The reality of pumping at work: The Routine

If you ever wondered what it’s like to pump at work 3 times a day, 5 days a week, you’ve come to the right place. Now that I’ve shared my minimalist pumping supplies, I’m going to talk about how I use them. This post discloses the nitty-gritty of pumping and might be TMI for some of you. Consider yourself warned.

To start, let me remind you that I’ve experienced two considerably different pumping journeys. At first I was only going to share how it’s gone with Maggie, but I started writing it up and it was so depressing. So I’ve chosen to include my routine when I was pumping for Lily because while pumping is never easy, it’s also not always ridiculously difficult.

A comical image of what pumping at home looks like, just to start on a light note. Lily is obsessed with photos in case you couldn’t tell.
Pumping for Baby #1: The “This is so easy!” Routine

When Lily was still nursing I was like a cow. I produced enough milk for at least 2-3 babies. At work, I pumped 2-3 times per day. If I pumped 2 times I still walked away with excess milk, but I also risked leaking through my shirt (there were plenty of times when I didn’t bring enough extra breast pads and had to stuff my shirt with paper towels). I typically pumped every 3 hours, and did it in my office while not working. My boobs would literally start leaking at 2 hours 45 minutes, so I had to be pretty strategic about making sure I could do this because I was also running lab participants for up to 3 hours at a time. These were paid breaks–this wasn’t actually discussed with my employer, but just assumed.

I shared an office with another girl during my brief stint working full-time, and I would just go and sit facing the window so our backs were to each other. I kept headphones in my bag, and would listen to music while either closing my eyes, gazing out the window (at half a tree and a brick wall–we were in the basement), or scrolling through my phone. I tried to avoid looking at my phone unless I had something coming up I needed to plan, or to look at photos of Lily. Looking at photos of your baby is a good way to help you relax and, hence, let down. I actually occasionally listened to meditative music to help with this, which is something I forgot about until just now and will have to start up again.

I started each pumping session by double pumping. My right boob has always been a better producer (I could pump 6-9oz during my morning session), and I completely stopped pumping my left boob when Lily was about 9 months old. The last few minutes of each session I would switch to single-sided pumping so I could massage the last drops out. Because pump bottles are made for normal women (they hold between 5-6oz milk), I usually switched to single-sided once the bottle hooked up to my right boob was full. In the morning I’d pump anywhere between 7-10oz total, and then about 5-6oz at each of my other sessions. I seem to remember averaging around 16-24oz a day but I could be wrong. I also know that if I had a pumping session where I only pumped 3oz I probably would have had a heart attack. I was so obsessive about my supply, even though I had like 80oz just sitting in the freezer, and really anxious about missing sessions and my supply just disappearing. I also drank Mothers Milk tea like water for literally no reason.

After pumping, I would try to stealthily transfer milk from the pump bottles into Lasinoh bags. Sometimes I just left the milk in the bottles, but this was like playing Russian Roulette because when I did this I would typically overproduce that day and run out of bottles to use for my 3rd pump. I’d then bring my little freezer bag of milk to the kitchen and stick it in the fridge. I typically washed my parts once a day, because I’d bring two full sets.

Once I got home I would stick the milk in the freezer. It’s recommended to date and time your milk bags so you can give milk you pumped in the morning to your baby in the morning, etc. We never did this. I figured that she was getting breastmilk which was good enough. I typically put the bags it would make most sense for Maggie to drink in an obvious place. I’d sometimes have to cobble together a few bags of different sizes to get to around 6-7oz. The next day, my MIL would thaw the milk in a measuring cup filled with hot water before pouring it into a bottle.

Pumping for Baby #2: The “FML” Routine

Pumping for Maggie has been so hard. I’m working full-time, I have a real job, and I also have a low supply. Having a low supply is really unusual if you’ve had an oversupply in the past, and breastfeeding second and subsequent children is typically much easier, so I just have terrible luck. I don’t take paid lactation breaks, so usually try to shift my hours (really minutes) around so that I get to relax until my milk fully lets down, and so I can wash my pump parts (about 5 minutes out of the 20 minutes total it takes to set up, pump, store, and wash). Sometimes I take the full time to blog, look at my phone, right angry letters to Governor Cuomo about needing paid lactation breaks, etc. and then just knock time off my lunch or come in early/leave late. I pump for 15-ish minutes, 3 times a day.

