How much time will I need at work for pumping?
Going back to work after having a baby can take a lot of planning. One aspect of this is figuring out how to fit pumping into your work day.
If your goal is to keep up your milk supply, before going back to work count the number of times your baby breastfeeds in a 24 hour period. This is your "magic number." Try to keep this number steady after you go to work. It is fine to breastfeed more while you and your baby are together and pump less while at work, as long as this 24-hour total stays stable.
When planning your day, remember the simple forces that drive most mothers' milk supply:
- Drained breasts make milk faster.
Full breasts make milk slower.
Every time your breasts feel full, your milk supply slows down. The more times each day you drain your breasts well (by breastfeeding or pumping), the more milk you make. Try to avoid going too long (more than 8 hours) without breastfeeding or pumping, as this sends your body the message to slow down your milk supply.
The number of times you need to pump at work to keep up your milk supply will vary by your "breast storage capacity." This is the amount of milk your breasts can hold before feeling full. The room in the milk glands (not breast size!) is the basis for this and differs from one woman to the next. Women with a "large capacity" typically store more milk before feeling full. They may need to pump less often and get more milk at a pumping. Women with a "small capacity" typically get full faster and may need to pump more often to get the same amount of milk. Typically, both types of women should be able to make plenty of milk, but the number of pumpings needed can vary greatly.
When deciding how often to pump at work, a good place to start is to divide your number of hours away from baby including travel time by 3. For example, 9 hours apart divided by 3 equals 3 pumpings. If you can't pump this much at work, make up for it by breastfeeding more at home.
To plan your pumping time at work:
- Find a place to wash your hands before pumping.
- If double-pumping, allow 10-15 min. each time and 5 min. to wash your pump parts in hot, soapy water, and rinse.
- To cut down on clean-up time, buy extra pump parts. With enough sets, you can wash them all in the dishwasher when you get home at night.
You can also plan your day to reduce your need to pump at work.
- If you can, breastfeed baby twice in the morning: once when you wake up and again just before you leave the baby with the caregiver.
- Breastfeed after work as soon as you arrive at the caregiver. If your baby seems hungry just before you arrive, suggest giving as little milk as possible.
- Choose a caregiver closer to work than home to cut down on travel time and reduce your need to pump.
If you travel for work without your baby, keep that "magic number" steady. On the road, you can freeze your milk and keep it or decide not to keep it. Make sure you have extra pump parts with you and, if needed, extra batteries.
This is general information and does not replace the advice of your physician or healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away.
Every baby is different, and your baby may not be average.
If in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.
Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, Lactation Consultant, Ameda Breastfeeding Products
Coauthor of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers