Going back to work may seem daunting to a new mother. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself under a pile of work at the job and work for the baby, sometimes at the same time (ie pumping). If you plan to continue breastfeeding, which is recommended until at least 6 months, finding a pumping solution will be one of the first tasks required. That way you can continue providing your child with the finest superfood available.
Getting Ready For Pumping
Pumping at work is a process that will quickly become a routine for you.
- Learn your rights - Just before you go back to the office, be sure to inform yourself about your legal rights regarding breast pumping at work. Many women have no idea about their privileges during their baby’s first year. However, it is good to know that your employer has to provide you with a reasonable break time for expressing milk, and space where you could feel comfortable and relaxed. These are very important premises since breast pumping can be very stressful at the very beginning.
- Equip yourself - get a really good pump! – We all tend to be good at something, but usually, it’s not enough to do our best. You often need to purchase the best equipment to accomplish the goal. There are many pumps on the market and every one of them brings some innovations. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which one suits you the most.
- Choose a space – you need to feel at home! – When you get back in the saddle, the first thing you should do is to find a peaceful and shielded place to a breast If there is no such room, you could improvise, turning a storage closet or an office file room into the private place. It is important not to accept a bathroom as a solution. The law is strict here, so try to be strict too, for your own sake.
- Timing is everything – develop a routine! – To become a pro in breast pumping, you should make a schedule. When you need to pump – you need to pump. It can’t be postponed just because you are swamped. The best solution is to breast pump at the time you would nurse if you were at home. This is the only way to keep the continuity.
- Cool milk – cool mother – It is important to know everything about proper storage of breast milk. When you express milk it can be stored at room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours. It can stay in the fridge for up to 4 days, and in the freeze for approximately six months.
- Connect to the women in the same boat – Sharing the same problems can be inspiring. Together you can change things if there is a need and improve conditions for working moms in your office. However, having a couple of mates can help you to find your way around a new life you bumped in.
How To Choose A Breast Pump
- Portability - All that is mine I carry with me! The old Latins were right. You need to buy the pump which is light and portable. Remember that you’ll have to take it with you every day.
- All-in-one package
- Cooling options – Always choose the pump that contains a cooler bag and ice packs. When you express milk, you need to put it in a cool place as soon as possible. If you have your own cooler, you’ll have fewer worries about the storage, being sure that milk won’t spoil.
- Easy cleaning – Time is money. In your case – the time is everything!
- Double or a single pump? – There are many studies that show that a double pump has many advantages over a single one. This study from 2012 shows that simultaneous pumping stimulates women to express more milk with a higher level of nutrients.
- Silence – Having a noisy pump in the office is definitely something you would want to avoid. Although your rights are non-negotiable, there may be times when you don't want others to know you're pumping, say in the middle of a meeting.
Types of Breastpumps
Hospital Grade vs Non Hospital Grade
There is actually no standardized definition for a hospital pump, which means the term has often been usurped for marketing purposes. However traditionally, the term hospital grade refers to pumps that
- Can be used by multiple users hygienically
- Strong motor and bulkier, often with a price tag running in the thousands
- Industrial grade, longer lasting pump
Typically hospital grade pumps are affordable only via rental, but moms often find a stronger more durable motor useful
Open Vs Closed Systems
Open pump systems offer motor suction directly to the breast but no protection or barrier between the tube connection to the pump and where the milk goes into the pump. In other words it's theoretically possible for milk particles to come into contact with parts of the machines.
The concern here that is if milk overflows into the tubing, causing milk to be drawn into the pump motor with the possibility for bacterial contamination. The tubing is also more prone to bacterial growth.
A sub type of the open system is a single user suction source, where all the parts that generate suction can be removed and not contaminated from user to user, creating a hospital grade pump.
Closed pump systems separate the pump tubing so that milk cannot enter the machine. Tubing can be safely switched so that multiple users can use the machine. If you plan to use a secondhand breast pump or rent a pump, closed system pumps are the safest to use.
Just to note there have not been scientific studies done about the design of closed vs open systems, and often the issues has been brought up for marketing purposes.
Medela Pump In Style Advanced With Metro Bag - "The Mass Market Industry Veteran"
- Touted as #1 Physician recommended pump product in the US
- Typically covered fully by health insurance
- Adjustable suction power and vacuum levels
- High-efficiency motor suctions up to 235 mmHg
- Offers three different styles of bags for portable options
- Battery pack and car adapter friendly
- Replacement parts widely sold and available
- Adjustable Suction power
- Bulkier and not hands free
- Open system pump
Even in hospital breastfeeding classes, the Medela brand is often touted as one of the most well known brands in the field. Many insurance carriers reimburse Medela pumps, and among moms the Medela is anecdotally considered a safe pump to go with.
The Medela Pump in Style Advanced Breast Pump markets itself as the #1 Physician recommended pump product in America. It is one of the older brands and has solid name recognition as well as insurance coverage (typically). This breast pump has suction power of up to 235 mmHg with multiple settings.
The pump is an open system pump, which means that theoretically there’s no barrier between the pump and expressed breast milk. The risk of contamination is still small and I didn’t find this to be an issue. I did find it hard to clean the tubing over time and ended up replacing it, but this may not be exclusive to the Medela.
The Medela can also be portable using different kinds of bags that can be carried anywhere like a backpack with a battery pack. The typical Medela pump comes fully outfitted with accessories like bottles, a cooler bag, and ice packs, making it a good all around solution for the first time mom. In the backpack bag there are also additional compartments to store accessories. Altogether everything does weigh about the size of an average newborn.
All three bags are a plain black and don't stand out. Soem moms like the metro bag because it has a removable pump. Meanwhile the backpack bag allows you to carry the pump hands free. However usage of the pump itself is not hands free so buying (or making) a handsfree bra with it as a must(see recommendation at the bottom).
The two-phase expression is common with most breast pumps: The first faster phase is a Stimulation phase that stimulates your breast like a hungry baby. The second phase is the slower Expression phase which is a slow phase that mimics the longer slower sucks of a baby after let down.
Medela also has the Medela Swing and Freestyle pumps that are more portable, though I don’t see them covered by as many insurance carriers. For a completely free breast pump for a first time mom, the Medela Pump In Style is a reasonable choice.
Medela Symphony - "The Hospital Choice"
After giving birth and if you have to visit the NICU like we did, you will be given access to the Medela Symphony. Lactation consultants and hospitals alike sing praises of the Symphony.
According to Medela, the pump is "clinically proven to achieve faster milk ejection and flow when pumping at Maximum Comfort Vacuum." The pump kit is sold separately and is another $50.
The sticker shock of a $2000 pump is quite difficult stomach, so most opt to rent this pump instead. Medela offers the rental for around $100/month.
- Compact and lightweight at 2.2 pounds (~1kg)
- Easy to assemble and clean
- Quiet enough to attend phone meetings during the session
- Customizable features with adjustable suction power and cycle speed
- Inbuilt stopwatch
- High suction limit up to 320 mmHg
- Closed pump system with backflow protectors
- Auto shutoff
- Nightlight drains the battery faster
- The battery takes some time to recharge
- Usually not fully covered by insurance
- USA Spectra baby store seems to offer lower suction model
The Spectra Baby Electric Breast Pump S1 is a “hospital grade” pump that means business right away! It extracts milk quickly, efficiently, and comfortably. This double electric breast pump has a timer of 30 minutes with an auto shut-off feature. This means if you want to extract milk before sleeping, for the middle of the nights feeding sessions then you can latch it on and catch a quick nap. It also has a nightlight feature for making it easier to extract milk in the dark without disturbing sleep.
The rechargeable battery feature makes the S1 extremely portable to use during work hours. Mothers have also reported that this breast pump is more comfortable. Since it’s a closed pumping system, cleaning the narrow tubing is not considered necessary. This was my problem with the Medela Pump In Style, there would often be condensation buildup in my tubing and I had to replace it. This breast pump has a massage feature which makes it more comfortable, this feature along with many others can also be turned off or adjusted to best accommodate every mother’s pumping needs.
The S2 is typically covered in full by insurance, but it does not have a rechargeable battery pack and is therefore not as portable. The Spectra S9 is their travel version which is smaller but has less suction power than the S1/S2.
One discrepancy I noticed when shopping, if you’re not going through insurance, is that the Spectra store in different countries seem to offer varying products. The Spectra USA store and Amazon listings for the S1 say the highest suction is 270 or 280 mmHg, while the Australian store offers a version that goes up to 320 mmHg (with hundreds of 5 star reviews).
I wouldn’t be surprised if better models are available abroad, given that Spectra is a South Korean brand. If you can go straight to the source (S. Korea) the pump will likely be cheaper and most updated.
- Rechargeable battery powered hands-free pump
- Super quiet
- Freemie collection cups can also be used with other pumps
- Collects up to 8-ounces of breast milk
- Priced in line with other standard pumps
- Quick assembly
- Comes with programmable sleep timer
- Doesn’t allow battery usage and requires stays close to an outlet
- Need to be careful about leaning forward, otherwise milk could retract and flow back into the tubes
- Not compatible with Freemie original Open system cups
Freemie was one of the first companies to offer in bra collection cups to make pumping for discreet. Typically other pumps come with flanges that share a bit too much resemblance with traditional loudspeakers. The pump it comes with is extremely quiet at around 50 decibels and is praised for being discreet and hands free, though it still has wires. Most breast pumps are annoyingly noisy, so much so, that they cannot be used in public, let alone in an office setting with colleagues around.
The Freemie Liberty Pump however not only allows the working moms to work on their computers while they pump, at home, while traveling, or at the office. Assembly and cleaning are also easy. Charging can be done with a USB chord on the computer, in the car, or through wall sockets.
A powerful draw cycle called Turbo Mode pulls a bit more but wasn’t any less comfortable for our testers than the strongest suction on other pumps like the Medela. Lower speed settings correspond to higher suction levels, ie 0 is the highest setting.
Moms love this pump primarily because the collection cups fit right inside the bra, allowing multi-tasking while the machine does its work. A convenient alternative is to buy just their collection cups which can be compatible with other pumps(see below).
The newer next generation Closed system cups are compatible with several pumps, including the Freemie Liberty and Independence Pumps, Freemie NUK Simply Natural, Spectra S1, S2, 9+, M1, Evenflo Advanced Double Electric, etc to name a few. The Freemie Original Open System Collection Cups are compatible with Hygeia Enjoye, Q, Medela Pump In Style, Symphony, Lactina (but not the Swing, Freestyle and Sonata pumps).
Freemie cups hold 8 oz, offering plenty of capacity so that most moms don’t have to stop and switch them out. Pouring them out requires a little technique – we would recommend practicing with water first so you don’t spill liquid gold!
The Willow Pump -"The Wearable Elite Pump"
- Completely hands-free and cord-free
- Comes with an app that lets you know when it’s time to stop pumping
- Hygienic with one-time usage bags
- Adjustable Suction power
- Quiet enough to take on a conference call or coffee date
- Milk pumps directly into self-sealing bags
- Costly initial price
- Costly upkeep
- The collection bag only has a capacity of 4-ounces
- Steep learning curve
The willow pump is one of the newest, most expensive, high-tech breast pumps out there. Billing itself as a “wearable breast pump”, it also offers mothers the liberty to jog, work, drive, attend meetings, attend to their babies, or do whatever they had to do without being tethered to a cord or carrying the tubes around. You can put it on under everyday clothes and pump from any position, including lying down.
When the collection bags are full, the app informs the mothers. The bag itself is self-sealing and saves the time it takes to shift the milk into the storage containers. Mothers only need to remove the bag and place it in the refrigerator. When it’s time for feeding, just cut off the tip of the bag and voila! Unfortunately the bags are non-reusable and expensive to replace ($11.99 per 24 pack). You will also be told to stop and switch bags after 4 oz.
The pump itself is a premium investment. Given that it’s an expensive pump, you’d wish that you could just pop the pump on and it would work. However getting the right alignment and proper latch takes practice. Mommas report the effort is worth it, but you need to put in the time.
Manual Pumps and Breast Pump Essentials for the Working Mom
Once you’ve settled on a main double electric breast pump for the heavy lifting, the following accessories can make a big difference.
Once in awhile during travel you might find a single manual pump easier to carry around. When I attended a wedding that was a full day affair, I packed a manual pump so that I wouldn’t have to deal with assembly, a battery pack, tubing and cords during the day. It would also just fit into my hand bag.
The Haakaa breastpump is a silicone, BPA free, PVC, Pththlate free manual pump that has the added benefit of being a great milk catcher. While nursing your baby, it’s common to leak from the other breast after let down. Suctioning this pump to the breast your baby is not feeding on catches that precious liquid and adds to your stash.
Having the silicone stopper gives you a no leak seal for easier transport.
These in bra milk saver bags are far more discreet milk savers than the Haakaa, if that’s a necessity. (Say you are feeding your baby in front of your father in law) The milksavers are BPA and phthalate free and have won critical acclaim from moms. It should not be used longer than the time it takes to nurse your baby. You cannot sleep or bend over with it on.
It’s truly a talent to juggle work and all the responsibilities that come with it while managing a tiny human being. Breast pumps seem like they’re stuck in the stone ages, but they are important in offering mom flexibility to be away from the baby. Any product that would make things slightly easier for mothers, is bliss and welcomed in the ‘motherhood’. Working moms are constantly in search of high-end products that can make their lives easier and portable breast pumps are definitely life savers for mothers on the go!