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Returning to Work & Pumping

For many new moms, the end of maternity leave can be overwhelming. This can be especially true for breastfeeding mothers who are worried about pumping at work. Preparing in advance for the transition can help make things easier on you and your baby. At Mothers’ Milk Bank of Tennessee, we desire to support you by providing helpful tips for pumping at work. Our goal is to help you meet your personal breastfeeding goals.

  1. Obtain a quality breast pump. Many insurance companies will cover the costs of a breast pump. Talk to your provider or lactation consultant about your options. It is also important to establish a stock of multiple pump parts such as shields, tubing, valves and membranes. These are great items to add to your baby registry and don’t forget milk storage bags while you are building your registry. 

  2. Once your supply has been established (typically when your baby is three to four weeks old), practice using your pump and introduce your baby to a bottle of your expressed milk. If possible, have your partner, family member or friend give the bottle to your baby. If you wait until the end of your maternity leave to introduce a bottle, your breastfed baby may not accept a bottle. It is recommended that a bottle be introduced every few days starting by week six if your baby needs to take a bottle while you are away. If your baby is not accepting a bottle, reach out to your local IBCLC for bottle refusal assistance. Click here to find an IBCLC near you.

  3. Pumping can be time consuming and make you feel isolated. Find ways to make this time more enjoyable by pumping while doing something you enjoy. Read a book, find a show to binge watch or listen to a podcast. By finding an entertaining activity, you may even start to look forward to your pump sessions. Be sure you are taking care of yourself.

  4. Talk to your employer before you return and let them know you are breastfeeding. You should discuss that you will need a place to pump beginning on the first day of your return. You should also discuss your desired pumping schedule. Most mothers will find that they will need to pump every three hours for 15-20 minutes to maintain their supply at the beginning. 

  5. It is also crucial to know your rights. As of April 28, 2023, the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act expanded the legal right to receive pumping breaks and private space to nearly 9 million more workers.  This law makes several important changes to the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, which has required that employers provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom space for lactating employees to pump milk during the workday since 2010. ​To learn more about your rights, please click here to visit the U.S. Department of Labor's website to learn more.

  6. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Ask your support system for help with specific tasks during your transition back to work. Having someone to help wash and sterilize your pump parts is always a great way to eliminate your workload. 

  7. Talk to your childcare provider to make sure they understand proper storage of breastmilk. 

  8. Consider starting back to work mid-week so you can ease into your new routine, with a weekend break in just a few days, rather than an entire week.

  1. Scheduling your pumping sessions is key to maintaining your supply. It is best to not wait until your breasts feel full to pump. If possible, plan to pump the number of times you typically breastfeed your baby during the day prior to returning to work. For most moms, the frequency would be every two to three hours if your baby is six months old or less and every three to four hours if your baby is older than six months. Most moms will need to pump for 15-20 minutes if they are using a double-sided electric pump. 

  2. Maintain proper hygiene practices and adhere to safe storage guidelines.

  3. It is essential that you properly wash your hands before you begin pumping. Do not touch your clean pump parts until you wash your hands. Once you wash your hands, don’t touch anything else to avoid cross-contamination. 

  4. If you plan to donate some of the milk you pump at work, please note that pump parts must be washed with soap and running clean water after each use. Parts must be placed on a clean towel to air dry completely before using again. We realize that this might not be possible while at work. Therefore, we recommend that you bring separate sterilized pump parts for each planned pumping session at work. 

  5. Sanitize your pump parts in the dishwasher each evening after work and place them on a clean towel or drying rack to properly air dry. Pump cleaning wipes do not adhere to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA)’s milk storage guidelines, as they do not reach into all the internal surfaces of the pump’s parts and may leave residue which is unsafe for medically fragile babies. 

  6. Pumped milk should be transferred from the pump containers into milk storage bags and refrigerated immediately. If you do not have access to a refrigerator, place milk storage bags in a cooler with ice packs so that milk reaches and maintains a temperature of around 40 degrees.  

  7. Label the bag above the seal line using a permanent marker with the full date (including the year) that the milk was pumped, your last name and donor number (if you plan on donating your milk).

  8. “Stacking,” “layering,” or combining milk from more than one pumping session should be done only when the milk is the same temperature (i.e. all milk being combined is refrigerated). Mixing warm milk with cool milk is an opportunity for bacterial growth in the milk. 

  9. Once you return home for the day, immediately refrigerate or freeze the milk you have collected during your workday. 

  10. Nurse your baby when you are together in the mornings, evenings and weekends. Some moms may experience a drop in their supply while pumping. Breastfeeding your baby when you’re together can help increase your supply. Skin to skin and holding your baby can also help increase your supply.

  11. Talk to friends, family or an IBCLC if pumping at work becomes overwhelming at times. We recognize that pumping can seem like another full-time job, remember to focus on one task at a time. If you can ask someone else to help you with something, then do so! It is always okay to ask for help. It is important to prioritize your wellbeing as you are providing your baby with the optimal nutrition that only your body can provide.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) is the recognized expert when it comes to this subject. HMBANA recommends:  

  • “Room temperature for 1 – 4 hours” – Room temperature is generally recognized as approximately 70 degrees F. If it is possible to move the milk into a cold or refrigerated place sooner, that is best. 

  • “In the refrigerator (+/- 40 degrees F) from 24 – 96 hours” = 1-4 days. Store milk for donation no longer than 96 hrs in the Refrigerator before moving to the freezer. 

  • “In the freezer door for 7 days” – Long term storage in the door of the freezer is not recommended because the temperature does not get cold enough, but it does freeze milk and food.

  •  “Up to 9 months at -20 C = 4 F”. A deep freezer is a separate unit that is only a freezer and the best place to store breast milk if you think it may be there long term.

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