From power lunching to power pumping

By Alisa Ikeda

When you're with your baby, breastfeeding is ultra convenient-no fuss, no muss. But if your maternity leave is nearing an end, you may be questioning your commitment to continue. Pumping at the office is a less than glamorous prospect. However, armed with the right approach and a few insider tips, you too can join the honorable ranks of the breast-pump-and-blue-ice-toting BlueSuitMom brigade.

Lactation Station

Discuss your pumping plans with your employer while you're still pregnant and going over maternity leave and reentry details. Go into the meeting confident that breastfeeding is a given, not a luxury:
  • Explain that it's in your employer's best interests; breastfed babies have fewer and milder illnesses, so you'll have fewer missed days from work spent caring for a sick baby.
  • Make it clear that your main requirement is simple: a private place with a free and accessible electrical outlet (if you have an office, ask for a lock on your door and curtains; if you're in a cubicle or shared office, ask for regular access to a private office with the same amenities).
  • Assure your employer that you can be relied upon to pump around meetings, business lunches, etc.
  • Familiarize yourself with the laws of your state pertaining to nursing moms in the workplace (you won't likely encounter such resistance that you'll need them, but knowledge is power).
Even if you already have a private office perfect for pumping, share your intent with your employer. There's no shame in pumping, it's virtually impossible to hide pump paraphernalia, and you'll no doubt be behind closed door more than once when a coworker least expects it and barges in (hence the lock request). Be candid but respectfully discreet. Other expectant or future mothers, particularly those in cubicles, will thank you for opening the door to these all-important discussions. No breastfeeding mom should be relegated to pumping in an office bathroom stall.

Selecting a Pump

There's a vast array of breast pumps on the market, and selecting one is a highly individual decision. Do your research. Most full-time working moms opt for a dual electric pump (which efficiently pumps both breasts at once). You can rent or buy, but if you plan to pump for more than three or four months (don't underestimate your abilities -- you may be a crackerjack pumper and choose to continue indefinitely!), it's generally most economical to buy.

Always contact your insurance company first, as they may reimburse some or all of your rental or purchase costs. Most insurance companies require a prescription, either for breast milk for your baby or for a breast pump for you (technicalities are unique to each company and policy). Many are notorious for denying an initial request but will give in if you re-submit and press on. Even if the pump isn't covered by your insurance, a prescription may allow you to use the pump expense as a medical tax deduction.

Note: Always keep the pump instruction booklet with your pump. It'll save you many an unnecessary headache when you're detained at the airport metal detector on business trips!

Get Pumping!

Don't wait until your first day back at work to try pumping. By starting to pump in advance of your return, you'll acquaint yourself with the rather mysterious contraption, build your supply, and bank some milk for those busy and often stressful first days at the office. An increased supply is vital because you're not likely to produce as much milk for the pump as you do for your baby; you'll need to be slightly overproducing to consistently get enough milk for your little one.

It's wise to return to work midweek so a weekend isn't far off -- it makes the physical and emotional transition easier on both you and your baby. And be patient! In the beginning, you may get very little milk when you pump (sometimes less than an ounce a session). Don't panic (just be grateful for that cache of milk!). Pumping is an acquired skill.

Letting Down

As your baby cuddles and suckles at the breast, she stimulates your milk to flow, a natural reflex known as "letting down" (some women recognize it as a tingling, "pins-and-needles" sensation). Letting down for a pump at the office is decidedly less comfortable and may require a little coaxing:
  • Relax: turn the phone off, close the curtains, listen to music, distract yourself with a magazine or meditate.
  • Stimulate: apply warm, moist compresses (a sock filled with rice can be microwaved for this purpose) and rub your nipples and massage your breasts before pumping (some women lean over and shake their breasts). Midway through the session, massage again and slightly rearrange the pump horns.
  • Think of your baby: listen to a tape of your little one cooing or crying, bring a blanket or article of clothing that smells like her or focus on her photo.
  • Don't fall prey to performance anxiety: resist the urge to peek into the bottles every minute or two, and ignore the clock (set a timer instead -- let your experience and a lactation consultant guide you on duration).

More Milk, Please

Many women reach a point in their pumping career at which they can hardly keep up with the demand of their growing babies -- when what they pump today is barely as much as what their hungry babies take in tomorrow. It can rattle the most dedicated of breastfeeding moms! Rise to the challenge with these supply boosters:
  • Try fenugreek (don't worry if your perspiration and urine smell a bit like maple syrup!) and blessed thistle (Mother's Milk tea is a good source of both) or brewer's yeast.
  • Opt for pumping more frequently over lengthening individual pumping sessions.
  • Maintain a regular pumping schedule.
  • Eliminate all caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be cautious with any drugs, including hormonal contraceptives, which may adversely affect your milk supply.
  • When you're with your baby, keep her close and nurse often. Pump after every feeding to stimulate further milk production (many women pump one breast while the baby nurses from the other).
  • Go on holiday (be sure to enlist your partner's support on this one): indulge in a long weekend dedicated entirely to nourishing yourself and your baby -- do nothing but eat well, drink lots of fluids, rest, snuggle, and nurse.

Bottoms Up, Baby!

It's been drilled into your head: breast is best. By pumping at work, you ensure that your little one gets the best even when you're not there to serve it up.

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Also see:

  • Visit for a complete line of Ameda Egnell breast pumps and supplies at discounted prices.

Alisa Ikeda is a mother, writer, and editor in Marin County, California, with a B.A. in sociology and a background in book publishing.