Pumping at Work 101

Learn the basics for expressing milk at the office for you to take home for baby.

Pumping at Work 101

Heading back to work after maternity leave is often filled with emotions: sad, exciting, overwhelming. If you’re still breastfeeding, you may also find that your workload has changed -- you’ve got one very important new responsibility: pumping milk for the baby during your day.

In last month’s post in our series on pumping at work, we covered the six things you should do for pumping prep while you’re still on maternity leave. Next up: analyzing your work situation and putting a plan in place.

While pumping might seem relatively straightforward in the comfort of your home and bathrobe, navigating a workplace -- and the people in it -- while using a machine to extract milk from your body is a whole different ballgame.

1. Understand your rights at work. The U.S. federal system means that you have a mixture of federal and state laws to consider when figuring out whether you have any legal rights and protections to pump at work.

The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) provides federal protection for women pumping at work – but only for wage-earners (not salaried workers) and federal employees. If you’re either of those things, your employer has to provide “reasonable break time” for up to a year, and “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” If you’re in neither of those categories, check out your state’s laws (some have great laws, others have none). Start with The National Conference of State Legislatures’ list of state laws relating to breastfeeding in public and lactating at work.

If you’re out of luck with federal and state laws, check out whether your employer has its own policies. If a policy exists, that’s usually good – it means your employer is thinking about this and some sort of plan is in place. If it doesn’t exist, don’t panic just yet. You might still find that you have a supportive HR department and/or boss – or that you can make allies at work to help you go rogue if you don’t have official support.

2. Know the basics that you’ll need at work. In any work environment, the following basics are essential to your ability to pump:

- A private pumping space. Locking door, place to sit (for some, this means the floor, or storage boxes), surface to put pump and bottles on, covered windows (if needed), electrical outlet (most pumps come with a battery pack just in case). If your employer is unwilling or unable to provide you with a place to pump, you’ll notice that your car fits this basic definition.

- Time to pump. 2-3 times per day, 10-30 minutes of actual pumping (depends on your body), plus a few minutes to store the milk and clean the parts.

- Somewhere to store the milk (freezer or fridge). Get an opaque bag (a reusable lunch bag is a good bet), so you don’t have to have awkward “what’s that?” conversations in the office kitchen with Tim from Accounts Payable. If there is nowhere to store, you’ll have to lug a cooler and ice packs every day.

- Somewhere to wash the parts in between pumping sessions. If this isn’t an option, or if you’re short on time, you can throw the parts, unwashed, into a large Ziploc bag, and refrigerate them until the next time you need to pump (warning: this makes for a “refreshing” experience).

- A pumping-friendly wardrobe. There are a lot of “regular clothes” you can make work for pumping. And pumping-friendly fashion has come a long way, so you can look as gorgeous as the woman in the photo (courtesy of the chic new Shop Bu Ru, full of breastfeeding and pumping fashion). We'll cover Pumping Fashion in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

3. Find allies at work. Go on a mission to find other women in your workplace who have had babies in the past few years. Ask them if they pumped, and what level of support they received from HR and/or their bosses. Get them to give you the lay of the land, and to show or tell you where they pump(ed). Getting the perspective of other mothers will help you set your strategy, and will create invaluable friends and allies for the journey ahead.

If you're the first woman to have a baby at your workplace, you're on your own in terms of true work allies who’ve been there, so you now need to brainstorm a list of sympathetic, kind people at work that you can bring into your circle, explain your situation to, and ask for help when you return. These people do exist.

4. Write up a plan. Write out exactly when, where, and how you plan to pump, so you look and feel like a total pro when it comes time to have the inevitably awkward conversations. Take cues from your investigation into your legal rights as well as the input you’ve gotten from your allies. Now, consider:

- How many times during the work day (every 3 hours or so for the first 6 months or more)

- How long it will take (15-20 minutes of actual pumping time, with a few minutes on either side for set-up and clean-up)

- Where you would like to pump

- Where you would like to store your milk during the day

- How you will make this work with your schedule: someone covering for you, you bringing your phone or laptop with you, or syncing up with lunch and other breaks

If you can't fill in all the blanks, at least you can flag up the question marks for discussion.

5. Talk to HR and your boss. Do this while you're still pregnant – no matter how awkward it seems, get ahead of it. Figure out who you want to talk to first: HR or your manager. Does your employer have an HR department? What’s their reputation like? What do your allies suggest? What is your relationship like with your boss? Would your boss be annoyed or relieved if you went to HR first?

