8 Pumping Essentials For Nurses Who Breastfeed

8 Pumping Essentials For Nurses Who Breastfeed

*This post contains affiliate links that I have personally used and have found essential for pumping at work as a nurse working 12-hour shifts at the hospital.  You can find my disclosure policy here.

Having a new baby is both incredible and overwhelming.  Breastfeeding can be hard for new moms (it certainly was for me!). Once I finally got the hang of it, my maternity leave was almost over and I had another problem to figure out:  how was I going to continue breastfeeding while working as a nurse?

Nurses who breastfeed may face challenges as they return to work.

There is good news for nurses who want to continue breastfeeding their babies for up to a year or longer as working moms and nurses.  It is possible!  But you need to plan in advance and communicate with your workplace about your intention to pump at work.  And you need to have the right pumping supplies to make it possible.

If you don’t plan ahead, pumping at work can be extremely difficult.  But with the right pumping tools and a lot of determination, you will find that you can make pumping fit right into your busy nursing schedule!

Even I can’t believe how long I have been able to pump while working as a nurse.

I am happy to share that I have been successfully pumping as an ER nurse in a very busy level 1 trauma center for the last 13 months.  And I still can’t believe how well it is going!  Sure, there have been a few minor hiccups along the way (like forgetting my breast pump at home, whoops!).   But overall, the experience has been way better than I would have thought.

I now know that I will be able to continue pumping breast milk for my baby for as long as I desire.  I want other working moms to know that they can do this too.  (Read more about what I have learned about pumping at work as a nurse).

Nurse in scrubs

Pumping Essentials For Nurses At Work:

Portable Breast Pump

This pumping essential is the highest on the must-have items for obvious reasons.  Without it, you have no way to access your milk!   I am using the Medela portable pump because it is the one that my insurance covers, and it works great.  You want to make sure that you have a double pump so you can pump both breasts at once to save time.  You can also use this bag to store your breast milk while you are away at work as long as you keep it in a refrigerator.

Check with your insurance to see if they cover a portable breast pump before you buy one.  I live in California and my insurance gave me a breast pump free of charge!

(Just a note, the different brands do not work interchangeably with each other.  So you want to make sure you find one brand you like and stick with it!  Otherwise, you will end up with a bunch of parts that don’t work with one another.  You don’t need your back-to-work pumping supply list to be any longer than it already is!)

Breast Milk Bottles

You will need breast milk collection storage bottles to store your milk until you get home from work.  I use the Medela bottles because I already use the Medela pump but there are several other brands you can use as well.  Just make sure the ones you are using are made without BPA (it’s a safer plastic that helps retain breast milk’s beneficial properties).

I also like the Medela screw-on lids better than some other brands because they are leakproof.  (I tried a different brand and had an issue with leakage all over my packed lunch!).  You can wash them in the sink and they are also dishwasher safe.

Double Pump And Nursing Bra

For the sake of time and efficiency, it is very important that you double-pump at work.  I really like this double-pumping bra because it makes it possible to double-pump without having to hold the pumps with both hands.  Once you start pumping, you will find that having to hold the pumps in place is really annoying and makes it difficult to do anything else.  It also helps prevent spilling accidents since you can remove and clean one side at a time.

Reusable Nursing Pads

Engorgement is no joke.  There have been a few times at work when I wasn’t able to pump on schedule and I ended up leaking through my scrubs (you could barely see it, but still!).  As a result of that embarrassing experience, I started wearing nursing pads when I was at work.   I already wore them at home from the time my son was about one week old.

I use reusable nursing pads made of bamboo because I have read that many disposable pads contain absorbent chemicals which come in direct contact with your skin.  They also run the risk of trapping moisture, especially if you are leaking. This can increase the risk of mastitis, a very painful bacterial infection that will make you sick and can be dangerous if untreated.  Disposable pads can also be expensive over time if you are frequently using them.  I have 12 reusable nursing pads and I run them through the washer and dryer with all my other clothes.

Breast Milk Storage Bags

The beautiful thing about pumping is that you can store your breast milk in the freezer!  So even if you have a surplus of milk, you can put it away for later use.   These little breast milk storage baggies are great because you can write the date on the top section so you know how long they have been in the freezer.

Place them in the refrigerator for 12 hours before you need them to thaw them out.  Or place them in a bowl of hot water for quicker use.  These are a necessity for working moms who pump – I have used over 200 of them already!

Milk Storage Organizer

My freezer got a little overloaded with breast milk within the first few months that I was back at work and this milk storage organizer helped me to keep things more organized.  It also helped me keep the milk organized by date so I make sure to use the oldest milk first.

Pumping At Work:  Cleaning Parts And Sanitation

One of the biggest concerns of many nurse moms who are pumping at work is cleanliness.  After all, a hospital is a place where sick people go and it is more full of germs than pretty much anywhere.  The last thing a new mom wants to do is accidentally bring home unwanted bugs to their new baby!  Thus, it is so important to try and keep your breast pump parts as clean as possible while you are pumping during 12-hour shifts.