I try to start by washing my hands, which I usually only remember if I just went to the bathroom. I’ve also been trying to sanitize my desk once a day (for like the past week. and Maggie’s 10 months old. whatever.). Anyway, I then sit down at my desk in front of my computer and hook my pump up to my right boob. Let-down usually happens about 2-3 minutes in. After that, I have to do a lot of “massaging” to get enough milk out. This means that I’m holding the pump with one hand, and squeezing with the other. If I wasn’t also trying to work at the same time, this would take less time because I could massage continuously. About 10 minutes in, I switch to my sad left boob, which I get 1/4 to 1/2oz from. While with Lily this wasn’t enough to justify pumping on my left side, now I need all the liquid gold I can get and I do a little “woot woot!” on the inside when I get a little stream vs. a few drops. I’ll often switch back to the right for a minute at the end to try to get to my goal. This is 3-4oz in the morning (depending on the last time I nursed Maggie), and 2-3oz for subsequent pumps. My daily goal is 10oz, as Maggie takes 2 5oz bottles during the day (thankfully she isn’t as demanding of milk as Lily was or we’d be buying a lot more formula). If I only get 9oz, I’m also happy as half the time she doesn’t finish her bottles.

After I’m done pumping I pour the milk into Mason jars. Like I mentioned before, I’m trying to aim for 5oz per jar. I’m so glad I read about storing and handling breast milk on KellyMom, because I now know it’s okay to add to previously cooled milk throughout the day. When I bought my Spectra, I also learned that you only need to sanitize pump parts and baby bottles for breastfed babies before the first use! This could have saved me (okay, Ryan) soooo much time when we didn’t have a dishwasher and were sanitizing in a thing on the counter. If you don’t have time to wash your pump parts, you can just store them in the fridge because this prevents the milk droplets left on them from going bad. You can also store milk in the fridge up to 8 days, so I never freeze milk anymore. side note, breastmilk also lines your babies got with magic fairy dust that prevents them from getting sick (just swirl, don’t shake, the milk). Basically, breastmilk = magical rainbow unicorn.

Milk stash, which is now completely depleted, and a sneak peek at our cheese/meat drawer! (that’s a joke)

I store my milk in my lunch bag in the fridge. I’m careful to rinse the Mason jars under water before reopening, because, let’s face it, there are tons of germs in lunch bags. Then I go on my happy way. I usually wash my parts right before I need them because I’m lazy. I have a sink in my office because it used to be a doctor’s office, which is random but I LOVE it.

One of the worst parts about this whole situation is that my back is wrecked from trying to pump and work, which requires a lot of hunching over. I have a pretty bad diastasis recti, and this is making it much, much worse because I spend so much time with terrible posture. I’ve let this go for such a long time, but I decided on my morning run today that I’m going to see if I can get physical therapy or rehabilitation for this covered by health insurance. I might day-wean Maggie at 12 months because I am so uncomfortable.

The only thing better about pumping for Maggie vs. Lily is that I have zero anxiety. Because I have no expectation of being able to pump enough for her, it’s not stressful.

Yay, isn’t pumping fun! Now everyone go write angry letters asking for better support for new moms. And free yoga for me, because seriously, my back.

The reality of pumping at work: Supplies

Hey guys! A few of you commented that you were tucking information about cloth diapering etc. away for when you needed it, so I went ahead and added a “Pin It” button to my photos. Just hover over a photo to save the image on Pinterest. I use Pinterest for everything, and just started a Pinterest page for Oh, Sweet Thing where I’m saving things like my favorite baby gear, baby-led weaning foods, and activities for kids.

It wasn’t until I went back to work full-time after Maggie was born that I realized how difficult pumping truly is. With Lily I had an oversupply and a cushy full-time job for about a month before going down to part-time. I’m going to go into (graphic) detail about my pumping routine because I think it’s important to prepare yourself for what this is going to look like and, if possible, talk with your employer about how pumping will fit into your schedule. Since you don’t get paid for pumping breaks unless you work during them and all. But first, I want to start with the supplies.

While I didn’t begin my pumping journey this way, I have become a minimalist pumper. I’m not sure I fully qualify because I have a huge bag of leftover parts from two defunct pumps (more on this later), but at this point in my life as a working mom, I have my supplies down to an incredibly bare minimum. Like, I don’t think you can get more basic than this (except for the Clorox wipes). It seems parents are becoming more and more aware about reducing the sheer number of things they accumulate (or are trying to do their little part to reduce their impact on the environment because they’re terrified what the current administration will try to do to it), and pumping is a really great place to try to cut back because you can either create a huge amount of waste, or get by with a few key items. I’m also partially able to do this because I don’t freeze my milk, but if you read on you’ll see how to freeze milk while still cutting back on plastic.

