Pumping 101: Returning to Work Edition.
April 21, 2014 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm set to return to work next week after 16 weeks of maternity leave, and I'm trying to figure out what should go in my Amazon order this week to make sure pumping goes as smoothly as possible. I've been pumping with a hand-held manual pump once a day since early on, but the logistics of using my double electric pump at work and hauling stuff back and forth is really, really intimidating. I'm looking for tips about what things to buy to make this process easier when it's not just a few steps to my kitchen to clean the pump and store the milk.

I will be commuting by bike to and from my office, and it's about a 15-minute ride. I'm assuming I'll just leave my pump at work (it's a Hygiea EnJoye, which is compatible with Medela parts) but schlep the need-to-be-cleaned parts back and forth every day, along with the expressed milk. I'm looking for specific advice on what to buy or how to handle the following issues:

*Bag / ice pack / something else (?) to keep the expressed milk cold after pumping and on my commute home. I'll have access to a refrigerator in my workspace, but I'm actually renting an office within another company's space, I don't know anybody there, and I'm not sure how comfortable I'll feel leaving breastmilk in the communal fridge, especially at first.

*Stuff to clean the pump parts in between sessions. Especially at first I just can't imagine walking into the shared kitchen with flanges leaking breast milk and washing them in the sink--so, what is the best solution here? Wiping down with paper towels? Something else?

*Anything else that will make my life easier on the pumping front--either tips, or things to buy. I have a Simple Wishes pumping bra and the actual pump (with one set of accessories) but that's about it.

For some reason, this is the single piece of going back to work that is really, really stressing me out, and I feel like I haven't been successful in finding "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pumping At Work" so I feel totally lost. I'm hoping other pumping mefite mamas can help me out here.
posted by iminurmefi to Work & Money (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Especially at first I just can't imagine walking into the shared kitchen with flanges leaking breast milk and washing them in the sink--so, what is the best solution here?

That will be nowhere near the worst thing being done in that sink. If anyone looks at you askance, fuck 'em. Leave your work pump at work, clean it at work, schlep the milk home.
posted by Etrigan at 12:44 PM on April 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Get two sets of pump parts, bring the used set home in the evening and clean there if you're not comfortable using the office sink.

And for the fridge, just put the bottled milk in a paper bag with your name on it. No one's going to care about what's inside.
posted by zippy at 12:44 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

How much space can you take up in the fridge? Two large lunch bags could contain your pump parts and milk, so that they're not on view. If you refrigerate your parts between pumpings, you don't have to clean them, seriously. Also, you can try Medela cleaning wipes. Then take the parts home with you at night and wash in the dishwasher.

Just write "breastmilk" on top of the milk bottles inside their discrete little bag. No one will drink them, and if someone is rude enough to open the bag to see what's in there, then, well, they shall find out. No biggie - you're feeding your baby!

Buy multiple sets of parts. You will inevitably forget them one day. Leave at least one full set at work. Do you know any other pumping moms at your office? It sounds like not, but if you do, you can often hit them up for extras in case of emergency.

I never even fussed with refrigerating the milk during my commute, and it sounds like yours is short, so you could do the same. On travel I used the Medela Cooler Set, which came free with my pump.

Other tips/things to think about: a)relax, it's very stressful at first but really a weird thing that you can get used to. b) consider trying the freezer bags - they freeze flat in the freezer, and if you can pump a little extra it makes life easier to have a stash.
posted by chocotaco at 12:45 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Milk really doesn't require refrigeration for up to 8 hours. (somewhere between 4-8 hours according to various sources such as here) I used an icepack in a soft sided cooler through two kids and two years of pumping and was fine. I also didn't clean parts between sessions (during the day, of course). Wiping down with paper towels was fine. I think the medela cleaning wipes would be a good idea if you're paranoid. I used the medela microwave bags for daily sanitizing and cleaning - you just rinse everything and throw it all in there with some water.
posted by pekala at 12:47 PM on April 21, 2014

Do you have a microwave at work? There are bags that you can buy that lets you sterilize your assembly in the microwave (available via Amazon Prime!) which is much more convenient than dragging that stuff home and back. I just rinsed the flanges in water and wiped them with a paper towel in between pumping sessions, washed them with soap and water at the end of the day, and sterilized once a week. They also make wipes that you could use if rinsing is not convenient.

