How often will I need to pump at work?

As in just about every aspect of parenting, there is no “one size fits all” answer. Some factors you will want to consider:

  • How long is your maternity leave? The longer you can be away from work (and together with your baby), the more stable your milk supply will be. 
  • How old is your baby? Younger babies need to feed a minimum of eight times every 24 hours. When you first return to work, your body will be producing milk in response to your baby’s needs and on your baby’s schedule. As your body adjusts to your work/pumping schedule, and as your baby gets older and the frequency of his feedings naturally decreases, you may need to pump less during the work day. 
  • How long is your work day? Mothers who are able to return to work part-time may find it easier to balance working and breastfeeding. Some mothers compress their work schedules (e.g., four 10-hour days or three 12-hour days), while others combine telecommuting and in-office hours in order to create a schedule that meets both their employers’ needs and the needs of their baby.

As a rule of thumb, many breastfeeding mothers try to schedule 2–3 pumping breaks during an 8-hour (plus commute) work day; one of these is typically at lunch time. If you nurse your baby well when you leave him with your child care provider, and again shortly after you are reunited at the end of the work day, this may reduce the time you need to pump.

It is hard to say how long it will take to express your milk; initially, you may get only small amounts of milk when pumping. That’s normal. Relaxing, thinking about or looking at pictures of your baby, massaging your breasts, and listening to music may help you increase the amount of milk obtained. As you gain experience and confidence, pumping may take as little as 10–15 minutes. Allow yourself an additional five minutes for set-up/clean-up, and a few minutes to get to your pumping location. You can reuse your flanges throughout the day simply by rinsing them with clean water after each use. (Mothers of sick or premature infants may be advised to use a fresh, sterilized set of flanges at each pumping.) In cases where finding a sink for clean-up at work is a challenge, mothers may want to bring two sets of clean flanges to work each day (and handle the rinsing/washing of pump parts at home).

It’s important to understand exactly how your employer will support your efforts. Thanks to Section 4207 of the health care reform bill (officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), employers with 50 or more workers must ensure that women in the workforce have access to the time and space they need to express their milk for their babies for one year after the child’s birth. The place employers provide must not be a bathroom and must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by co-workers and the public. The time allowed does not need to be paid, although some employers do allow paid breaks for this purpose. The Business Case for Breastfeeding and this article from the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy may help you negotiate suitable arrangements with your employer.

Unfortunately, breastfeeding accommodations are not required of all employers. Those with fewer than 50 employees, who would experience “undue hardship” in the course of providing such breaks, are exempt from the regulation. The good news is that this law does not preempt state law. Employers in states with laws that provide additional protections for breastfeeding mothers must abide by the more protective regulations. So even mothers whose workplaces are exempt may still be given time to pump their milk.

Breastfeeding after work and whenever you are with your baby will help you maintain a good supply of milk and make pumping at work faster and easier.

Last updated June 20, 2021

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