Pumping while working was something I did nearly a decade ago. But I still have a very detailed and visceral memory in my body of the experience. Probably because I did it approximately 1,000 times! (Yes, I calculated it once…)
Today, I’m so excited to welcome to the Mindful Return blog a mama who is dedicated to making pumping while working better for professional, working moms. Kathryn Wepfer is the founder of Fulcrum Apparel, a company that is about to launch some work wear for pumping moms that you will absolutely want to check out. Thank you, Kathryn for sharing your expertise and wise tips with us on how to survive and thrive as we work and pump!
“When I went back to work, I was absolutely determined to pump three times a day, because I felt like I had worked so hard for the breastfeeding. And I wasn’t going to let working stop me.”
That’s what one mom told me after describing her breastfeeding and pumping while working challenges. I admire her determination and the resilience she displayed when returning to some less-than-ideal circumstances at work. Though I know we don’t all approach pumping while working with that degree of certainty.
There is often so much unknown around what the experience will be like. From how the work environment may or may not support us, to the fundamental lack of control inherent in a work setting.
In my many interviews of women about their pumping while working experiences for The Pivot Blog, I’ve seen a few common fears emerge:
- Concern over integrating pumping into their work life in a way that doesn’t take away from their performance.
- A desire to be regarded as every bit the professional they were before they became a mom.
- Frustration over the added time requirement and logistics of pumping. Yet a strong commitment to this personal goal they’ve set for themselves.
It’s remarkable to see how each woman faces these concerns to navigate the journey in her own unique way. Through their experiences, I’ve observed a few critical actions that can help alleviate these concerns and remove some of the frustration that many women feel while pumping at work.
These tips also consider the increasing work location variability women are navigating these days. While many women return to a traditional office setting after baby, Covid has ushered in more location flexibility. There are also professions that require women to pump in a variety of locations, from in the car, to a client site, at a courthouse, or any other number of places.
Recognizing this variation, I want to offer some of the most common tips I hear across experiences.
Making a Plan for Pumping While Working, Before You Return to Work
- Experiment with pumping so you’re familiar with your pumping equipment, your output, and the optimal pumping cadence for your body. This removes some of the unknown around what the experience will be like and can enable you to start on an ideal schedule for you.
- If possible, test different pumps and invest in one that best suits your needs and work circumstances:
- Consider a wearable pump if it’s in your budget, as these models increase your potential to multitask.
- If you anticipate a hectic schedule or the need to pump on the go, consider a hand pump for an easy-to-transport way to get a little relief in a short timeline.
- If you’ll be working in an office regularly, get a second pump to leave at work. Keep an extra set of pump parts at the office as backup.
- Talk with your manager before your return, to discuss your pumping needs. These will likely include both physical space and daily scheduling.
Pumping While Working, After You’re Back at Work
- Continue to be transparent with your manager and colleagues about your pumping needs. Request the accommodations you need, and proactively look for ways to mitigate any perceived risk of you stepping away to pump.
- Block pumping times on your work calendar and stick to the schedule whenever possible.
- Find an activity that enables you to optimize your pumping sessions. You may prefer to open your laptop and continue working. Or perhaps you need a break to relax. If looking at photos of your baby helps with milk expression, keep your phone nearby.
- Store pump parts in the refrigerator, so washing isn’t required between sessions. Wash the parts thoroughly at the end of each day.
- Invest in a couple of pumping-compatible work garments that will carry you through your postpartum journey. Find a few key pieces that can be dressed up or down, that make you feel good, and that enable efficient pumping. Remember, you’ll likely need these items for a longer period of time than you needed your maternity wear, so it’s worth the investment to feel great and be efficient.
Just as each pregnancy, birth, and feeding journey are unique, every pumping journey is unique. And each mom must find the particular practices that enable her to thrive as a professional and as a mom.
Despite the inherent challenges of pumping while working, there’s one resounding conclusion that I hear women reach at the end of the journey:
“I feel like a rock star.”
I hope you, too, feel like a rock star and take pride in your unique journey.
Kathryn Wepfer is the founder of Fulcrum Apparel, launching later this summer, which provides better workwear solutions for pumping moms. Prior to launching Fulcrum, Kathryn was a mechanical engineer in robotics and jet engines, a product manager and sales specialist for Microsoft, and had a short career as a professional ballroom dancer. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two daughters.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave