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There are many reasons why new parents pump, and whether you are working part time or full time, simply looking to share feeding responsibilities, or even just want to pump, each and every reason is valid. (Of course, so is the choice not to breastfeed or pump.) But no matter what your reason for pumping, the task is far from always easy.

Parents are told “breast is best” and that breast milk should be given exclusively for the first 6 months of an infant’s life.

That’s great in theory, but pumping takes time, and few public places have nursing rooms or spaces that can accommodate pumping. When life demands take you out into the world, it can be challenging to figure out how to make breastfeeding and pumping work.

So how can you care for your baby and yourself while on the go? These tips are perfect for pumping parents.

While it can be hard to fully prepare for a child in all the ways, especially if this is your first baby, you should order, sterilize, and — if possible — test out your breast pump prior to baby’s arrival.

Trying to clean parts and fit flanges in a sleep-deprived haze is a lot. Try to sit down with the instructions and figure it all out before you have a crying baby and leaky breasts to contend with.

If you’re in the United States, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans will provide a breast pump free of charge, or for a small co-pay. Take advantage of what you can get and pack your bag before you need it.

As for what to pack in your pumping bag, seasoned pumpers suggest carrying everything (and anything) you may need, including:

  • batteries and/or power cords
  • storage bags
  • ice packs
  • wipes
  • nipples
  • bottles
  • dish soap, brushes, and other cleaning supplies
  • sanitizing wipes
  • additional flanges, membranes, bottles, and tubes, especially if you work late or have a long commute
  • snacks
  • water
  • burp cloths for potential spills

You may also want to carry a blanket or other baby “memento” to pair with the zillion baby photos you’re likely to have on your phone to help you focus and relax.

Related: Everything you need to know about pumping at work

This may seem obvious, but the sooner you can get your mind and body acclimated to pumping, the better. (Yes, it can take a while to “get the hang of it.”) Plus, having a “stash” can ease anxiety about feeding. There are various ways to maximize your time and make the most of pumping sessions.

KellyMom, an internationally recognized website providing breastfeeding information, suggests nursing on one side while pumping on the other. In fact, many use the Haakaa silicone breast pump for this very purpose. You can also simply pump both sides at once.

Breast pump maker Ameda offers several great tips, like pumping first thing in the morning when your production is likely to be strongest.

Many are concerned how their baby will eat in their absence, and knowing you have enough food on hand can relieve stress. That said, don’t worry if your freezer isn’t stocked. I returned to work when my son was 4 months with less than a dozen bags.

If you’re pumping exclusively, or pumping during the work day away from your baby, you’ll want to try to pump every 3 to 4 hours — or as often as your baby typically feeds. However, as most parents will tell you, that isn’t always possible.

If you’re a working parent, block out time on your daily calendar. Let your partner, colleagues, clients, and/or bosses know you’re unavailable, and be knowledgeable about the Fair Labor Standards Act and your state’s breastfeeding laws — just in case.

If you’re pumping at home, set reminder alarms on your phone. If you have older children at home, make pumping time a time to read or talk together so they’re more cooperative.

Certain variables can be hard to plan for, i.e., when flying, it’s often unclear if your airport and, more importantly, your terminal has a designated pumping/nursing room. Finding an outlet can also be problematic. Sometimes you may not have access to electricity at all. Having plans in place can help you manage these challenges.

Pack multiple adapters, including car chargers. If you are concerned about “exposure,” bring a cover-up or wear your coat/jacket backward while pumping. Pre-assemble all parts, and wear a pumping bra while you’re out. This makes it easy to pump quickly and discreetly.

If you’re in the car often, set it up for maximum pumping efficiency. Designate a spot for your cooler, pump supplies, and whatever else you may need. If you’re often in places with limited power, you may want to consider having a manual pump on hand.

Touching your breasts can encourage letdown, which in turn stimulates milk flow and can help maximize pumping output. To manually and effectively initiate release, you can try giving yourself a brief breast massage.

La Leche League GB offers detailed instructions and visual aids outlining how to perform a breast massage for hand expression. You can also watch videos like this one that features several techniques to help you develop your own massage process.

In fact, if you find yourself without a pump at some point, you can use these techniques from La Leche League to hand express breast milk.

While there are dozens of pumping tricks and tips available, their effectiveness is widely debated, and they differ for different people.

Many swear by mental imagery. They believe that thinking about (or looking at pictures of) their child increases their flow. Others find distracted pumping works best, using their time to read a magazine or catch up on emails.

Some cover their pump bottles so that they can’t focus on how much they are (or aren’t) getting. The thinking is that removing yourself from the session will reduce stress and boost your supply.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Test out suggestions and experiment with ideas. Find what works for you.

While your apparel choice may be dictated by your job and position, you may find that loose-fitting tops and button-downs are best for easy access. Two-piece outfits are going to be easier to work with than one-pieces.

Trust us when we say that nothing is worse than trying to pump in a cold room — nothing. So keep a “cover” on hand. Your boobs and body will thank you.

Plus sweaters, scarves, and jackets come in handy for getting a little privacy when you want it while pumping.

A pumping bra can be quite the time saver. After all, it frees up your hands, giving you the opportunity to multitask (or use massage). But if you cannot justify the expense,don’t fret: You can make your own with an old sports bra and some scissors.

While pumping may be second nature for some, others will face challenges. Discuss your difficulties with your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant.

Speak with others who are breastfeeding and/or have breastfed. Engage in online conversations on parenting pages, groups, and message boards, and when possible, find local support. La Leche League, for example, holds meetings across the globe.

Sometimes the best-laid plans are thwarted, and this can occur with breastfeeding and pumping. From low supply to scheduling issues, some breastfeeding parents won’t be able to meet their child’s demands all of the time. It happens, and it’s okay.

However, if and when this occurs, you need to be prepared to give your child formula and/or donor milk. Talk to your child’s pediatrician to see what they recommend.

Pumping and breastfeeding don’t have to be all or nothing. Finding the right mix for your needs can make all the difference in feeling successful.


Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few — and when her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.