Going back to work when you’re breastfeeding can feel daunting! Here’s how to pack your breast pump bag – and how to get pumping sessions in – when you go back to work to avoid pumping at work stress.
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If you’re exclusively pumping, you have a head start – you’re already a pro at pumping breast milk, and you know that your baby will take a bottle. Still, figuring out how to transport all of your gear and when to pump can be a challenge. Here’s what you need to know.
What to Pack in Your Pumping Bag
Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need to bring with you to work. (You can download and print it here!)
- A breast pump (obviously)
- A mini-cooler with an ice pack
- Empty bottles and caps – enough to get you through each pumping session
- A baby blanket or nursing cover to put on your lap while you pump (to catch drops of breast milk when you’re unhooking, so that they don’t get on your work clothes)
- A hands-free pumping bra
- Breast pump parts – breast shields, connectors, valves, and tubing (if applicable)
- Charger or power cord
- Breast pads (leaking at work is THE WORST)
Plus, you’ll obviously need the bag itself. Here are some of my favorites.
Managing Breast Pump Parts
About breast pump parts – the exact gear that you’ll need depends on whether you plan on washing your pump parts at work in between pumping sessions, refrigerating them in between uses, or bringing multiple sets and then washing them all at home.
If you plan on washing your pump parts between uses, you will also need a wash basin, a bottle brush, dish soap, and paper towels. You obviously don’t need to carry these back and forth every day, but will need to bring them on your first day back.
If you want to refrigerate your pump parts in between pumping sessions, you’ll need a gallon-sized ziploc bag, a Pumparoo, or a wet bag. (Note: This is the easiest method, and it’s what I did, but last year the CDC issued guidelines that recommended washing after every use. You can read more about that here.)
Finally, if you decide to use a new set for each session and then wash them all at home, you’d need as many sets as you have pumping sessions. You can put each set it it’s own ziploc bag so it’s ready to go when you sit down to pump.
Extras You Might Want to Have In Your Bag
A few things that aren’t essential, but you might still want to have on hand include:
- Hand sanitizer
- Hair tie
- Bottle of water and/or snacks
- Breastmilk storage bags
- Quick clean wipes
- Something to read or pass the time
What to Leave at Work
It’s inevitable that one morning, you’ll be rushing out the door and forget something. To save yourself from having to leave work and come home (or run to Target), it’s a good idea to keep extras of the following at work:
- Set of breast shields
- A set of all pump parts you need for your pump – valves, connectors, etc.
- 2 bottles and caps
- Breast pads
- Washing gear (if applicable)
If you’re exclusively pumping, are planning to pump at work for a long time (more than 3-6 months), and can swing it financially, it will make your life a lot easier if you can get an extra pump to leave at work. This way, you can just carry bottles and your cooler back and forth.
Figuring Out Your Pumping Schedule at Work
How often you’ll pump at work will be partly determined by your job (if you’re a bus driver or a teacher, your options for when you pump will be more limited than if you work in an office, for example) and by how old your baby is. Generally, the younger your baby is, the more frequently you should pump.
When I went back to work and was exclusively pumping, I kept the exact same schedule. I just did the three sessions I did between 8am-5pm at work instead of at home. If your work schedule will allow it, that will be the easiest way to transition. (Also, if you have a laptop at work and a hands-free bra, you can work while you pump.)
Here are some common schedules based on the age of your baby. (But note that these should be adjusted based on your own circumstances in terms of work and your concerns about milk supply – this is just a place to start!)
- If you go back to work at three months, three pumping sessions that are about 15 minutes long (morning, lunch, afternoon)
- At six months, two sessions that are about 20-25 minutes long (morning, afternoon)
- At nine months, one session that is 30-45 minutes long (lunch)
However, if your work schedule won’t allow that, then obviously just do the best that you can.
Finding Out Where You’ll Pump
Many employers in the United States must provide a location for you to pump. (More details on how to know if this applies to you here.)
If you don’t already know where your lactation room is, it’s a good idea to see if you can find out before your first day back. Obviously, this depends on your job, but some lactation rooms require you to request security access to a different location; others might have a reservation system that you need to figure out.
So, if you’re able to find out the details before you go on maternity leave, that would be ideal. If not, consider calling and asking HR before you go back – it will be one less thing to worry about on what may be a stressful first day back.
Transporting Bottles Back and Forth
If you have a fridge to store your breast milk in, a cooler isn’t an absolute necessity, as you can just transport your milk at room temperature. (Breast milk will be fine at room temperature for at least 3-4 hours.)
However, I have found a cooler to be helpful anyway – it can help contain spills if a cap isn’t on as tightly as it should be, it’s useful if you aren’t going straight home after work, and if you’re sharing the fridge with coworkers, you might appreciate having an opaque container to store your breast milk in.
In any case, I generally put the ice pack in the freezer when I got to work, stored my milk in the cooler in the fridge during the day, and shortly before leaving, would grab the ice pack and put it in my mini-cooler.
What do you pack in your breast pump bag that I missed? Share below in the comments!