Your Robot Baby and You: How to Survive Pumping at Work

Your Robot Baby and You: How to Survive Pumping at Work

June 21, 2016

Your Robot Baby and You: How to Survive Pumping at Work

Your Robot Baby and You: How to Survive Pumping at Work
Photo by @kattsworld
Your Robot Baby and You: How to Survive Pumping at Work

Having a new baby is, in some ways, just an exercise in freaking out about what stuff you should buy. Do I need a wipes warmer? (My answer: No. The human race has survived so far with our butts being wiped at a slightly cool temperature.) What kind of diaper rash cream do I need? Will my baby end up in therapy if I get the wrong nail clippers?

This all gets turned up to full blast when you return to work with a breast pump. Going back to work while you’re breastfeeding is a bit of a military operation, and being unprepared will result in talking to your male co-worker while, unbeknownst to you, your milk finally breaches your bra and begins to spread in a big, wet stain across your shirt. (It was the anxiety behind all of this that led me to interview hundreds of working moms and write a how-to book on pumping at work.)

Pumping at work isn’t all about stuff, of course. There are a few survival items that you can’t just buy. They include:

  1. A really thick skin.
  2. A sense of ingenuity to hack any storage closet, empty office, car, or otherwise inconvenient space into a lactation room.
  3. The ability to say “This is really awkward,” and then launch into a conversation, with your boss, about your breasts.
  4. A back pocket full of witty comebacks for people who throw shade at you. I’m particular to responding to “When are you going to stop breastfeeding?” with “I would, but my husband really likes it in his coffee.”
  5. An enormous amount of grace for yourself. Most jobs and workplaces are not set up to help us succeed at pumping. If it doesn’t work out the way you planned, it is not a reflection on you. As I always say, Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

But stuff: it’s important. Of course, you’re going to need that robot baby… your frenemy… your pump. Most insurance plans have to cover some kind of pump, so call your insurer first and ask what they cover and how to get it. If you do have a choice, check out the best breast pump guide and talk to friends you trust. (And you might want to look into the new kid on the block, Freemie – a concealable, hands-free option.)

“Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.”

Here’s what I recommend you pack into your pump bag, along with the stuff that comes standard with your pump, for your first day back at work. You can pare down over time as you see what works for you.

  1. One reusable lunch bag. You’ll need this to bring your milk home every day, and also to store it in the office fridge between sessions, so Tim from Accounts Payable doesn’t flip out when he sees human milk in the fridge.
  2. At least four pump bottles with lids. Because you’ll forget some, or lose some.
  3. Two flanges/horns. I can’t recommend enough that you buy the replacement flanges from PumpinPal. They are more comfortable and will help you pump more milk.
  4. One microwave sterilization bag. Great for getting clean at the end of the day.
  5. One wet bag. Don’t wash your pump parts in between pumping sessions – throw them in a wet bag (or Ziploc) and into the fridge and wash them at home at the end of the day. Lactation consultants say it’s sanitary, and it will save you so much time.
  6. One bottle of hand sanitizer. Because you totally won’t have time to wash your hands before every pumping session.
  7. Four extra breast pads. See above re: wet milk all over your blouse.
  8. One small pack of wet wipes (for spills). You’re gonna spill. Try not to do it on your keyboard, but if you do, tell the IT department it was coffee. Nobody needs to have that conversation.
  9. 10 breastmilk storage bags and a Sharpie to label them. Note that once you pour the milk in, they’re totally inaccurate on volume, so eyeball the volume while the milk is still in the pump bottles.
  10. One hand pump. Keep one of these at the office, for the day you forget your pump or one of its essential parts. You might also need it on a busy day where all you can fit in is a few minutes.

One more thing: wear waterproof eye makeup on that first day. It will get easier, trust me, but Day One is going to involve some Ugly Crying.


Jessica Shortall is the author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work (Abrams, 2015), which is available everywhere you can buy books. She is also a vocal advocate for paid parental leave. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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