Busy on the job and need to power pump at work to maintain your breast milk supply? Not only is it possible, but you can ROCK IT. I’m a crazy busy L&D nurse, and I’m giving you my best hacks for getting in and out of the pumping room in 15 minutes or less!
The Need for Power Pumping
If you stumbled upon this article thinking that it’s one about the concept of “marathon” pumping sessions to trick your body into producing more milk, feel free to move on. When I’m talking about power pumping, I’m really talking about maximizing both pumping time and milk volume.
A little background: if you’ve been on this site before, you already know that I’m a labor and delivery nurse. Nurses in general are incredibly busy people, and L&D has the dubious reputation of being the most unpredictable. It’s not uncommon at all for me to go an entire 12 hour shift without a break.
For a breastfeeding mama, 12 hours without pumping just isn’t an option.
It’s time to get creative.
During my shifts while I was a breastfeeding mama, I had to not only find the time to pump, but get the most milk possible in the least amount of time. And I was wildly successful. Now, I’m not discounting mamas with milk supply issues– some of this might be luck of the draw. As far as my story goes, I pumped at work for at least a year with both of my boys and my supply never dropped. I continued nursing each of them for several months after that.
It took practice, and it took some inventive hacks.
I know that you are a busy mom, too! Whether you are squeezing in extra pumping sessions in at home to add to your stash, or you are a working mama who needs to maintain your supply while you are away from your baby, I can give you the tips to pump like a boss in 15 minutes or less.
Ready? Let’s start the timer.
Power Pumping Hacks
1. Time it right
This was the hardest part for me. Hopefully your work situation allows you to take breaks when you need to. Mine didn’t always. (Often, I pulled the rolling computer into the lactation room with me to “watch” my patients and then called out for help if I needed it.)
You want to find your ideal window for pumping when your breasts are filled enough to give good volume, but not so engorged that they have a hard time letting down.
This was my general pumping schedule:
For a baby 0-6 months old:
Pump right before your work day/shift starts, then about every three hours after that (3 times in a 12-hour shift). Feed your baby as soon as you get home.
For a baby 6-12 months old:
Pump right before your work day/shift starts, then about every 4-5 hours after that (2 times in a 12-hour shift). Feed your baby as soon as you get home.
2. Fuel up
Pumping mamas need energy to fuel their bodies to produce milk. Hydration is so important, but healthy snacks and meals are a priority as well. Multi-task by making sure you hit the lactation room with a full water bottle and something to munch on.
Pro tip: I always kept a supply of Larabars in my pumping bag in case I didn’t have any other handy food. Quick and easy energy!
Note: I’m not recommending that you combine your lunch break with your pumping breaks. You don’t have to do that per Federal law, FYI. I do recommend that you take every opportunity to stay hydrated and fuel your body.
3. Optimize your accessories
When you are in a time crunch, it is not the moment to pull out the hands-free pumping bra and basically have to change clothes every time you pump. Ain’t no one got time for that.
I had my pumping accessories down to a science. I wore a sleep nursing tank kind of like this one under my scrubs every single shift. I love them because along with my $2 hack for hands-free pumping, I could pop those suckers on and get to pumping in no time at all, leaving my hands free to eat, text, or even chart. (Basically, I found that any style of nursing bra or tank that crosses over in the front worked best because it tucked the pumping flanges in better than the bras that unclip and expose the whole breast.)
Related post– my $2 pumping hack for hands-free pumping and A video to see it in action!
Your milk storage accessories help, too! For my second baby, I discovered the Kiinde system. SO AMAZING! The milk storage bags screw right onto the pump. When you are done, just screw the cover on, write the date on the side, and toss it into the fridge. Genius. No bottles to wash, no need to transfer the milk into storage bags. NO CRYING OVER SPILT MILK. (The system also includes nipples that pop right onto the bags and a warmer to gently heat the milk. It really is an all-in-one system, and I loved it.)
4. Relax and get those hormones flowing
This is the fun part, and possibly the most important point to keep in mind for quick pumping. Find what relaxes you and triggers your hormones and maximize it.
Start by being warm. If the room tends to be cold, make sure you have a sweater or a blanket with you.
Distract yourself. Watching the milk drop by drop does not help speed things up. On the contrary, it can stress you out more and slow things down. Call a friend and chat, scroll through your Facebook feed… do whatever your jam is.