The fridge would be best to make sure the milk stays cold enough during the day. You can get a little insulated lunch bag that you can keep the milk in, so people just think it's your lunch, and then throw the ice pack (which has been staying frozen in the freezer all day) into it at the end of the day for the ride home. (I still have mine and would be happy to send it to you if you'd like, I'm certainly not using it anymore!)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:47 PM on April 21, 2014

I had a little insulated tote where I kept the milk and an ice pack. It was nice because in the office fridge it looked just like someone's lunch so there wasn't any weirdness.

In between pumping sessions, I would just stick the pump parts in my tote along with the milk and everything went into the refrigerator until the afternoon. At the end of the day I used the Medela Steam Clean Bags. I thought that it was so much easier than bringing the parts home every day.
posted by statsgirl at 12:53 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Back in Ye Olde Days of pumping for Wee Thumbscrew, I bought MANY sets of the Medela cones 'n flaps (they're cheap online) and did NOT bother washing them at work. In the AM, I'd pack two gallon-sized Ziplock bags: one with two or three sets of cones/flaps, and an empty bag. As I used the cones and got 'em all milky, I'd just transfer them to the "dirty" bag, then I'd take everything home at night and wash it there. You can ALSO just keep the "dirty" parts in a bag in the fridge, reuse them for each session, then wash at home each night - depends on how comfortable you are with that.

If you're concerned about the security of your milk (there's probably no need to be, but I can see where you might be), you can always get one of those petite luggage locks and thread it through the zipper-loops of a small, soft-sided cooler to protect your milk.

Good luck! Pumping is a pain in the hock at first, but it quickly becomes just another part of the day.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2014

Looks like everyone has the basics covered; something to read or chill with while you double pump, make sure you have extra valves and membranes (yellow and white, respectively). They tear and crack and wear out.

Keep extra ice packs in the freezer, have some spare bottles or milk bags at work, have a marker for dating and labelling bottles. Have a couple of small towels for spillage.
posted by tilde at 1:01 PM on April 21, 2014

I asked this question back in September and got some great tips about pumping at work generally. I still pump three times a day at work. (I still don't love it, but have been able to keep my now-ten-month-old breastfed without needing formula, for which I feel very lucky.)

The Medela pump I have came with a little cooler bag and a specific ice pack that fit around the bottles, which would be great for your commute. I don't rinse my parts at work - there's a mini-fridge in the room I pump in, so I keep them in there, wrapped in a hand towel, in between sessions. If I had to keep them in the communal fridge in the kitchen, I'd probably do so in an opaque cooler bag with the bottles. I bring them home every night and run them through the dishwasher.

What will your pumping space be like? Two major improvements in the "privacy room" where I pump: a white-noise machine (both to block out other noise and to obscure the noise of the pump itself), and a little lamp that's not electric office lights. I use the time to catch up on blogs (on my phone, via the Feedly app) or read or knit. I am more successful if I am invested in whatever else I'm doing instead of checking the time and how full the bottles are and then the time again.

Leaving the pump at work is a great idea - will you have a back-up pump for at home, or will you plan to pump at work exclusively? I still lug my pump back and forth every day and it is a pain.

Congrats on your happy event; hope the transition back to work is smooth for you. Feel free to memail me if you need a friendly ear.
posted by SeedStitch at 1:03 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used a sports bra, with holes cut out at the nipples, for the part that looks like a horn to stick through, so I could go hands free (the bra holds everything in place).
posted by hollyanderbody at 1:06 PM on April 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I used a insulated lunch box and kept my pump parts and milk in it, with an ice pack inside, in the fridge. That way it's refrigerated but doesn't look any different from everyone else's lunch. I guess really a paper lunch sack could work just as well for camo purposes. Depending on how much space is available. If you do that, you could keep some ice packs in the freezer for the trip home. There's always a lot more space in our work freezer than fridge (assuming yours is full-size). You can also do insulated lunch box at your desk with ice packs too, I think lots of folks do that too.

I also would often just rinse/refrigerate the pump parts during the day rather than do a full wash every time (I can't imagine how that would work) but even this might not work for you depending on fridge/sink access. Medela makes wipes you could use, though I haven't myself. Another option is to buy multiple sets of pump parts and just use a fresh set as needed. Schlep them home at night and wash there. It'd be a little more money but you'll be using them for a while and it could make this less stressful. They might be a bit bulky on a bike but they don't weigh much. Or some combination of wipes and extra pump parts.

