How to Pump at Work when You Work With All Men

The US Department of Labor estimates that around 56 percent of women with children under age three are employed outside the home. [1] Being a working mom with a baby in care will often mean that you have to pump breast milk at work in order to keep a continuous supply. While pumping at home may be a breeze, finding ways to accomplish this task at the office, especially one that is populated primarily or only with men, can be a lot more tricky. In some cases, your male coworkers may not understand why you have to pump (since the baby is at home) and possibly they may not have patience when you need to take out time to pump. You might even find it hard to find a private spot to pump in peace and away from prying eyes.

You can make this situation a whole lot easier by planning ahead, securing a private space and educating your coworkers about why you need to pump.


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    Before you have your baby, let the boss know that you plan to pump at work after returning from maternity leave. Be aware that many bosses and workplaces simply don't think about what it means to have to pump milk while at work for moms coming back to work after the baby's birth. While you don’t have to disclose your intent, talking to a boss with whom you have a close or friendly relationship about your goal may help pave the way when you return. You don’t have to get into details, but simply tell him that when you return from maternity leave, you will hopefully be still nursing your child and will need a few breaks to pump throughout the day. In some cases, a very understanding boss may even help you find the best place in the office to pump or even offer his own office if you don’t have one.
    • Be aware that you may need to excuse yourself 2 to 3 times a day for between 20 to 30 minutes to express your breast milk. It is important to assure your boss that this will not affect your work quality and delivery as well.
    • Be positive when discussing this; it's a huge source of reassurance for your boss that you're already talking returning to work after having the baby, so he will be more likely to start working out ways to accommodate your needs on your return. Also note that complaints from coworkers tend to be rare. [1]
    • It can be helpful to provide your employer with a written plan of what you propose. This can help to firm up your intent to return and to give your boss something to use to set in motion the needed preparations. In some cases, sending an email might be the easiest way to raise the matter.
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    Be aware of what might bother your employer so that you can have counter-suggestions to offer in response. Some of these might include:
    • One concern might be the issue of "fairness", in that asking for breaks that others don't get might be construed as unfair. This can be approached in several ways. One is to point out that it's a fair exchange for not taking a smoking break or any other employee-permitted break outside lunch. Or say that you will do it during your time, such as morning tea time or lunch time. Another way is to offer to do the work time missed by taking the same amount of work home to complete. And reminding your boss that this is for a short time, not forever, helps.
    • Another cause for concern if you work for a small employer might be cost. You can reassure an employer that providing a private space need not be costly with some creative thinking about use of existing rooms within set time spans, and you might even offer to bring your own chair, mini refrigerator, or other needs if this would ease their concerns.
    • In unusual instances, an uninformed boss might be concerned about offending other employees. Be tactful but do remind your boss that this is the twenty-first century and that nobody will see anything they shouldn't be seeing. Send him to some websites on mothering at work to support your cause (see sites suggested below).
    • Always counter concerns with solutions and suggestions for workarounds, and stay positive. Remind your employer that your coming back will save having to find a new employee and that being able to pump at work will mean reduced absenteeism (now and in future), while facilitating increased productivity. They like to know these things!
    • Check your private health insurance policy. In some cases, you may have access to a lactation consultant, a person who might be able to visit your workplace and offer some helpful advice to the boss. Even if you don't have such coverage, this might be worth paying for out of your own pocket, for peace of mind in having a professional inform your boss what's what.
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    Know what to expect yourself. There is a reasonable amount of knowledge you need to get across for successful pumping at work. Knowing this in advance will help you to make sound decisions. It is recommended that you read widely in this area, including online forums and sites. Also, check out How to continue breastfeeding after returning to work to help you understand implementing a schedule and storing the breast milk effectively.
    • Consider talking to a lactation consultant to find out what they suggest for your situation and to get acquainted with the items that will help you pump milk at work successfully.
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    Have an idea of where you could possibly pump at the office after the baby is born. In fact, select three or four possibilities in the event that the first location doesn’t work out or turns out to be uncomfortable. For example, a meeting room might work on one day but be booked out the next, so you'll need back-up locations. It might help ease the worries of a boss in a smaller firm to learn that you're prepared to "move around" the office, provided you're guaranteed suitable private space of some sort each day. Some ideas for private spots include:
    • Your office. If you have your own office, create a “do not disturb” sign to hang on your door handle and/or lock the door while you are pumping. If it has a window without a blind, have one installed that you can draw or close when pumping.
    • The ladies room. Find a comfortable chair or bench in the ladies room where you can relax and pump. If you have an electric pump, move the chair or bench toward an outlet for easy access. If the area does not have a place to sit, ask for one or offer to buy or bring a chair from home or in another area of the office. If the ladies room is poky and unpleasant though, this will not present a good option; quite a few restrooms fall into this latter category. Indeed, some laws, such as that in New Mexico, require that the employer provide a lactation space that is not the bathroom. [1] Don't stick with the bathroom if you hate it and find it's unhygienic.
    • A coworker’s/boss’s office. If you don't have your own office but you have a close bond with one of our coworkers or even your boss, ask if you could use his/her office when you need to pump.