Better yet, distract yourself with things that light a fire under your mama hormones. Videos of your baby laughing are amazing for this. Pictures help, too.
My most successful pumping session ever was the week of the 2016 Presidential election, when I watched the video of Kate McKinnon (as Hillary Clinton) singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as the cold open for SNL. I ugly cried and pumped more milk than I ever had before. Whatever opens your tear ducts will open the milk ducts, too!
5. Don’t wash your pump parts
Yup, I said it. If relaxing is the #1 tip for getting the milk out fast, this is the #1 tip for getting out of the lactation room ASAP. As quick as you are washing out your pump parts, I’m sure it still adds five minutes to your total time, right?
Hear me out.
You pump milk and put it in the fridge. That keeps it safe until you get home and feed it to your baby, or freeze it, or whatever, right?
Does it not also make sense that if you store your pump parts in the fridge between pumping sessions, the milk left inside will not be contaminated?
I’m going to let that sink in for a moment. I know that my brain about burst when a coworker gave that tip to me.
****Very important note– if your baby is full-term and healthy, there should be no issue with this practice. However, if you are pumping for a pre-term baby in the NICU, or if your baby is sick or has a weakened immune system, current guidelines state that you should continue to wash your pump parts before each pumping session.****
To go along with this amazing hack, I have another tip. I personally went through a lot of Ziplock bags and felt pretty guilty about the environment. Would that I had thought of this back then! Get a reusable wet bag (or a few of them). Keep your pump parts in them in the fridge throughout the day, then just toss it in the wash when you get home.
6. Know your pump
I was fortunate to work in a hospital where our lactation room was supplied with hospital-grade pumps for our use. Crazily enough, though, I had trouble with the hospital pumps with my second baby, and found that I had better results with my personal Medela pump. Whatever pump you use, make sure it’s a double-pump so that you are pumping both breasts at the same time.
Pro tip: don’t forget to check with your insurance company to see if you can get a breast pump for FREE!
Whatever pump you have, make sure you practice with it to find your own sweet spot. Make sure the parts fit your breasts, and adjust the speed and suction to a point where it’s strong but not hurting.
Knowing your pump and using it effectively takes practice, but it will help you cut down on the time you spend pumping while maximizing the amount of milk expressed.
7. Massage your boobies
Yes, distract yourself from watching every drop of milk fall, but pumping is not a completely passive activity. As you are pumping, systematically massage each breast from armpit to areola, both sides, top and bottom.
Doing this will not only stimulate your letdown reflex, but will mechanically empty each milk duct and direct the milk towards the nipple.
Massaging your breasts while pumping takes practice, but you’ll be amazed at the difference in speed and volume, and how exceptionally EMPTY your breasts are afterwards. Sweet relief!
For your health, too, breast massage while pumping is important. A pump will never extract milk as efficiently as your baby will, so massaging while pumping is an important way to prevent complications like clogged milk ducts and mastitis. Love your boobies!
Power Pumping Results
Pumping at work has the potential of being a stressful activity. You want what’s best for your baby, but it can be difficult to find the time. You may not have an ideal location for pumping, and your coworkers might not understand why you are suddenly taking so many “breaks.”
Being deliberate about your pumping time and incorporating these hacks can take so much stress out of your pumping sessions by helping you get in and out of that lactation room in 15 minutes or less! (But if you can afford more time, by all means, take it, mama!)
I know it’s hard, and it feels like this season will last forever. Take heart, mama, and trust me– before you know it, you’ll be kissing that pump goodbye forever… and maybe even feeling a little sad about it.
Your turn! What difficulties have you come across when pumping? Comment below and we’ll brainstorm for solutions!
Yaaaass! This is perfect! I’m a labor and delivery nurse too and I pumped at work for 12 months for my son! It’s so possible, but it can be SO hard sometimes, right?
Anyway, I’m glad I stumbled onto your blog!
-Heather @ A Life In Labor
Thanks for commenting, Heather. I’m glad you found me, too! We should collaborate sometime. 🙂
Did you ever post that $2 hands free hack?
Not yet. Augh, life! It’s on my priority list to shoot that video this week. I’ll send out an email when the post hits. Thanks for keeping me honest! 😊
Hi! I’m a surgical/ trauma icu nurse and I totally get it!! Sometimes I can fit 2 pumps in but other times it’s just 1. And I’m about to explode by the time I get home! My girl is almost 8 months and neither one of us are ready to stop. I’ve definitely seen a drop in my supply since returning to work- almost like a slow demise of my supply. But I keep trucking along!