1)Spectra S2 Plus Electric Breast Pump: I am on my fourth pump. The first pump I got was an Ameda. At first I thought it was okay, but it seemed to just get worse and worse. Ryan bought me a Medela Symphony for our first Valentines Day as a married couple. I was swooning. It was such an improvement over the Ameda. Something happened with the motor at one point, and Medela replaced the entire pump for free because I had been using it under a year. The pump I received is the same one I started off using after Maggie was born. I couldn’t justify getting a new pump (even though they’re mostly free)  from a moral standpoint: you should see all of the pump bottles, flanges, caps, tubing, valves, and general plastic I had accumulated. I had enough parts that I could double pump (both sides at the same time) three times in a day and not have to wash a single thing. Ryan recently said something about how we’re going to kill dolphins with all the toys we have. This is exactly how I felt about getting a new pump. But of course my Medela petered out and I was forced to replace it.

I did some research and with the validation of a lactation consultant chose the Spectra S2 PLUS Electric Breast Pump. It’s  much more efficient, quiet, and compact than the Medela. I have one set of parts which means I have to wash them during the day. I could purchase another set which I did with my Medela but by conscience won’t let me (dolphins and all). This is actually less cumbersome and problematic than trying to keep track of countless parts at home.

2) Nenesupply Duckbill Valves: Breastpump valves are pretty fragile and susceptible to tearing. After I had a valve tear I came across these Nenesupply valves and decided to try them after reading reviews stating they made pumping more efficient. The verdict: they totally do! While they don’t technically increase the amount I pump, I end up with more milk volume because I’m able to express more milk in the 15 minutes I give myself to pump. This is huge when you have low supply like me. They’re apparently compatible with Medela pumps as well.

3) Mason jars: I didn’t realize how expensive breastmilk storage bags were until I was working and pumping full time. I was spending close to $20 a month on bags that, because my supply was so low, were being discarded within 24 hours of being filled. That would end up being upwards of $180 if I pumped until Maggie was one. Now, if you have a strong supply and want to build up a freezer stash you’ll may want to go with bags. But there are alternatives if you want to save money and cut down on plastic either because dolphins, or because estrogen proprioceptors.

After some research I discovered Mason jars can be used to store milk. I had a lot of 16oz jars but ended up getting the smaller 8oz ones because it’s easier to put 5oz in them which is what Maggie drinks. Plus they were onle like $4 and we still use the big ones we have. (PS We were lazy and put the lids in the dishwasher and they rusted. I decided to try out plastic lids and they leaked. I got a full refund from Amazon but no compensation for having the supplement with formula while Maggie had a double ear infection. Just use metal, wash by hand, and boil occasionally). Kelly Mom says you can store milk in the fridge for 3-8 days which is perfect for me right now. However, when I needed to freeze milk I would simply freeze it in the same ice cube trays I used to freeze baby food. After they were frozen, I put them in freezer bags for storage. Then I’d pull out however many I needed for a bottle.

Mason jars are great for storing milk because you can heat the milk right in them much more quickly thank milk will heat in a plastic bottle. Simply fill a pot with a few inches of water, add the Mason jar, and warm up on the stove. It takes less than 5 minutes. If you freeze your milk in ice cube trays you will need to add cubes to a bottle to thaw in the fridge overnight, or you can put them in a Mason jar on the stovetop for quick thawing.

I was always uneasy about thawing and warming milk frozen in bags in hot water because you wouldn’t heat something in Tupperware right? Same thing with heating milk in plastic bottles: we still do it when I’m not able to add just the right amount of milk to my jars during the day, or when timing and communication with the many people graciously feeding Maggie just don’t line up. But using glass whenever possible makes me feel so much better. If more glass bottles had been affordable and available when Lily was a baby we would have used them. However, we were having combined wedding and baby showers so wanted only to register for the essentials. Lily didn’t get fed a huge number of bottles so the plastic wasn’t as much of a concern, and we ended up having a hard time finding a bottle nipple Maggie liked so could have wasted a lot more money had we replaced everything with glass bottles. There are so many affordable glass bottle options out there now that I definitely recommend it for new moms!

4) Ziplock bags: I store all my clean pump parts and my Mason jars in Ziplock bags to avoid contact with other things I may occasionally stow in my pump bag (Tupperware from lunch, running clothes, tablecloths I need to wash for work…)

5) Bottle brush and dish soap: Because we don’t have a kitchen at one of our offices, and because my regular office has a sink right inside it, I bring my own.

6) Disinfecting wipes: These are a new addition to my routine. I only use Clorox wipes during norovirus/rotovirus/flu season, and I try to wear gloves because like hand sanitizer, these things also kill beneficial bacteria.

7) Tote bag: Another bonus about the Spectra is that, unlike many other pumps, you can carry it (and your supplies) in any bag. Like i mentioned I often carry other things in the same bag as my pump so I typically use a pretty spacious tote.

What’s in your pump bag?


Nursing, the second time around.

