Juggling pumping breast milk and working is easier at some jobs than others. Here’s what to do if you can’t pump at work (or if you aren’t able to pump for as long as you’d like).
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Your legal rights
First, you should know what legal rights you have when it comes to pumping at work.
In the United States, as part of the Affordable Care Act, companies with more than 50 employees are required to provide non-exempt workers with “reasonable,” unpaid breaks to pump for the first year, along with a place to pump that is “shielded from view” and “free from intrusion.”
You may have additional protections at the state level. More on pumping at work laws here.
Unfortunately, many parents who work at smaller companies or who are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act may not have any legal protections to pump at work, making continuing breastfeeding challenging.
Options for pumping at work when it’s challenging
So let’s say that you’re not able to take regular breaks because you don’t have legal protections to pump. What can you do to pump at work without breaks?
1. Use a wireless pump
Many medical professionals whose job makes it difficult to schedule pumping breaks around patient care use a wireless pump like the Willow or Elvie and pump while they work.
If you need to bend over while you work, a Willow might be the best choice because you have the option of pumping into spill-proof bags. (Most other hands-free pumps will spill when you bend over.)
Wondering how it will look to wear a wireless pump under your clothes? Here is a comparison of some of the popular pumps so you can get an idea:
And you don’t have to be a medical professional to use one of these to pump while you work! Below is a TSA agent pumping with a Freemie Liberty while working:
2. Use a manual pump whenever you have a few minutes
Another option is to use a manual pump whenever you have five minutes or so. Using a manual pump saves you the time that it can take to put all of your pumping gear together and get settled.
Obviously, it’s not ideal to not be able to complete a full pumping session, but something is better than nothing. If you find yourself getting engorged or uncomfortable and are not able to get away for a full pumping session, finding a private place for 5 minutes with a hand pump can work well.
3. Work on a laptop while using a hands-free pumping bra
If you sometimes do work on a laptop (whether that’s your normal work, or patient charting, or other paperwork), think about whether you can carve out time where instead of taking a break, you do that work while you pump.
So for example, if you’re a nurse and you need to take 15 minutes to chart several times during your shift, you could pump while charting if that’s feasible at your workplace.
Alternatively, if you have a job where you need to go to different locations (for example, if you’re in sales or a speech therapist), you could consider pumping while driving to get your sessions in.
Adjusting your pumping schedule to fit work
Another option for exclusive pumpers, if none of these things will work, is to reshuffle your pump times. You want to have the same number of sessions (or maybe 1-2 less, depending on what you can manage), but spread out so that you’re not pumping while you’re at work.
Let’s say that you’re currently pumping 6 times a day, about every 4 hours, and you work from 12pm-8pm at a restaurant. Your new schedule could be something like this:
6am, 9am, 11:30am, 8pm, 10pm, 12pm
Or, you could drop a session and do something like this (making sure to keep your total pumping time per day the same):
6am, 9am, 11:30am, 8pm, 11pm
With this schedule, you pump right before you start work (if you drive, you could pump in your car, otherwise, you could maybe ask for a space) and immediately after. You can obviously switch up the times if you get up/go to bed at different times or want to pump in the middle of the night.
Is it okay if you don’t pump for up to 8 hours?
A lot of exclusive pumpers who pump regularly around the clock wonder – what happens if you don’t pump for 8 hours or more?
It’s different for everyone, but you may get engorged, or leak. The manual pump solution above might be helpful if this ends up being something you struggle with. I would also suggest wearing breast pads to catch leaks.
Will going without pumping for 8 hours affect your milk supply? It’s possible, and your best bet is to mitigate the risk of that happening is to keep your total nursing/pumping time in a day the same.
What if it takes you a really long time to pump?
Some people find that it takes them a long time to get a letdown, or that their milk flows slowly once it does let down. This is annoying, but it can be a real problem when the time that you have to pump at work is limited.
Nervous about pumping at work? Want help building your freezer stash, creating a packing checklist, and putting together a pumping schedule? Check out my Ultimate Pumping at Work Workbook here! Use EPUMP30 for 30% off.
Have you struggled with not being able to pump at work? Tell us your experience in the comments!