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Tips for pumping at work

Returning to work after maternity leave can be a shock to the system, especially for women who breastfeed and need to pump milk while on the job.

The intimate, unhurried nursing sessions that they shared with their babies are often replaced by the mechanical drone of a breast pump -- and a mad dash to squeeze in enough evenly spaced breaks throughout the workday to maintain their milk supply. Some women face the additional challenge of finding a private, secure place -- that isn't a bathroom -- to express milk.


Check the local La Leche League chapter website for a variety of forums and peer support, both online and in person.

The International Lactation Consultant Association has an online directory where you can find local consultants. Also, check with your hospital.

Here are some tips to make it easier:


It typically takes six to eight weeks to establish good milk production, said Cathy Carothers, co-director of Every Mother, a Greenville, Miss.-based nonprofit that trains health-care providers how to support breastfeeding mothers.

Returning to work part-time for a while or starting back midweek also can help ease the

transition. "Women with access to on-site or nearby child care may be able to breastfeed on their lunch breaks. Some employers, especially small businesses, allow new moms to bring their babies to work.''


Rent or buy a pump that fits your body and your needs. Practice with it before returning to work. Any milk you can store in the freezer gives you a head start and protection from unforeseen problems. Most health insurers don't cover the cost unless the infant has a medical condition, but check with your health plan for any discount. Some employers offer free access to a lactation consultant.


Identify a suitable place to pump milk and enlist your supervisor's support. "Part of it is having the space, but part of it is having the guts to talk to your boss,'' said Chris Mulford, Swarthmore, Pa.-based chairman of the workplace support committee for the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. When their babies are a few months old, mothers generally need to be able to express milk two or three times during an eight-hour period, Carothers said. It usually takes 15 to 20 minutes plus time to get to the room.


Add the pumping sessions you intend to do to your daily calendar. Schedule and attend them like any other meeting.


Bring items that remind you of your baby. Photos or an article of clothing can help you focus on why you're doing this and may increase your output. Stephanie Reck of Greensboro, N.C., said she used to call the babysitter to hear how her son's day was going. Checking in aided her pumping sessions, which she conducted in an unused bathroom. "I had decorated the restroom with pictures of my little man,'' Reck said. "It makes a big difference.''


They may have advice on the technical and emotional aspects of pumping. Camaraderie is

especially important for first-time moms who may feel alone and ambivalent about returning

to work.


Give yourself permission to stop pumping if it isn't working after a period of time. As a lactation consultant, Carothers said her job isn't to tell a mother when to breastfeed and when to quit. "If she feels it's overwhelming and she can't handle this, I'm going to tell her what a fabulous mom she was to give her baby breast milk. That is a lucky baby. Any amount of breast milk is a good amount.''