First, it is very important to try to pump in an area of the hospital that is as clean as possible.  Many hospitals have a lactation room set aside for employees of the hospital.  Talk to your administration about places where you can safely pump that are as germ-free as possible.  Bathroom stalls are not a place for a new mom to pump! You have the right to pump at work as a nurse in a sanitary place!

For more information on successful pumping during 12-hour shifts in the hospital, read How To Pump At Work As A Nurse.

Here are a few essentials for keeping pumping parts clean at work:

Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump And Accessory Wipes (72 each)

Medela quick clean breast pump & accessory wipes are perfect for nurses at work with no access to soap or water for cleaning breast pumps and accessories.  Unfortunately, many nurses have no choice but to pump in empty hospital rooms with no running water and therefore have a difficult time cleaning pump parts.  These are still so helpful for me as a nurse who pumps at work.  One wipe cleans both breast shields, valves, and membranes.

I also use these for cleaning changing tables, high chairs, cribs and countertops, and toys, as well as other hard surfaces when I am at home.  And the Medela quick clean wipes are unscented, alcohol and bleach-free as well.

Pumping At Work As A Nurse Frequently Asked Questions

How often should you pump at work during a 12-hour shift?

For a 12-hour shift, it is generally recommended to pump every 3-4 hours, or at least 2-3 times during that time period. This frequency helps maintain milk supply and prevent engorgement or discomfort.

How much time should I be allowed to pump at work?

The amount of time allowed to pump at work may vary depending on your location and workplace policies. However, many countries have laws or regulations in place to protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers. In the United States, for example, employers are required to provide “reasonable break time” and a private space (other than a bathroom) for nursing mothers to express milk for up to one year after the birth of their child. The specific duration of each pumping session may vary, but it is generally recommended to allocate 15-30 minutes for each session.

Can I pump while at work?

Yes, you can pump while at work, and it is an important way to maintain your milk supply and provide breast milk for your baby. It’s advisable to communicate with your employer or human resources department in advance to make arrangements for a private and comfortable space where you can pump. Many workplaces provide designated lactation rooms or areas for this purpose.

How often should I pump at work during a 10-hour shift?

During a 10-hour shift, it is recommended to pump at least 2-3 times. Similar to a 12-hour shift, aim for pumping sessions every 3-4 hours to maintain milk supply and prevent discomfort.

Is it OK to pump every 4 hours at work?

While pumping every 4 hours at work can be acceptable for some individuals, it’s generally recommended to pump more frequently, preferably every 3 hours or so. Pumping every 4 hours may work for some mothers, but it can potentially lead to a decrease in milk supply or increased discomfort due to engorgement. Adjusting the pumping frequency based on your individual needs and milk supply is important.

Do you have to clock out to breast pump at work?

The regulations regarding clocking out to breast pump at work can vary depending on your location and workplace policies. In many countries, such as the United States, employers are required to provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers to express milk, and this time should not be deducted from regular working hours. However, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with your specific country’s laws or regulations and consult with your employer to understand their policies regarding pumping breaks.

How do you survive a 12-hour nursing shift? To survive a 12-hour nursing shift, consider the following tips:

  • Stay well-rested before your shift and practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Stay hydrated and eat nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Take short breaks when possible to rest, stretch, and refuel.
  • Use supportive shoes and comfortable attire to reduce physical strain.
  • Prioritize self-care and stress management techniques during your off-duty hours


Will my body get used to 12-hour shifts? With time, many individuals can adapt to working 12-hour shifts. It may take a few weeks or even months for your body to adjust fully, but establishing a consistent sleep schedule, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and taking care of your physical and mental well-being can help with the adaptation process. It’s important to listen to your body, get enough rest, and seek support when needed.

Take it one day at a time, Mama.

Breastfeeding while working as a nurse can be overwhelming, but you can do this!  I hope this list of pumping essentials helps you too!

There are a lot of products on the market and it can be overwhelming for a mom who is preparing to go back to work from maternity leave.  So, make it easier on yourself and have a plan in place before you go back to work (read more about how I pump at work as a registered nurse who works 12-hour shifts).

After successfully pumping at work with two babies, I have whittled down my list to include the things that have helped me the most.  I hope this helps to guide you in the right direction to find what works for you too!

It is your legal right to continue to provide breast milk for your children and pump while you are at work.  Do not let anyone tell you differently or make you feel guilty about it.  Only you know what is right for you and your baby.

Let me know how it goes as a pumping mom in the workplace and please reach out to me if you have any questions.  Breastfeeding while working as a nurse is possible!  Good luck, Mama!

Additional Recommended Reading: 

Pump At Work Supply Checklist From A Nurse Who Works 12 Hour Shifts