Once you’ve decided on your first point of contact, send a friendly email explaining you'd like to discuss pumping so you can be prepared for a productive and successful return. Then, set up a phone meeting and share your rough plan in a spirit of being proactive but still open to input. Don’t bring up your legal rights at this early stage, unless they do. Try to get a rough plan in place that you can mutually agree on. But be prepared for a whole range of responses – from them being clueless about pumping, to being totally supportive, to being total jerks. But whatever you do, do not lose your cool.

Note: If you decide to start off with HR, know that eventually you’re going to have to talk to your boss. If this person is male, you have every working, pumping mother’s sympathy about the incredible awkwardness of discussing your boobs with him, but you gotta do it. Send a brief email first, so you have it in writing (and your boss has a chance to prepare). Your best bet is just after discussing with HR, so you are up to speed on any company policies and official supportiveness (or lack thereof). Have your plan ready, as well as notes from your discussion with HR. Don't delay this conversation until you are back from maternity leave. That will just put additional stress on you, and it risks catching your manager off-guard, just as s/he is hoping to see you back at work and performing.

Now, get whatever has been agreed in writing. Write up an email, then send to HR and your manager with a note. Thank them for their support, and ask them to reply with any notes so you are all on the same page. Open and close with statements about your intention to have a productive and engaged return to work.

6. Bonus tip: Give yourself a freaking break. What you are about to try to do is HARD. What you’re doing already -- having and raising a baby -- is hard, and adding work and pumping on top of it is borderline crazy. Be kind to yourself -- as kind as you’d be to your best friend or sister in the same situation. If you get back to work and find you’re not making enough milk to get your baby through the day, you’re not a failure. See a lactation consultant, yes, but also don’t see formula supplementation as an enemy or a sign of defeat. And if you love your job and are kind of excited to go back, don’t feel guilty about that. You are doing something that fulfills you, and hopefully will continue to fulfill you long after your kids are off in college, doing keg stands and not calling you. Call me crazy, but I believe you are actually allowed to still value yourself and your happiness after having children.

And, if you throw in the towel on breastfeeding at some point, for your own set of reasons which are not anybody else’s business, please, mama, please remember this: Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

Now get out there, attach a machine to one of the most sensitive and private parts of your body, and make the magic happen. You’re a warrior. You’re a badass. You’re a working mother, and that’s an amazing thing. And when you see one of us on the street, on the elevator, on the subway (you’ll know us by our “this is supposed to look like a briefcase” pump-carrying bag), know that we are with you. We’re exhausted. We have breast milk spilled on our work pants and on our laptops. We have pumped in places you can’t yet imagine. And we think you’re awesome.

Photography by Eden Ink Photography courtesy of Shop Bu Ru.

Want to make your pumping at work experience a little more stylish? Enter this week’s giveaway for a totally chic Juno Blu breast pump bag!

In This Article

    The HATCH Mama collection is everything your pregnant body needs right now

    Their oil is the only thing that stopped my belly from itching as it grew bigger.

    Conz Preti

    Let me start by saying I'm not a fan of moisturizing. I hate being wet and sticky and after applying product to my body, I have to stand around awkwardly until I'm fully air-dried—a practice that is not compatible with having three kids under the age of 3. However, as someone who has carried three children in her body, I also know how much your belly needs hydration as the baby grows.

    This was especially true with my second pregnancy. My belly popped way sooner (a thing that happens with subsequent pregnancies) and on top of that, I was carrying twins, which meant I became super pregnant super fast. My belly was itching constantly from the skin stretching (I checked with my doctor to make sure I didn't have Cholestasis) and there was no scratching in the world that could ease my discomfort. My doula recommended the HATCH Mama belly oil and changed my life. The oil is nourishing—but more important to me, quick-drying—so I could apply it all over my planet-sized twin belly and get dressed immediately after without having my clothes ruined nor stuck to my body. Because of how much I loved the oil, I tested other products, and let me tell you, they're all equally amazing.

    Curious about the HATCH Mama collection? All of their products are non-toxic and mama-safe, designed to help pregnant people overcome the challenges unique to pregnancy. As their website claims, "from stretch marks to thinning hair, to sleepless nights, we're helping you tackle every prenatal and postnatal beauty issue head-on so you can continue to feel like the best version of you." I'm here for all of this. For the entire Hatch Beauty collection click here.