By this point, we all know about the benefits of breastfeeding for both moms and babies. I’ve been a proponent of breastfeeding since long before I had children. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized what my stance really is when I saw the phrase circulating social media: “Fed is best.”

When I was pregnant with Lily, I planned to breastfeed. I also planned to do so only to the extent that it didn’t negatively impact my quality of life, her health and happiness, or my relationship with my husband, friends, and/or family. I read so many stories about women who were staunch breastfeeding supporters and wouldn’t feed their babies formula even though they were struggling to maintain weight. They went so far as to tape little tubes to their breasts, and pumped around the clock. It angered me how these women felt that they should be praised for these efforts, all the while they also expressed how exhausted they were and how going to these extents meant that spent less time with their babies, older children, spouses, family members, and friends.

I knew I was incredibly lucky when Lily latched on within a few minutes, and I had an oversupply of milk. After she nursed for the last time in January 2016, I threw out my extensive freezer stash. When Maggie was born, I immediately knew something was different. I produced just enough milk to keep her fed. She was an incredibly fussy eater, and in the evenings during her witching hour(s) often couldn’t latch. There were a number of times I gave her bottles of expressed milk, but I had such a small amount saved up that I considered supplementing with formula very early on. Evenings were incredibly stressful, with her screaming inconsolably from as early as 6pm to as late as 11:30pm. It was impacting my life, and taking away from time spent with Lily and Ryan. There were endless nights of bringing her into our room at 7pm, and eventually passing her off to Ryan a few hours later when I couldn’t take it anymore.  Every night I struggled with whether or not to give her a bottle and then pump, which I dreaded. Then suddenly at 7 weeks, things got better. She started latching more effectively and was much less fussy. But when I went back to work at 13 weeks postpartum, I was barely producing enough milk. I depleted my freezer stash, and could only pump enough for the next day. I often had to pump in the morning and evening as well. When we had a 3-night trip away from the girls looming when Maggie would be 5 months old, I knew we’d have to supplement.


Preparing that first bottle of formula was strangely liberating. With Lily, I think I may have cried if I was forced to give her formula. With Maggie, it was like this huge weight was lifted off of me. Here I was with an alternative for when she struggled to nurse because there just wasn’t much there for her, for those evenings when she bit me because nothing was coming out. She had formula for 1 1/5 days of our trip, and of course was completely fine. These days, she ends up getting one formula bottle about half the time when I’m at work. Probably 2 days a week, I end up giving her formula before bed because I just don’t have enough left in my boobs (this is usually toward the end of the week). And then of course she nurses 3 times a night at 8 months which is a nightmare, but part of me is okay with it because I do want her to get that little bit more of breastmilk.

While my supply is definitely lower this time around, being at work full time has absolutely made pumping more difficult. With Lily, I only worked full time for about a month before going to 2 days a week. Pumping 3 times a day, 2 days a week is nothing. Pumping 3 times a day, 5 days a week and not producing enough is exhausting. I get so anxious looking at the timer on my pump, and sometimes I’ll get to 14:45 and just rip the thing off (I try to pump for 15 minutes). I also have to work through pumping sessions, because otherwise I’d have to take 45 minutes worth of unpaid breaks during the day. This means my back is completely wrecked from sitting hunched over, typing one-handed while trying to push every last drop out. It’s complete crap that we’re expected to exclusively breast feed for 6 months, but we have to go back to work after only a few weeks and don’t get paid for pumping breaks.

I reached out to a lactation consultant when I was considering stopping pumping because of my low supply. I wanted her to say that it was okay to supplement with formula. Instead, she suggested I add a pumping session in the morning and/or the evening, and that I try relaxing while pumping at work. If she had said this to me in person, I may have bitten her head off. There is no way I would pump in the morning or evening and take away from time spent doing chores that enable me to be more present with my girls when they’re awake. And relaxing at work? I don’t think an extra ounce of milk is worth 45 less minutes with my family. She also suggested that I ask my childcare providers to offer her fewer bottles, and more solid food and water during the day. Why wouldn’t I just send her with an extra bottle of formula then? I’m all for lactation consultants, but that last suggestion really put me off.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, though. I think. I stopped pumping with Lily at 10 months, because she stopped taking bottles. But I was also home with her the other 5 days of the week, and she would nurse those days. With Maggie, I think I’ll stop when she’s 12 months old, but what if she wants bottles during the day? Do I just send formula? Or do I keep pumping? What did you do?

PS: I switched to the Spectra S2 pump after my Medela Symphony just wasn’t cutting it. This pump is such an improvement! It’s so quiet, and much more efficient. It came highly recommended by a lactation consultant, who said she didn’t know why people would choose the Medela over it. Plus, it’s kind of cute. Spectra S2 Plus