I am not a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding expert in any way. This is merely my experience pumping milk. I decided to write this when I saw that a few people had no idea what went into pumping milk at work.
I have two children and returned to work 12 weeks after the birth of my first and 10 weeks after the birth of my second. I pumped for about 6 months with each child.
Babies are all different but mine would drink about 16 oz. of milk a day while I was at work. I produced about 3-4 ounces each pumping session, which meant 3-4 pump breaks of 20 minutes each. With both children, this schedule lasted about a month and then I'd eventually lower this to two pumping breaks a day and supplemented with formula. For me, it just got to be too difficult to pump that often.
This is what an electric pump looks like.
Mine cost me about $300. I believe most insurance plans will cover the cost of a pump. Mine also weighed about 10 lbs. For my first child I carried the pump back and forth on public transit every day so I could do a pumping session before I went to sleep and add to a stockpile of milk. I eventually gave up on this because it was a hassle to carry every day and I left it at work. For my second child, I drove to work so it wasn't as much of a hassle to carry a heavy pump back and forth every day.
On a first day back at work I would drop my child off with the sitter, leave four bottles of breast milk for the baby and go to work. If I was lucky and the schedule worked out, I could feed the baby right before dropping him off. This would leave my breasts fairly empty and the baby's stomach full.
I am fortunate in that both jobs I worked at while pumping had a set-aside lactation area that locked. At the job with child #1, it was a shower room with a little stool and you could lock the door from the inside. There were five of us that used it for a few months but we were a close group and were able to develop a sign-in schedule. After pumping, you'd have to rinse out all of the pump parts and for this you had to use the main restroom. The only refrigerator was the one in the lunchroom so pumped milk went into the lunchroom fridge.
At the job I was at for child #2, we had a "Mother's Room" with a tiny sink, comfortable chair and mini-fridge. This was a larger company and I did not know the other women who were using it. It was hard to figure out a schedule and very often I'd go down to the room to pump and it would be locked for an hour. There were rumors that someone was using the room for naps but I could never figure out if that was true.
People talk a lot about the pain of having a full chest of milk. Engorgement hurts. I had moments where7 I needed to pump at 10 a.m. but would not be able to get into the room until 11:15. By this time, my breasts felt like they were being poked with a thousand tiny pins all over the place. There was also a dull throbbing ache in both breasts that wouldn't go away until I was able to pump milk.
Leaking milk is another problem that can occur throughout the workday. Leaking would only happen if I was engorged but a friend would leak at random times. I would always wear disposable breast pads in my bra. They're like panty liners for your bra. They look like this:
When you go back into a pumping room, you need to place the pump on a flat surface, put the pieces together. There are nipple horns (that's my name for them) that get screwed onto the top of a bottle. A hose goes into the back of the nipple horn and the other end of the hose gets hooked into the pump. Milk gets sucked out of your breast into the bottle.
A hands-free bra or hands-free corset can hold the horns to your chest so your hands are free to type or hold a book.
If you don't have one of those, you can fashion something out of rubber bands (there are many instructions online) or in the worst- case scenario, you hold the horns to your breasts for 20 minutes.
The pump is loud. I don't know why it is this loud. This is what it sounds like.
If you are in a closed off room, people can't hear it but I've had to pump at conventions in cubicle-type curtained off areas or bathroom stalls and you can totally hear the sucking noise. The pump I bought had a little battery pack that you could also use if necessary. I used it only once at a convention when I had to pump in a bathroom stall and there weren't any outlets nearby.
Milk gets sucked out of your breasts into the bottles. It shouldn't hurt to pump. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world but it shouldn't be painful. For my first child I used the nipple horns that came with the pump and they were too small and I would actually get tiny cuts on my nipples, which was extremely painful. For the second child I talked to a lactation consultant and she helped me find nipple horns that fit me properly and I never had another problem with ripping my nipples and bleeding. New nipple horns are fairly cheap. I was able to get some from the hospital after birth.
Once you are done pumping, you can seal up the bottles, refrigerate them or put them into a little ice pack that is sold with the pump. You'll need to wash out the nipple horns and dry them off for your next use.
Usually from unpacking the pump to getting hooked into my hands-free corset, pumping and then cleaning the parts, I'd be gone from my desk for about 30 minutes. I eventually would just do two pumping breaks each day and work through lunch. The less often that you nurse or pump, the less milk you produce. By not pumping very often, my milk supply would go down and I'd have to supplement with more formula.
Pumps are not as effective as babies are at getting milk out of a breast so some people have a decreased milk supply even if they are pumping as often as they would have nursed.
I never produced a lot of milk through the pump. I'd usually spend about 20 minutes to get 5 or 6 ounces. Other friends could spend that same amount of time and get 8 ounces. It changes from person to person.
This is just one perspective of what breast pumping involves while at an office. Skipping pump breaks can be painful and messy. Pumping can take 20 minutes or longer depending upon someone's output and milk needs. Having a private area with an outlet and a sink nearby can make the experience more pleasant.