I feel ya! Way to go and keep it up! Do you pump right before your shift starts? That saved me, for sure.
I’m a server at a busy downtown restaurant and am on my feet 8 hours no break. I’ve been freaking out about how I will find the time to leave a full section to pump. When I was pregnant I barely had time to waddle to the bathroom to pee! But this has given me some encouragement! I love breastfeeding my girl and I’m worried my supply will drop.
I’m so glad, Victoria! I won’t lie– it’s tough, but with determination and a few savvy hacks, you can do it. Will you have a dedicated private space to pump? (an office, etc…) If you can keep your pump set up through your shift, that will save time, too. Good luck!
Thank you! I will be going back to work soon and work in healthcare as well. I’ve been so nervous about my supply and making enough time during my hectic 12 hr shifts to pump. It is great to hear from another busy mama that it can be done 🙂
You’ll do great! Stay positive! 🙂
I’m a biomedical research post-doc and of course don’t always have an exact set schedule. Sometimes that can lead to less milk pumped if i end up missing a pumping session. I’m having definite supply issues and low stash issues because of that and that when my baby is teething, he sometimes doesn’t nurse as well. He also finally (at 10 months) will sleep for 4-5 hours at night before waking up to nurse, which i suspect is also part of the supply problem. Any ideas or tips to help increase supply while pumping at work without having to pump about every 2 hours (like i am now) as it makes getting experiments done a struggle! but I refuse to give up nursing my little one.
I love the Kiinde system too!! and it is pretty much all I exclusively use. It makes it much easier, not having to pour milk into pouches and also not having to wash bottles at the end of the day.
Oh, Katrina– you are in the thick of it! I well remember those exhausting days (and nights). I would hope that 10 months in you wouldn’t have to pump every two hours, but with low milk supply, that’s another issue. Have you tried pumping every three or four hours at work and making sure your pumping session is a good 20 minutes? Have you been trying lactation supplements like fenugreek? Besides pumping more at night even if the baby sleeps (and, oi– I can’t even recommend that because your sleep is so vital!) I’m not sure what else to try. I would recommend talking to a lactation consultant or someone at La Leche League and see what other tips they have. Good luck, mama! You are doing a great job.
After I build up a lil extra again (a pouch or two), I may try to go back to the every 3 hrs or so while at work. I think the dip in supply was part due to teething, and then him sleeping a little longer… followed by where I am in my cycle. Last night he decided to start cluster feeding, so I think he his headed into a growth spurt (he is due to have one), so that should help the supply too. I have not taken straight fenugreek yet, as we are trying for our second and I wasn’t sure if it was safe while pregnant etc. I have been using a nursing tea and some homemade energy bites (that has oatmeal, brewers yeast etc in them). Sometimes it helps sometimes just isn’t quite enough and i have to dip into the tiny reserve I have. I also noticed i get less pumping at the start of the work week than the end, and i’m not sure why.
So just starting out this whole breastfeeding pumping thing.. but what if 20 min is not long enough? The girls produce a lot within an hour they are full and feeling like they are going to explode but 20 min definitely doesn’t come close to emptying… any suggestions??
Hi…just stumbled on your blog…I need help! My baby and I have journeyed on this road for 9 amazing months. She recently has been weighed and has fallen off her growth curve, and my supply is low. The pedi suggested supplementing until I can pick the production back up. I work a PT job (5hrs) and nurse before and after work…But i’m only pumping once for about 45mins. Any suggestions on increasing supply?
Hi, Bianca! Congrats on making it 9 months so far! Well, first of all, I’m not a lactation consultant, so not an expert in this subject by any means. Is your baby eating a variety of solid foods at this point? What does your pedi say about this aspect of it regarding her growth curve?
In general, nursing and/or pumping more frequently helps to increase supply. At her age, though, I would think that you are doing okay by pumping before and after your shift instead of during it. But if it’s feasible to pump for 20 minutes during your shift, you might want to try to go back to pumping every 2 hours for a while to see if that increases supply. Look up lactogenic foods as well. I’m a firm believer in oatmeal– I ate it for breakfast every day, and I could definitely see a difference in supply when I didn’t eat it for a few days.
Do you have a La Leche League or another lactation resource in your area? I suggest you contact them as well. They can be lifesavers!
All the best to you, and keep up the good work, mama!