    Here are my favorite products from HATCH Mama:

    Belly oil


    Intensely hydrating + fantastic at reducing the appearance of stretch marks and scars, this will be your favorite through pregnancy + beyond.


    Belly mask

    HATCH COLLECTION  Belly Mask Set

    Not only does it help to minimize the appearance of stretch masks + scars during pregnancy + postpartum, but there is a little non-toxic wink (and that's to you, mama.)


    Nipple + lip ointment 

    HATCH COLLECTION  Nipple + Lip

    Calming + soothing, this magic sauce is lanolin-free & made of tropical butters and super fruits. I'm not lying when I say you will not want to stop using this, even way after birth.


    Belly tattoos

    HATCH COLLECTION  Belly Tattoos

    A very rock and roll way to honor your bump. And non-toxic + plant-based at that!


    This article was originally published in March 2021. It has been updated.

    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    Motherly created the flexible online birth class moms need

    The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Taking a birth class is a pregnancy milestone. Whether you've been excited to take a birth class for a long time or have just recently decided that you wanted to take one, sitting down for that first lesson feels big—spoiler alert, this is really happening! But finding time for a birth class isn't as easy as it would seem.

    We know new parents are busy (hello, understatement of the year). Between diaper changes, pediatrician appointments, healing from birth and the general adjustment to #newparentlife, the days can fill up quickly. But a lot of people are caught off guard by how busy pregnancy can be, too! That first trimester is so often full of symptoms—like nausea and fatigue—that can make previously easy or simple tasks exhausting. The second trimester begins and (usually) we start to feel better. But then our days get filled with planning out baby registries and deciding on questions like, "Where will this tiny new human sleep?" And before you know it, it's the third trimester—and, well, then you're in the home stretch. Plus there are so many appointments!

    All this to say that we get how busy you are—and how hard that might make it to fit in a birth class.

    And that's why we created The Motherly Birth Class. The Motherly Birth Class is completely online, which means you can take the class at your own pace.

    Think you'll want to watch each lesson a few times over? Great!

    Due date's next week and you need the option to take a birth class very quickly? No problem!

    Like everything at Motherly, we designed this class with you in mind.

    Taught by Certified Nurse-Midwife Diana Spalding (who also wrote "The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama"), this class is broken into 12 lessons—and you get to control how and when you watch them. We'll teach you about what your (amazing) body is up to in labor, how to decide when it's time to head to the hospital or birth center (or when to call your home birth midwife), what your options are for coping with pain and so much more.

    When you sign up for The Motherly Birth Class, you'll get access to a downloadable workbook and meditations. Plus, you'll be invited to join our supportive private online community (where you can chat with the class instructor!)

    Oh, one more thing: Your insurance or flexible spending account might even able to able to cover the cost of this class.

    Pregnancy is wonderful—but it's a lot. You deserve a birth class that works for you and empowers you to have your best birth. Because vaginal or Cesarean, unmedicated or medication, birth is incredible. And you are the star of it all.

    You've got this.

    Sign up for The Motherly Birth Class today!

    The Motherly Birth Class


    Take our completely digital birth class from the comfort of your living room. We'll help you have your best birth—because you deserve it.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    This post is sponsored by BABYBJÖRN. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

    So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Secret Agent play set


    This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


    Stepping Stones


    Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.


    Wooden doll stroller

    Janod wooden doll stroller

    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


    Sensory play set


    Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Foam pogo stick


    Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.




    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.


    Hopper ball

    Hopper ball

    Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.


    Pull-along ducks


    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Rocking chair seesaw


    This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


    New line of Barbie dolls includes a COVID vaccine developer

    Six female scientists and global frontline workers are honored in Mattel's latest Barbie line.


    Barbie celebrates role models in a variety of different careers—over 200 to be exact—and their newest line is no exception. The continuation of the "Play it Forward" platform (that Mattel, Inc. uses to give back to communities in times of need) will now honor six real-life female scientists who have been integral during the pandemic, including a COVID vaccine developer.

