The Basics

The basics of pumping...

What is pumping?
Pumping is the use of a mechanical or electric breast pump to remove and collect milk from a woman's breast.  Collected breastmilk can be stored and served to baby when mom and baby are separated and direct nursing is not possible.  Pumping also helps to maintain a lactating mother's normal level of breast milk production and prevent clogged ducts or infection that may result when the breast becomes overly full.

Why should I pump for my baby?
Breastfeeding is the biological norm for all mammals, including humans.  Synthetic, cow's milk- or soy-based formulas are nutritionally and immunologically inferior to human milk and should be used only when human milk is not available.  For a list of 101 reasons to breastfeed, see here.
 A large number of American mothers want or need to work while their children are still infants.  Starting back to work does not need to signify the end of your nursing relationship.  Thanks to significant advances in pumping technology, mom has the ability to continue to provide her baby with her milk even when she's at work.  Some benefits of pumping include:
  • The ability to continue nursing baby before & after work and on the weekends
  •  The immunological boost of breast milk may reduce the occurrence of daycare-related illnesses
  • The price of even the nicest pumps is significantly less than a year's worth of formula
  • The emotional satisfaction of providing for baby's needs while away at work

 When do I pump?
Ideally, a nursing mother should pump at least once every three hours that she is separated from her baby. The amount of time required for each pumping session varies by woman, but typically averages 15-20 minutes.  Practically speaking, it often works well for women to pump right before their work day begins, over their lunch break, and sometime close to the end of the day.  One strategy that may work is for mom to divide her lunch time and any other breaks into 2 or 3 equal parts even spaced through out the day.  Another alternative is to use a hands-free set up, which allows a woman to pump while working (in a private office or other room) or even to pump while driving.

Where do I pump?
This is highly variable, and depends on the size and type of your workplace. Some possibilities:
  • Lactation room: Many large companies already have dedicated space for nursing moms to pump.  This is the ideal situation, and may become more common as provisions in the recently passed health care law require companies with more than 50 employees to provide a dedicated space for nursing moms to pump.
  • A private office: Whether it's yours, and empty one, or one you have to borrow, this is often your second best option. Ideally there will be a door you can lock, but either way, if there's more than one key, you really should consider a discreet sign indicating that the room is occupied.  Nothing is worse than having a coworker (or, if you're me, the company president!) walk in while you're pumping.  If there's a window, tape up some paper to cover it up.
  •  A meeting room, storage room, oversized closet, etc.  Although less ideal, your true minimum requirement here is just a private space with a light, a door and an outlet.  A small table and chair would be nice, but I've spent quite a lot of time pumping while sitting on the cold hard floor, and my babies never suffered for it.
  • Your car.  This requires some extra equipment, which will be the subject of a future post.  Some love this, other women hate it.  Personally, I prefer to pump while driving to work - I consider it expert level mom-multitasking!
  • The bathroom.  Yuck.  If I could, I wouldn't even include this in the list...but sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do to take care of your baby, you know?  I've only ever done this on business trips, and hated every second of it.
See here for a check-list to get you started.

Custom Search