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Setting up a pumping room at work
By Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne
Your pumping room: the probably-small space where you'll be spending several breaks in your workday with a machine strapped to your boobs, making odd sucking noises. Well, the machine's making odd sucking noises, not you (we hope). As strange as this little space seems when you step back from it, you'll want to create a comfortable place for pumping during your workday, because comfort is tantamount to milk production in this setting.
So you've already discussed the need for pumping breaks and a pumping place with your boss at work, and now it's time to get your spot set up. Some mamas have more say in their pumping space than others, so we'll talk about how you can make the best of yours.
Let's start with the room itself. If you have a private office, and you can close curtains or blinds on the windows and lock the door, this is one pumping possibility for you. It may save you time if you don't have to transport yourself, and potentially your pumping supplies, to another place a few times a day. A different room can work perfectly fine, though, provided that it's private and you can lock the door so you don't have to worry about someone walking in on you. It really helps if this room stays the same all the time and doesn't move around or double as another purpose, such as a supply closet. This is confusing to you and coworkers, and can make it difficult to maintain the privacy you need and feel comfortable each day.
A good pumping room has a comfortable place for you to sit, much the same as you'd want a comfortable place to nurse your baby at home. Remember, being comfortable and relaxed is important to get the milk flowing. It also helps to have a small table nearby for your pump, water bottle, a snack, and whatever else you might want with you while you're pumping. Even a tiny folding table works, so if you need to provide your own, clear it with your boss and find one that can be tucked out of the way if necessary. If the room doesn't have a sink to wash your hands, see if you can keep hand sanitizer in the room for convenience.
Got access to a refrigerator? Great! It's best if you can use a dedicated mini-fridge or something similar for your milk and pumping supplies—even better if it's located inside the pumping room—because office refrigerators are known for sometimes being frightening places. You want a clean, reliable location for storing your milk where it isn't likely to be touched by anyone else. If you can make the communal fridge work for you, power to you.
If you don't have access to a fridge, no worries. A cooler will work just fine. You'll want a cooler that's large enough to store the milk you'll be pumping in a day, plus your pump parts. You don't need to wash them after each pumping session, just at the end of the day when you get home, so you can stash them in a bag in the cooler or fridge in between sessions. Choose a cooler that's a good size and style so it won't be a hassle to lug back and forth each day.
We've talked before about how it's important to be relaxed during pumping sessions, because stress hormones can inhibit let-down and prevent the release of oxytocin, which you need for a successful pumping session. Once you've established the room as a private space, work on making it as peaceful for yourself as possible. Think about whether you'll be able to hear co-workers from inside the room. If so, headphones should be on your list—even if you can't hear anyone else from your pumping room, some relaxing meditation music or nature sounds can help you shut out the work world for a few minutes. Keep pictures of baby on your phone (as if I need to tell you!) so you can look through them while you're pumping. Many moms report that pictures, or even a blanket or onesie that smells like your baby, can help with let-down while you're pumping at work.
Don't forget your water bottle and a snack—nursing mamas are hungry and thirsty people, so make sure this is a comfortable break for you (especially if your pumping breaks are the only breaks you'll get).
Pumping isn't generally a "fun" way to spend your breaks at work, but you know you're providing nourishment for the babe, who' you'll get to snuggle in just a few hours. If pumping is a part of your workday, I hope these tips helped give you some ideas for creating a pumping room or space that works for you—or at least for making the most of the space you have.
Kasey Phifer-Byrne is an English professor, poetry-writer, lactation consultant in training, and mom to one cat and one soon-to-be-born human. She teaches from home while balancing clinical hours for lactation support, preparing for new parenthood, and enjoying a good hike near her home outside of Philadelphia. Kasey is passionate about supporting breastfeeding mamas and advocating for family leave and work-life balance despite today's challenges to working parents.