Babies, Breastfeeding & Pumping at Work

Returning to work while nursing a huge milestone in your parenting journey. Get ready before the big day comes with these action steps designed to help you meet your breastfeeding goals.

Know your rights

Workplaces vary in size, number of employees, and types of business. No matter where you work, it’s important to know your rights as a nursing parent, and what workplace accommodation laws apply to help you maintain your milk supply and feed your baby.

SEE ALSO: Breastfeeding Success in the Early Days

The Fair Labor Standards Act (2010) requires businesses with more than 50 employees to:

  • Provide timeto express milk for at least the first year of your child’s life (up to age 1). You can use your standard breaks or schedule breaks ahead of time.
  • Provide space for pumping that is not a bathroom. The space must be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

SEE ALSO: Nurse-Recommended Breastfeeding Positions

Talk with your employer before returning to work and make a plan together that checks all the boxes (time, space, and privacy to express your milk). You are part of a growing number of the two-thirds of women who work full-time with children under the age of 3.


Start to gather your supplies to breastfeed/chestfeed long before giving birth. At a minimum, you’ll need:

  • Breast pump: While some parents receive an electric breast pump as a gift, you can also receive one through your health insurance company under the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid. Each state has their own policies on exact coverage for a breast pump so be sure to check what your state will cover.
  • Milk storage containers: You’ll need several bottles or disposable milk storage bags to store your milk.
  • Cooler or refrigerator:  If your workplace has a refrigerator, learn if it’s okay to store your milk there. If not, be sure to get a few ice packs and a thermal container to keep the milk cold.


  • Practice using the pump a few times prior to returning to work. It will give you confidence and give your partner a chance to introduce a bottle of expressed milk to your baby.
  • Make sure the flanges of the breast pump fit properly:
  • the nipple moves freely in the tunnel of the pump
  • there is little or no areola in the tunnel of the pump
  • there should be no pain in your nipple while pumping
  • Hand expression is another great way to keep your milk flowing
  • Some women prefer to double pump (both sides at the same time) or pump one side after the other. Double pumping will reduce pumping time and may increase the total volume of milk you express. You can purchase a pumping bra designed to hold the flanges in place for you while you pump, or you can make a DIY version yourself by cutting two holes in a sports bra to accommodate the pump flanges.

SEE ALSO: Top 5 Breastfeeding Positions

  • Generally, the more relaxed you are during the pumping process the more milk you will express. But each nursing person is unique—and milk production is too. Some may only get an ounce per pumping per side, and others will get several ounces.
  • Prior to returning to work, practice pumping first thing in the morning when you have the largest volume of milk. Then store that milk in the freezer for future feedings.

Introduce a bottle

  • If possible, introduce a bottle of pumped milk a couple weeks before returning to work
  • Some babies have no problem going from breast to bottle, while others will put up quite a fuss, and may even refuse altogether. It’s a learning process
  • Make sure someone other than you offers baby the bottle. Your baby knows your smell and might not accept a bottle when they can know the real thing is right there!                 

The big day

  • Gather all your equipment the evening before so that you don’t have to multitask in the morning, especially if you’ll be taking baby to daycare on your way to work.
  • When at work make sure you have plenty of water to drink while you’re pumping.
  • If possible, look at photos of your baby, listen to their recorded coos and cries, or play some music or white noise on your phone to help you to relax.
  • Keep a clean hand towel or paper towels available for possible spills.
  • Be sure to keep your pumping space clean and wash the equipment after each use

Keep going!

  • Eat a healthy diet and continue to take your prenatal vitamins.
  • To help increase milk production consume these foods: oatmeal, barley, spinach, carrots, hummus, brown rice, and apricots.
  • The most effective way to maintain a healthy milk supply is to pump or nurse frequently. The more milk you remove, the more you’ll make!

The research on the benefits of breastfeeding is growing, for both the nursing parent and the infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2020), the World Health Organization (2020), the CDC (2020), the Association of Women’s Health and Neonatal Nursing (2015), and many other organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding/chestfeeding until 6 months of age, and continued nursing through the first year–and beyond!

This means the baby is only fed human milk for the first six months (no other liquids or solids are given–not even water), and then continues to nurse after starting solids. This may seem like a lofty goal, but with good support and a little planning, you can do it!

You will find many more articles on breastfeeding in our Breastfeeding section


Joanne Goldbort, PhD, MSN, RN, is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University and an expert nurse adviser to Healthy Mom&Baby.

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