August is National Breastfeeding Month, and we are of course celebrating here at RSM. With over four years’ experience in breastfeeding and pumping, I feel like I should get my own parade! But breastfeeding isn’t always about the beautiful, serene moments where you and your child are locking eyes with mutual adoration. Sometimes it looks like a working mom sitting in a closet with a machine whirring away. Yep, pumping moms are breastfeeding moms, too.

So to celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, I wanted to do an article about pumping breastmilk. Because it can be stressful, time consuming, and isolating (and trust me, my experience was less than stellar). But don’t worry: pumping doesn’t have to suck. Here are some tips for how to pump breastmilk, both from myself and Jennifer Jordan, who’s the Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Breastpumps.

Pumping Doesn't Have to Suck: Tips for How to Pump Breastmilk - Real Simple Mama

How can I see what rights I have at work? What laws protect me?

In 2010 a federal law called the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” came into effect requiring workplaces to provide break time and a space for mothers to pump that is not a bathroom. The details of the law, who it covers, and everything it entails can be read online. The United States Breastfeeding Coalition is a great resource for learning more about what rights you’ll have at work. 

Will my body make less milk once I’m not EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) my baby at home?

This is often a concern that moms have when returning to work. That is why it is important to have a pumping plan in place before returning to work and making sure that you won’t be waiting too long between pumping sessions. When you feel full with milk and don’t pump or breastfeed soon enough, your body receives the signal to decrease production. If moms aren’t careful, their supply can drop quickly after heading back to work. Find a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group that can help give you advice to get through the transition.

How do I store the milk, and how long is it good for?

Milk, once expressed, can stay good for quite some time! Inside of an insulated cooler with an icepack, milk can be kept for 24 hours. It is good for 3-5 days in a refrigerator or you can freeze it the freezer compartment of a regular refrigerator for 3-6 months. In a deep freezer, breast milk can keep for up to a year because it won’t be exposed to frequent door opening and closing.

When thawing frozen milk, you should leave it in the refrigerator overnight and use it within a few weeks after it is thawed. Of course, washing your hands and using clean pump parts will help prevent bacteria from contaminating the milk.

I don’t respond well to the pump. What can I do to make sure I make enough?

This is pretty common. Many moms dread pumping, and who can blame them? It can be really awkward. If you’re competitive by nature, one technique that I’ve found can help is turning pumping into a game where tracking your sessions and how many ounces you pump can motivate you to keep it up. Lansinoh and Medela both have mobile apps that help you track your pumping sessions. Additionally, make your pumping space more relaxing by requesting a comfortable chair and a few supportive pillows. Watch videos or look at photos of your baby while you pump to get your oxytocin flowing. Try not to think about pumping and just relax. Relaxation can really help improve your milk flow.

What do I do with the dirty pump parts if I don’t have time/access to clean them in between pumps?

Great question! There are a few options for dealing with your pump parts that need washing between pumping sessions. If you’re heading home and can wait to clean them, you can store the parts in a wet/dry bag and take care of it as you would at home. Medela also makes convenient quick clean wipes that you can use if you don’t have access to soap and water at work. If you have access to a microwave, another option is to use microwave steam bags for quick and easy sterilization of parts. This is especially nice if you have a pump at work that you don’t want to lug home.

Pumping Doesn't Have to Suck: Tips for How to Pump Breastmilk - Real Simple Mama

What kind of schedule/routine is ideal for pumping?

The perfect schedule will be slightly different for everyone, however, most moms aim to pump at least three times while at work if they’re working for 8 hours. If you factor in your commute, the time you’re away from your baby could be upwards of 10 hours. Three good pumping sessions spaced a few hours apart should keep your milk from reaching capacity and sending the message to your body to slow down production. Don’t rely on your body to tell you that it’s too full and only pump when it feels uncomfortable. Pump before you get to this point by sticking to your schedule. It is important to avoid letting your breasts become uncomfortably engorged, because this can lead to additional health issues, such as mastitis.

What is paced bottle feeding?

One thing I often hear is that moms are frustrated by how quickly their babies are going through the milk they work so hard to pump! Babies tend to drink milk from a bottle more quickly than from the breast, giving the impression that they aren’t getting enough to eat. Learning to read baby’s hunger cues instead of following a rigid schedule can help prevent overfeeding and depleting the hard earned milk stash in the freezer. Kelly Mom offers a great handout for care providers on how to optimally feed the baby with a bottle. 

What should I look for when starting my baby with bottles?

There are so many options available for bottle feeding breast milk. It really depends on the baby and the caregiver to find the best set-up. Some babies struggle with bottle feeding while some have no issues at all.

 Preparing for a new baby can be an exciting, yet stressful time. Planning to breastfeed is another aspect of preparation that may bring up questions for expecting parents. Breast milk provides excellent nutrition for your baby and helps with the bonding process post-birth. Some moms are concerned about how breastfeeding will be affected by returning to work or needing to take time away from their baby. Having a pumping plan in place early on can help ease the transition for both mom and baby.

RSM’s Experience

I pumped for a year and a half while teaching and sending my son to daycare. I was very grateful to have gotten a free Medela Pump in Style from my insurance, but going back to work and pumping was a nightmare. I’m so passionate about helping other pumping moms because I had such a crappy experience!

Basically, my department chair as well as campus administration (who ironically were all women) wanted to do as little as possible to help. I was pumping in my car while trying to eat lunch off of my steering wheel, and obsessing over how much time I had left and how many more ounces I needed to make in order to break even for the day. Pumping is draining in more sense than one.

The second year I pumped, I was in a new school at a new school district, and my experience was like night and day. The other staff – male and female – were encouraging and gave me my privacy. I was able to work at a desk in my own room while pumping. No one tried to threaten me, belittle me, or intimidate me.

I also knew a lot more – I knew my rights, I knew how to have the most efficient setup and schedule for me, and I knew what I could do to keep my supply up. And so it went … until I got pregnant and my supply dried up anyway!

I hope that this article has you more excited and more confident about pumping breastmilk for your little one. It’s a challenging job but I don’t regret a single moment; and of course, like everything else, knowledge is power. Know your rights and find a system that works for you!

Pumping Doesn't Have to Suck: Tips for How to Pump Breastmilk - Real Simple Mama

Looking for more information about breastfeeding and pumping? You can view all of my articles here, or check out my ebook Breastfeeding or Formula? A Real Simple Guide to Feeding Your Newborn.

jennifer_jordan for Real Simple Mama
Jennifer Jordan is the Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, a durable medical equipment provider that has provided breast pumps — often covered completely by health insurance — to hundreds of thousands of women since the ACA took effect.
You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.