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After my oldest was born, I returned to work when he was 12 weeks old. I realize that I was one of the lucky ones because I had three months to bond and establish breastfeeding. I wasn't ready to leave him (don't get me started on the lack of paid parental leave in this country), but thankfully I was familiar with my pump and responded to it well. I spoke briefly to my boss and HR prior to birth (he was born 3.5 weeks early), so they knew I wanted to breastfeed. I got the keys to my pumping room on the first day and was all set.
I continued to pump at work for a full year after going back, and only stopped because he refused to drink my milk from a bottle or cup. Toddlers... am I right? I learned pretty quickly what worked for me and what I did and did not need. In addition to having experience pumping at work, I'm a lactation educator and counselor training to become an IBCLC (you can can read more about me here).
Here's what I kept in my pumping bag to ensure a successful pumping day at work.
The Basics: Pump, Parts, Bottles, Cooler
These are pretty obvious but worth repeating - mom brain is real! I had the type of pump that came in a tote and didn't have to search for a separate bag to carry all of my things with me. The pump also included an insulated cooler, bottles to pump into and store milk, and one set of pump parts. I brought all of these things with me each day. The insulated cooler also came with a special ice pack that allowed 4 bottles to be cooled at once. Not all pumps include this - some (especially ones provided by insurance) often come with just the pump and a set of parts. Coolers and ice packs are purchased separately. Be sure to check into this before you head to work!
A Hands Free Pumping Bra
I consider this a must have for a mom who pumps frequently. While the modified sports bra worked great at home, disrobing from the waist up was not an option at work. A hands free pumping bra allowed me to express both breasts at once. I could use my hands to do breast compressions, browse Facebook on my phone, or read a book.
My pumping bra of choice was a PumpEase hands-free pumping bra. It's made by a woman-owned, WHO Code Compliant company in Canada and comes in a number of prints and sizes. It wrapped around me and worked with any nursing bra or tank on the market.
Bag for Used Pump Parts
I didn't wash my pump parts between pumping sessions. Instead, I stored them in a gallon sized baggie and kept them in a fridge. Because I didn't have to clean the parts after each feed, I saved a lot of time and was able to get back to work faster. I used the oh so glamorous gallon sized baggies, but some moms choose to use wet bags to store their parts. They're better for the environment and more discreet than my see through baggie method, which is always helpful when storing them in a communal fridge! I would wash and sterilize my pump parts in the evening after work.
Extra Milk Storage Bags
On some days, my cups would runneth over and so would my bottles. While it didn't happen too often, I always kept extra breastmilk storage bags in my pumping bag. I would hate to run out of storage for my precious milk! They also came in handy for other things: one day, I broke a beaded bracelet while pumping (I still don't know how it happened). It didn't cost much, but had a lot of sentimental value. I collected the beads I could find and kept them in a milk storage bag until I got home.
Spare Pump Parts
There are few things worse than getting your pump set up and realizing you're missing a part. It only took one time before I started carrying spare parts with me. Ordering an entire extra set and keeping them in my bag or desk was a no brainer. In addition to forgetting pump parts, some pieces such as membranes will wear out from frequent use and may need to be replaced. Since pump parts can vary by manufacturer, it's best to consult your pump maker and see where they recommend purchasing spare parts.
A Good Book or Other Entertainment
As a non-exempt employee, I wasn't getting paid for my pumping breaks and decided I would make the most of the unpaid time. I would bring a book or magazine with me, set a timer on my phone, and get to reading. It was the most reading I had done since college! I remember reading Bossy Pants by Tina Fey while pumping - it was released shortly after I returned to work.
Water and Snacks
Pumping moms may work up an appetite and thirst while expressing milk. It's important to drink to thirst while breastfeeding and pumping. I would bring a water bottle to work each day and refill it several times a day. I'd make sure it was full of ice water before I'd go pump. My favorite snacks to munch on were easy to eat with one hand because my other hand would be doing breast compressions. I preferred trail mix, peanuts, fresh fruit, and protein bars.
Heading back to work soon?
Heading back to work soon? You're in luck - I put together a free printable checklist for you! It lists all of the items mentioned in this post and there's a spot for you to jot down your own notes as well. Enter your name and email address below for your checklist and to be subscribed to my newsletter!