    It was announced today that Barbie will donate $5 for each eligible Barbie doctor, nurse and paramedic doll sold at Target to the First Responders Children's Foundation (FRCF), a charity that benefits the children of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "Barbie recognizes that all frontline workers have made tremendous sacrifices when confronting the pandemic and the challenges it heightened," said Lisa McKnight, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls, Mattel in a statement. "To shine a light on their efforts, we are sharing their stories and leveraging Barbie's platform to inspire the next generation to take after these heroes and give back. Our hope is to nurture and ignite the imaginations of children playing out their own storyline as heroes."

    One of the one-of-a-kind Barbie dolls is created in the likeness of British vaccinologist Sarah Gilbert, who helped lead the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. How cool is that? And what an inspirational toy for kids!

    Gilbert told The Guardian she hopes the dolls inspire other young women around the world to work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers (STEM).

    "I am passionate about inspiring the next generation of girls into STEM careers and hope that children who see my Barbie will realize how vital careers in science are to help the world around us," she said. "My wish is that my doll will show children careers they may not be aware of, like a vaccinologist."

    The other five women recognized by Barbie and Mattel, Inc. are also role models amid the ongoing pandemic: Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz, a U.S. healthcare worker and advocate for anti-Asian racism, ER nurse Amy O'Sullivan, Canadian doctor and anti-racism advocate Chicka Stacy Oriuwa, Brazilian biomedical researcher Dr. Jaqueline Goes de Jesus, and Australian doctor Kirby White, who helped develop protective gowns for healthcare professionals.

    Mattel's #ThankYouHeroes program was created in 2020 to honor those who have led the fight against COVID-19, as well as the everyday heroes who keep our communities up and running.

    Cheers to the new line of Barbie dolls, and may all the Barbie-lovers in our families find inspiration from these real-life heroes!

    News + Trending

    Car seat safety isn't a gray area: Why one mom's story is going viral

    She texted her husband to remind him to tighten the straps. Minutes later, he was in a car crash.

    This story was originally published on August 01, 2018

    For most parenting tasks, there's more than one way to get things done. This is important to remember if you're parenting with a partner who has a totally different laundry system than you do or packs the diaper bag in a way that makes no sense to you. It's not the end of the world if the onesies are hung instead of folded or if the bottles are in the wrong pocket. We have to give our partners room to do things their way, too.

    But when it comes to buckling our kids in their car seats, there really is only one way—the safe way—and one mama is thankful that she reminded her partner of that just in time.

    Rebecca Tafaro Boyer is a new mom and nurse at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. On her first day back at work after maternity leave she asked her husband to send her hourly updates on how her 3-month-old son, William, was doing on his first day without her.

    When her husband texted her a photo of William in his car seat, Tafaro Boyer knew she had to let her husband know that there's really only one way to buckle a baby in. "My nagging wife reply was to correct William's position in the car seat—the straps were too loose and the chest clip was way too low. And because I know my husband, I'm sure that he laughed at me and rolled his eyes before tightening the car seat and fixing the chest clip," she wrote in a now viral Facebook post about the experience.

    Just 15 minutes after her husband fixed the straps, he and little William were in a collision.

    According to Tafaro Boyer, an unlicensed, uninsured driver pulled into oncoming traffic attempting to make an illegal left turn, and although her husband slammed on the brakes at nearly 50 miles an hour, he just didn't have enough time to stop and hit the other car.

    "My precious little bundle of joy was so well restrained in his car seat, THAT HE DIDN'T EVEN WAKE UP. Even with the impact of the two cars, William only received a minor jolt - so insignificant that he was able to continue on with his nap," Tafaro Boyer wrote.

    Her husband was injured, but baby William was snug in his Britax B Safe 35 car seat. Had the straps been left as they were, it could have been a different story.

    "I am so thankful that my husband took the extra one minute that was necessary to put William in his car seat safely," she Tafaro Boyer explained. "I truly believe that the reason my family is at home sitting on the couch with a pair of crutches instead of down at the hospital is because of my annoying nagging mom voice."

    Fellow moms are all up in the comments of Tafaro Boyer's post tagging thier partners and leaving notes like, "This is why I nag."

    It's not nagging if it's a safety issue.

    Sometimes our partners (or our child's grandparents or babysitters) just don't know that something isn't safe. We've got to tell them when they're doing something we know could hurt our child. That's a text worth sending. The ones about the way your significant other folds the laundry wrong, those are the texts you might want to keep to yourself.

    You might also like:

      Car Seat Safety