It's hard to feed your baby and make extra milk, especially in the first few months. My supply is usually just keeping up with the demands of my baby. Before you go back to work though, you need at least 8 hours worth of milk. With such little extra milk to go around it doesn't leave much wiggle room. So, when I come home and find bottles with even the tiniest milk leftover in them I get a little sad, worried, and maybe frustrated. Questions go through my mind like, “Did she eat well?” “Was she full?” “Did she take the bottle okay?” “Is she still hungry?” “Why did that precious milk go to waste?”  I usually don’t voice these questions to my husband because I’m just glad he’s willing to stay home with the kids.

Finding Time to Pump

Currently I work at a children's hospital. I am fully supported in my breastfeeding goals because that's what children's hospitals do. I have a private place to pump that has a sink to wash my hands and my pump. Being surrounded by other dietitians and the fact that my boss is a dietitian and also pumped for her babies is very helpful. Everyone completely understands what I’m going through. That being said, it’s still hard to find time to pump in my busy work day. It’s easy to get side tracked and let the hours slip by without pumping.  I always think, if pumping is considered inconvenient for me then it must be extremely challenging or nearly impossible for other working moms. It’s no wonder that breastfeeding rates in the US are low. We go back to work and despite our best efforts and those we work with, we aren’t able to pump as often as we want or need to in order to keep up with the demands of our baby at home.

When it comes time to pump, it can be a little frustrating when you're totally engorged with milk, yet nothing wants to come out. I've sat there hopelessly looking at the pump as watery milk just drips out like a leaky pipe.  "COME ON!!! I DON"T HAVE ALL DAY!" That's when my work pager starts beeping loudly and the phone rings repeatedly at the same time. Never mind that the previous hour no one called me and my pager hasn't gone off all morning, or that it's lunch time and everyone else should be taking their break too. Usually pulling out my phone and looking at cute pictures of my baby and imagining holding her in my arms helps move the process along. Also, taking deep breaths and relaxing can help. 

Keeping up your Supply

One day at work I was only able to pump 1 of the 3 times I needed to for the day. It was such a crazy day and I felt my breasts were going to explode on my way home from work.  If I worked full time, days like that would take a major toll on my milk supply. It's hard to recover from minimal pumping day after day. Your body assumes the baby is eating less, when in truth your baby is eating the same and you just didn't find time to pump.  What's worse is if your baby goes through a growth spurt and starts eating more frequently. If you're home then your milk supply would just naturally increase. If you’re not at home and don’t know that your baby started eating more and you’re just getting by at work with one or two pumping sessions its not a surprise that your milk supply just can’t keep up. Your life literally has to revolve around breastfeeding whether you’re at work or home. It's exhausting!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge supporter of breastfeeding and most days I love it but by golly, it’s hard work. When my goal of 1 year comes around I’m more than ready to stop.

Some may say, “If you don’t love it, why do you do it?” I mean we didn’t go through the feminine revolution for nothing right? Rights for women, including freedom from anything we want to be free of. For me the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the struggles and challenges. Maybe it’s because I’m competitive with myself and set a goal that I’m driven to achieve, despite bumps in the road. If you’re wondering what the benefits to breastfeeding are, check out this list of pros for mom and baby.

Breastfeeding Pros for Baby

  • Immune support for baby
  • Ideal nutrition
  • Easily digested
  • Lowers baby’s risk for asthma and allergies
  • Fewer ear infections
  • Fewer respiratory illnesses 
  • Fewer hospitalizations and doctor’s visits
  • Fewer bouts of diarrhea
  • More easily create baby bonding with skin-to-skin contact
  • Less likely to become overweight
  • Plays a role in the prevention of SIDS

Breastfeeding Pros for Mom

  • Weight loss (although studies show no difference unless breastfeeding 6+ months)
  • Helps uterus shrink more quickly and reduces uterine bleeding after birth
  • Reduces risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • May reduce risk of osteoporosis
  • Saves time and money (no need to clean supplies unless pumping, and no need to buy formula)
  • Forced relaxation time during breastfeeding which aids in recovery after birth

Breastfeeding Laws at Work

Not sure what your rights are for breastfeeding at work? There are no federal laws mandating breastfeeding rights but there are some states who have laws regarding breastfeeding at work. Check out these two websites for more information and a link to your particular state.

Even if there are no laws protecting your right to provide breast milk for your baby, you can still approach your employer and try to plead your case. Usually larger companies are known for having protocols to help working moms pump.  One bonus for employers who support breastfeeding is that moms tend to miss less work due to decreased baby illnesses. That's the angle I would try if I needed to plead my case. 


To all you working moms out there trying to defy the odds and provide milk for your babies at home, I wish you the best of luck. You're not alone. You can do it. 

I'd love to hear any funny, interesting experiences others have had pumping at work, or on the go. Please leave a comment below.