    • A meeting room or the lunchroom. These rooms aren't as good as the other options because they are likely to be accessed at any time. However, if you can work out a time that is unlikely to cut into other people's use of the room, you can email everyone to say that this room is out of bounds from X time to X time for the next X months or so.
    • The stationery room. Things are fairly desperate if you're locating yourself in the stationery room but if there is enough room, a door that can be shut or even locked, it might be ideal. In fact, such rooms are often lockable in an age of worrying about resource expenses!
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    Purchase a special pump that you will use at the office only. The local baby store most likely sells a portable pump or even a smaller version of what you use at home. If you can keep a second pump at work you will eliminate having to remember to pack your pump every day before you go to work. However, don't do this if the second pump is inferior and causes you pain or doesn't work so well. It's better to take the one good pump everywhere than to put up with second best.
    • When buying a pump, do your research carefully. Not all breast pumps are alike and some are less effective than others. Read the reviews and if you have a local maternity health service that hires out breast pumps, hire some to try them out before buying one.
    • In some countries, your private health insurance may cover the cost of a pump. Check it before spending additional money above your insurance premiums.
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    Label your expressed milk and place inside a container before placing in the office refrigerator. The last thing you want is for a coworker to accidentally use the human milk you placed in the company refrigerator for his coffee. By placing your milk container inside another clearly marked container, you can avoid any such "accidents". However, if you're not comfortable leaving your milk in the refrigerator, here are some alternative options:
    • Purchase a small refrigerator to keep next to your desk––there are very small desk versions available if you look around. To save on costs, look for a used one in an online auction or at a local used white goods store. Check that your boss is okay with this first; occupational health and safety issues (noise, space, cord location, etc.) must be checked off, as well as the electricity usage.
    • If it is not conducive to have a small fridge next to your desk, purchase a refrigerator bag or effective chiller holder that can be sealed to hold the milk. That way there will be no confusion about the small bottles in the refrigerator and you can easily carry it straight home each day.
    • Note that human milk can be stored at room temperature (66-72°F, 19-22°C) for up to 10 hours and in a refrigerator (32-39°F, 0-4°C) for up to 8 days.[2] This knowledge might help you with your storage plans.
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    Educate your coworkers if they seem confused, curious or annoyed. In some cases, no one will even notice that you’ve slipped off to your private place for 10 to 20 minutes to pump. However, if you get a reaction from any coworker, use this opportunity to educate and inform your colleagues about what you're doing.
    • Be brief and direct. Men may not want to hear about the sacred bond of motherhood, but instead just say that your baby only drinks breast milk right now. Simply say you're pumping the milk to provide it to your baby at home. Don’t mince words––if the men in your office giggle or make snide remarks, ignore it and chalk it up to immaturity.
    • Give them some scientific facts around the importance of continuing breastfeeding. Let them know that you actions are in line with the World Health Organization's recommendations for ensuring a very healthy next generation. In addition, plenty of business groups recognize the importance of pumping milk at work.
    • Give them the legal facts only if needed. And realize that in many jurisdictions, there are no specific laws obliging an employer to provide a lactation-friendly environment. For example, in the United States, only a handful of states require the employer to provide a lactation space or time for pumping milk.[1] Nevertheless, don't assume that just because there isn't a direct law that you don't have rights; other employment, health and safety or discrimination laws may well cover your needs. If in doubt, and if experiencing problems with your boss or workplace, seek legal advice.
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    Schedule pump times around your break or lunch. It may take time to get into a routine, but aim to pump during times when you aren’t in the height of the workday. For example, if you know that you must be in a 2pm meeting every day, do what you can to avoid pumping at or around that time. If pumping doesn’t interfere with work, there’s nothing your coworkers can really complain about.
    • If a meeting is scheduled for a time when you'd normally be pumping, try to pump before the meeting. Another approach is to ask that you present your piece first so that you can exit halfway through, or that you be excused until halfway through the meeting and then turn up at a pre-agreed time. If people know in advance, they will be more receptive than if you simply don't turn up or say nothing and sneak in late. If you are in a position to influence the timing and running of the meeting, make your meetings punctual and purposeful; many meetings are time-wasters anyway, so here's a chance to change that!
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    Stick with it. As time goes on, some women who pump milk in workplaces feel obliged to cease because they feel it isn't fitting into the workplace culture or that there are just too many work things cutting in. Take a step back if you start feeling overwhelmed and remind yourself that this is for an incredibly short period of time in the greater scheme of things, it is for the benefit of your child who will most likely be healthier for it (thereby having less sick days off in the future as breastfed babies tend to be less sick[3]) and that you are one very important player in ensuring a healthy future generation. In a year or two's time, you may well regret not sticking it out that bit longer until you chose the time to wean your child; do not be bullied, pushed about by or embarrassed into giving up pumping your breast milk. Stop when you are ready to stop––and remember that it is work that needs to be put into perspective, not your child's well being.
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    Become an advocate for pumping milk at work. If you've trail blazed at your workplace, share the experience with other women. Tell your story to your workplace's newsletter, go onto mom forums and share your experience and generally take the time to tell others (both men and women) how to manage and support pumping milk at work. For some women, knowing that this is possible may be the difference between keeping or stopping a career.


