Breast Pumps + Where and When to Pump at Work


  • Check with your insurance plan to find out what breast pumps are available.
  • A double-electric breast pump is recommended to remove milk efficiently.
  • Seek help from a lactation consultant, local health department or WIC agency, or other lactation support providers in the community.
  • Use a properly sized pump flange. The flange is the plastic part that fits over your breast. If it is too large, the vacuum may not remove milk sufficiently. if it is too small, it can cause friction to your nipple and breast tissue.
  • Practice expressing milk before returning to work. Pick a time of day when you have more milk, which tends to be in the morning for most women. For this practice session, try feeding the baby on one side while pumping on the other side. Pumping is a skill that takes practice! It’s normal to only get small amounts at first as your breasts get used to this different type of stimulation.


The law requires employers to provide a private space for lactating employees to express milk at work. A bathroom is NOT acceptable. Airborne bacteria can contaminate your milk. It is not a sanitary place to prepare food for a baby. And it is not allowed by state OR federal laws. Here are legally compliant ideas to explore: 

  • Employer-designated lactation room
  • Private area within an employee break room
  • Unused private office 
  • Conference room
  • Storage room that is well-ventilated
  • Corner of a larger room sectioned off by a screen or partition
  • Locker room, if separate from bathroom
  • An area that can be locked or secured, with a sign to ensure privacy

Some employees prefer to pump in their vehicles during breaks. Many pumps come with car kits that make this possible. Pumping in your car at work is up to you, but that choice doesn’t relieve your employer of their responsibility to provide private lactation space for you and other employees.


Expressing milk every 2-3 hours is recommended. It can take around 15-20 minutes for each session, not counting the time needed to set up, clean up, and get to and from the milk expression area. The actual time needed will depend on many factors: your personal needs, your breast pump, how comfortable you feel, how fast your milk begins to flow, your baby’s age and feeding schedule, and how long it takes you to walk to the milk expression area and to clean up. These tips can help:

  1. Use your regular breaks and meal period(s) to express milk.
  2. If breaks are not long enough, ask if you can arrive at work early, stay late, or take a shorter lunch break to make up the time.
  3. Try to pump around the same time every day. 
  4. Encourage your milk to flow:
    • Listen to your baby’s recorded noises on your phone.
    • Scroll through photos of your baby in your phone gallery.
    • Bring a baby blanket or clothing that smells like your baby.
    • Take some relaxation breaths or play calming music.
    • Stimulate your nipple to release milk.
  5. Try not to stare at the collection container while pumping to see the amount of milk you have expressed. Instead, read a book or magazine. Some moms put a sock over the collection container while they are pumping. Most people get a lot less milk when pumping than when they feed their baby directly. This is because the baby’s mouth is more efficient at milk removal than any machine. Being close to your baby also releases oxytocin, which helps with letdown.

Sample Feeding/Pumping Schedule

7:30 am

Feed baby at childcare provider before heading to work

8:00 am

Begin work

9:45 am

Milk expression break

12:00 pm

Meal break and milk expression break over lunch

2:30 pm

Milk expression break

5:00 pm

Leave work

5:30 pm

Feed baby at childcare provider before heading home from work

If you’re a commuter, or work a non-traditional schedule, you will need to customize the sample schedule above to your needs. If you use public transportation, transit stations in Bakersfield, Oakland, Los Angeles, Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Fresno may have lactation rooms available to use (Public Utilities Code §99176).

Preparing Your Baby

Going back to work is a big adjustment for both you AND your baby. For the best possible experience, use your postpartum leave period to establish a feeding rhythm that’s mutually agreeable to both of you. Avoiding formula supplementation during this time is recommended unless medically necessary, so that you can build a strong milk supply.

Not everyone has a lot of choice when it comes to childcare providers. If you can, choose one who supports breast and human milk feeding and is near your workplace. This allows you to breastfeed your baby before work and, if they are close enough, during the workday as well. In California you have a right to breastfeed your child in any location, public or private, where you and your child are legally allowed to be.

Here are some tips to help you prepare your baby for when you return to work:

  • Around two weeks before you go back to work, help your baby practice being fed with a bottle. Give small amounts, about 1⁄2 to 1 ounce. This is practice time, not a full meal!
  • If your baby isn’t interested in feeding from a bottle, that’s OK. This is new to both of you. Just try again later. Ask someone else to try. Babies are often more likely to accept a bottle from someone besides the breastfeeding parent.
  • Some babies accept milk in a cup, dropper, or spoon.
  • Some babies “reverse cycle feed.” This means they eat more when they are with you and can feed directly from the breast, and less when they are away from you. This is also normal, so long as your baby is fed 8 to 12 times every 24 hours.



  • Find a childcare provider close to where you work, if possible. Breastfeed your baby there before you leave for work, and again as soon as you return from work. This will help you fit in a couple of extra feeding sessions to maintain your milk supply! 
  • Breastfeed exclusively when you are home with your baby. Many moms notice their milk production increases when they breastfeed exclusively on their days off.
  • Go to the childcare facility during a meal break to directly feed your baby, if possible.
  • Try hands-on pumping! Massage your breasts while you pump to help the milk flow. After the pumping session, hand-express as much milk as you can.
  • Contact a lactation consultant, WIC agency, or other breastfeeding expert if you need help increasing your milk supply. Check our coalitions directory for resources in your county.

Find Your Magic Number

Count the number of times your baby usually feeds every 24 hours. This is your magic number! To maintain your milk production, breastfeed and express milk that many times each day. For example, if your baby typically feeds 9 times every 24 hours, then “9” is your magic number. Once you are back at work, you could express milk 3 times during the work period and breastfeed your baby 6 times while you are home to reach your magic number of 9.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidelines for breast milk storage, thawing milk safely, and proper cleaning of infant feeding items and pump equipment.
Storage Location and Temperature
Type of Breast MilkCountertop
77°F (25°C) or colder
(room temperature)
40°F (4°C)
0°F (-18°C) or colder
Freshly Expressed or PumpedUp to 4 HoursUp to 4
Within 6 months is best

Up to 12 months is acceptable

Thawed, Previously Frozen1–2 HoursUp to 1 Day
(24 hours)
NEVER refreeze human milk after it has been thawed
Leftover from a Feeding
(baby did not finish the bottle)
Use within 2 hours after the baby is finished feeding


Got Extra Milk?

Some women find their breasts respond well to breast pumps and express more milk than their baby can consume. If you already have a 6-month supply of stored milk stashed in your freezer, or if you want to use your milk to support the needs of other infants, consider donating your surplus. California has two nonprofit milk banks that provide pasteurized donor human milk to medically fragile infants in the NICU and at home. You can register to become a donor with Mothers’ Milk Bank San Jose or UC Health Milk Bank in San Diego. The banks cover all donor costs and will guide you through the process. If you prefer a direct relationship with the families who receive your milk, look up options for informal or community milk sharing.