What All Pumping Mothers Need to Know Before Going Back to Work


Going back to work after having a baby is totally daunting. There are so many new things to keep track of, like daycare drop-off and pick-up times, what to pack for daycare, and making sure that the daycare providers know exactly what and how to feed your baby. It’s easy to get so caught up in taking care of your kid that you forget to take care of your own needs—a constant #momproblem, amiright?

While I was on maternity leave, I spent time practicing pumping. But what I didn’t practice was how to pump at the office. At home, I had everything I needed at my fingertips and I didn’t have to fit into anyone else’s schedule. 

When I got to work on that first day, I didn’t even know where I was supposed to go to pump. I also didn’t have everything I needed to be totally comfortable pumping. With all the stress that goes into returning to work, the last thing a breastfeeding mother needs is panicking about pumping. 

Here are a few things to consider about pumping at work:

Find out where your workplace allows you to pump by asking other new moms or reaching out to HR. Find out the culture of the space and what amenities it offers. Map out your ideal pumping schedule and determine how it fits with recurring meetings and other obligations.

Learn the culture of the pumping space: 

  • Is there a schedule you have to get on to use the space? 
  • Are you sharing it with others? 
  • Are you sharing it with others while you pump
  • Who else uses the space? 
  • Are there multiple locations and will you have to switch between them?

Pumping amenities: 

  • Does it have electrical outlets? 
  • Does it have a refrigerator? 
  • Can you store your pump bag safely all day? Overnight?
  • Is there a place to wash your pump parts?
  • Is a phone available where you can make and take calls?

Once you know the lay of the land, you’ll have a better idea of what to pack in your pump bag, what you can store at your personal space, and what you can store in the pump room. 

Choosing a pump bag

Some pumps come with bags, or you can purchase a bag to go with it. I decided to use an old tote bag. But I quickly realized my old tote was missing a few features official pump bags have, like insulation for storing cold milk on the commute home and pockets to keep all of my essentials organized. As a bus commuter, it was annoying to carry both my pumping tote and my laptop bag. I wish I had opted for a backpack with plenty of pockets.  

Commuting aside, choose a bag that fits your needs. Will you carry your pump every single day, or do you have one for home and one for the office? I found that if I decided to leave my pump in the office, I inevitably needed it at home that night. So, I was in the habit of bringing it to and from work every day. But some of my friends had two pumps, and kept one at home and one at work.

Keeping your milk cold

Depending on where you can pump at work, you may also need to bring a small cooler with you to keep in a refrigerator. I suggest one that is small enough to fit inside your pump bag to make it easier to carry everything home in the evening.


If you plan to bring your pump every day, here’s a simple checklist to help you remember the essentials:  

  • Pump
  • Plug and/or batteries
  • Pump bottles and tubing
  • Hands-free pump bra (or wear a nursing bra with a hands-free feature)
  • Extra bottles or freezer bags to keep your milk in
  • Gallon Ziplock bags (or reusable bags) to keep your pump parts in throughout the day and to transport the parts home (especially if you do not have a place to properly wash the parts at work)
  • Cooler with ice pack

Extra Stuff

One way to be a successful pumper is to be comfortable and stress-free. The list of extra stuff below may seem like a lot, but it all made the experience a little easier for me.

If you have a place to stash stuff at work (like at your desk, in a locker, or in the pump room itself), you might consider bringing in some of these things once and replacing as needed. 

  • Extra pump parts in case something goes wrong or you drop everything on a dirty floor
  • Handpump in case of a power outage
  • Travel-sized cleaning supplies, drying rack, and microwave sanitizing bag if you have space and time to clean parts at work
  • Towel for spills and to wipe yourself off. I used a burb cloth, since I had so many!
  • Tissues or wipes (or just bring both!)
  • Extra bottle lids in case one goes missing
  • Extra Ziplock bags to store whatever
  • Full, giant water bottle
  • Mother’s Milk tea and other lactation encouraging treats
  • Snacks
  • Emergency shirt in case of leaks
  • A pair of pants to sit in on days when you wear a dress
  • Cover (if you are sharing a space and want to do that)
  • Blanket or shawl to keep you warm
  • Nursing pads and nipple cream
  • Book, magazine, puzzle books
  • Hand sanitizer

If you can store things in the pump room, think about putting some of these things out for other moms to use or suggest a sharing system that works for everyone.

Once I got in the habit of making sure that I was taken care of, pumping at work became much more comfortable. With all of these essentials at the ready, I almost felt like I was at home instead of pumping in a converted conference room (or an actual conference room!). 

Comment below if you have additional advice on how to make pumping easier at work, or if you have other secret tips on the essentials. To all mamas returning to work while pumping—good luck!

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Tirzah is a digital project manager and has two adorable little boys. She moved to DC in 2000 to attend The Catholic University of America—and to get away from the cold weather that plagues her home state, Maine. Before becoming a mom, Tirzah played kickball, volunteered for the Smithsonian, and was a ball girl for the Nationals. Now that she's a mom, she explores DC in new ways by checking out library storytimes and museum playrooms and going on the occasional hike with her husband and sons. Likes: traveling, crafting, The Bachelor. Dislikes: unread emails, chores, black jelly beans