I'd say hit target, throw a little money at a handful of things (slim lunch bag, insulated lunch box, smallish ice packs, pump wipes, extra pump parts) that will give you some options once you get to work, so you don't have to worry about doing anything you aren't comfortable with.

I think this part of it will be easier then you expect. Best!
posted by pennypiper at 1:06 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're not comfortable using the communal fridge, could you put a little mini-fridge by your desk?
posted by radioamy at 1:18 PM on April 21, 2014

Storage: I recommend that Medela freezer pack that chocotaco linked (or similar insulated lunch box with cold pack). No one will know it's breast milk, and it will stay cool on your way home.

Cleaning: I pumped at work 2-3 times per day for a year and didn't clean the pump parts until the end of the day. It worked fine.

Other tips: I used the simple wishes pumping bra as well, and it's great. I would suggest getting more than one set of pump parts if that's possible for you. If you have two sets, you can come home in the evening, clean that day's milky set of parts, and put them out to dry. Pack up the clean dry set from the day before, and you're all packed for the next day.

I had a friend recently recommend the Medelea breastmilk removal soap for cleaning pump parts. I want to try it out because I found that getting milk of the pump parts can be surprisingly annoying. (Maybe this was because I was only cleaning at the end of the day.)

Bringing pictures of your baby and looking at them while you pump as well as imagining your baby nursing can help you get more milk while pumping.
posted by medusa at 1:41 PM on April 21, 2014

I'm strongly seconding most of what chocotaco says. I pumped for both my kids, until their 1st birthdays. Get an opaque cooler to store milk and ice packs, and then you can store it in the communal fridge.

Store ice packs in the office freezer during the day, and then you can pop them in the cooler for the commute home (though 15 mins is totally fine without ice packs anyway).

Don't bother washing or rinsing the pump parts, just stuff them in the cooler with the milk, or a second cooler just for this. Take them home and wash them at night This is the fastest and least stressful thing to do, and perfectly sanitary. Reducing your stress should be a high priority for you.

Definitely, definitely keep a spare set of pump parts at the office, in case you forget to bring them in the mornings! I actually kept multiple spare sets because I would forget one day, use a spare set, then forget to bring the spare set back and next time I forgot have no back up. Which meant having to drive out to a store to buy another set, very irritating.

Make sure your pumping space is lockable (best) or clearly marked with a sign which will deter people from coming in. Lockable is ideal because then you can relax and not worry about people bursting in on you.

Look up the yahoo group "pumpmoms". They are a fantastic source of info and suggestions, and you will learn all sorts of handy tips from them. The majority of breastfeeding info is not targeted at pumping, and so its great to have a community of moms doing the same thing you are, to learn from and for moral support. Its a high volume list, so use the daily digest version.
posted by Joh at 2:04 PM on April 21, 2014

Writing from my office's pumping room at this moment! Everyone's covered off on the washing parts / bringing stuff home bit quite well.

I have multiple bottles and I got into the groove of setting up everything for the next pump (using the Medela wipes, attaching fresh containers to the flanges etc) right after finishing a session so it doesn't feel like such a chore to get going each time. I have a receiving blanket I lay in my lap that both catches drips and gives me the warm fuzzies about my baby. In my desk drawer I not only have replacement parts but extra batteries in case I have power supply issues, extra breast pads, and a clean top. Knowing I won't be stuck in a jam goes a long way towards making the experience smoother. And some kind of small blanket / wrap is nice. Lifting up your shirt (or your whole dress) an overcooled office space is no fun!
posted by sestaaak at 3:09 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I rinse my milky pump parts in running water and give them a quick wipe down with a pacifier wipe which are WAY cheaper than the medela wipes. I don't feel the need to bring them home to wash them with this method. If you use the medela version, cut those suckers in half. They are expensive and much bigger than you need.

I've never needed a special bra for hands-free pumping either. I just leave my, admittedly softer cup, nursing bra hooked and slide the flanges in the top.

Bring a book, your phone or something else non-work-related to give your brain a break while you pump and you'll be done in no time.
posted by deadcrow at 7:44 PM on April 21, 2014

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