Photo of a mother pumping milk, she is smiling at the camera,  behind her baby is standing and also looking at the camera.

There are times when mothers and other nursing parents are separated from their child for work or for school. It is important to know that you can still provide milk for your child when you are away and you can maintain your breastfeeding relationship.

How often will I have to pump when I go back to work or school (college)?

How long you are apart from you baby influences this decision. Ideally, you would pump as often as your baby would nurse. This may not be possible with your work/ school schedule. Most mothers find that pumping every 2-3 hours maintains their milk supply and does not cause them to become uncomfortably full.

For example, if you work an 8 hour work day, you would nurse your child before coming to work, then pump mid-morning, at lunchtime and then mid-afternoon. You would then nurse your baby when you returned home.

Should I single or double pump?

Using a pump that can express milk from both breasts at the same time will save the most time. It may take about 15 minutes to pump both breasts instead of 30 minutes or more to pump each breast separately. Double pumping also provides very strong stimulation to keep a good milk supply. Prolactin, which is an important hormone for making milk, becomes very elevated when mothers double pump.

Is there any way to decrease the number of times I have to pump at work?

If it is possible for you to go home at lunch, or have someone meet you on your break with your baby, you can breastfeed instead of pump. Some employers have onsite child care and this could allow you to take your breaks with your baby.

Some babies develop a pattern known as “reverse cycle breastfeeding.” (Gale Pryor / Nursing Mother, Working Mother). This means that your baby will sleep more while you away and breastfeed more when you are together. If this happens, you may find you need to pump less when you are away from your baby. Keep your baby near you at night, so that you may nurse easily and get as much sleep as possible.

How Do I Choose a Breast Pump?

They type of breast pump you need depends very much on your situation.  Your ability to pump well will depend on matching your specific needs to the best pumping system that meets those needs.

If you do need to leave your baby because you are returning to work or school, a good pump will be needed. There are many options to choose from. It is important to choose one that will meet your specific needs. Some things to consider are cost, efficiency, how easy it is to transport and how much noise it makes.

If you only need to pump occasionally, a hand operated pump may be the right one. They are small, easy to carry and use and are not very expensive (for example they may cost $20-50 in the US). One pump that is no longer recommended is the “bicycle horn” style manual pump.  This pump did not work well and many mothers found it to be uncomfortable to use.

If you will only be away a few hours a day and only need to pump once or twice, a small electric pump may be appropriate. The cost of these range from about $50 to $150 in the US. Some are double pumping styles, others will pump one breast at a time. Some of them are fairly quiet, but some are rather noisy. These can be plugged into the wall or use batteries. Some have AC adapters.

If you will be away for 8 or more hours, a double electric pump is likely the best choice. These are recommended if the time you have to pump is limited and/or you will be pumping 3 or more times per day. These pumps are automatic and they have a suck release cycle that mimics the pattern of a baby nursing. They can be fairly large, and come in carrying cases that resemble a large handbag. These cases hold all of the accessories needed. They are usually quiet. They cost between $200 – 300 in the US and are classified as single user pumps by the manufacturers.

The last option is the hospital grade pump, also called the multi user pump (USFDA). This is a very strong pump and is used when mother and baby are separated, such as pumping milk for a premature baby in the hospital, or if mother needs strong stimulation to increase her milk supply. These are rarely purchased. Most mothers rent them from a hospital or from a Durable Medical Equipment Company.

Many parents find it helpful to talk with their friends about whether or not a pump is needed, and if so, what kind worked best. Be sure to ask what features worked well and what didn’t.

My friend no longer needs her pump and said I can use it. Is this okay?

It is important to know that most breast pumps are considered single user. Milk can flow backwards into the pump mechanism and cause contamination. For this reason, sharing or borrowing single user pumps is not recommended.

Pumping Tips

Pumping while away from your baby can be tricky.  Finding the time and space to do it, as well as relaxing while you do it can be easier said than done.

Others who have successfully pumped are a great resource and can provide many suggestions to make the process easier. Here are some of those suggestions:

* Find a quiet place where you are not likely to be interrupted. You may want to look around your work area before you go out on leave to find the best place. It does not have to be fancy, but it should be private. The restroom is not an acceptable place to be asked to pump. Be aware that there are laws in place in some countries to protect you.

*Relaxing is important. Many nursing parents look at pictures of their babies, listen to music, drink water or have a snack.  Some use their phones to watch videos of their babies or face time the baby and caregiver.

*Some mothers find that hand expressing for 1-2 minutes before using the pump gives them better results. The warmth of their hands and “Skin on skin” first provides good stimulation so that their milk is released better.

* Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids so that you do not become overly thirsty. If you can snack as well as get a good meal break, this is helpful as well.

*Invest in a hands free pumping bra. There are several on the market or you can make your own. If you make your own, simply use a sports bra and cut holes where the flanges will go through. You can use duct tape to seal the edges so they don’t fray.

*Invest in a good pump. It will be cheaper than formula in the long run and it will be more comfortable for you. Most manufacturer’s have various sizes of flanges. Be sure your flange is not too tight, nor too loose.

The law


ACAS have produced a comprehensive guide for employers on Accommodating Breastfeeding in the Workplace.
LLLGB also have useful information on pumping at work:

There are federal laws in place in the United States to protect you when pumping:
Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA
This fact sheet provides general information on the break time requirement for nursing mothers in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“PPACA”), which took effect when the PPACA was signed into law on March 23, 2010 (P.L. 111-148).

Cleaning and Sanitizing Pumping Accessories
Hand Expressing
Feeding Breastmilk From a Bottle