  • In some cases, if your baby is being cared for in a daycare facility at or near your workplace, you can nip out during a scheduled break or your lunch break and feed on the daycare premises. This alleviates having to pump at all, is shared bonding time with your baby who will love seeing you for this time and is good all round. In an ideal world, this would be the norm; if you do have this unique opportunity, seize it.
  • When it comes to babies and kids, the best-laid plans can go out the window. Remember that while you can prepare the office and your space to pump, your plans may change after the baby is born and/or throughout the time you are pumping. Try to be flexible and go with the flow.
  • Seek support from business groups that support pumping milk at work. In the United States, for example, The National Business Group on Health (NBGH) recognizes the importance of continued breastfeeding by working moms. Check out the websites and literature of such organizations and share these resources with your boss and coworkers.
  • As your baby gets older you may find that you can possibly pump before and after work, eliminating the need during the workday.
  • Most men understand and will be willing to accommodate. Women are typically more embarrassed talking about it than men are. By mid-20s, most men have wives, sisters, friends, cousins, etc. who have kids and breast-feed.
  • Find supportive coworkers and encourage them to help other coworkers understand that pumping milk at work is essential, normal and desirable.
  • The numbers of workplaces providing lactation programs and lactation areas is on the increase, albeit slowly. If you are in an all-male environment, it's likely that you're trailblazing in more ways than one!
  • Don’t make a big deal about pumping or nursing. Although you may be overwhelmed with emotion and want to talk about all its benefits, keep the discussion to family and your friends. Men in your office most likely won’t understand and probably don’t want to understand what you're experiencing. All the same, there may be a male coworker with children who knows just what you're going through and will happily talk to you; savor this!


  • If you experience harassment as a result of pumping milk at work, seek advice from your boss, human resources or a legal adviser. You should not be under any pressure or harassment for choosing to pump breast milk at work.
  • Don’t try to pump in public. While nursing is a very natural way to feed your baby, people who have not experienced nursing or pumping may not understand and it could create an extremely uncomfortable environment for everyone.

Things You'll Need

  • Breast pump
  • Written notification of your intention to pump milk at work on your return
  • Comfortable seating and private area
  • Human milk storage facilities and items, including easily transportable bottles

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