The joy of pumping, the agony of forgetting the pump...

Apr 29, 2008 at 10:39 p.m. ET

Pumping at work. It's three simple words, but to a new mother who's recently returned to the workforce, it sums up the toughest part of any day. How do you fit in pumping sessions around meetings and work? How do you discreetly wash your supplies? How do you ensure the milk is kept at optimal temperature all the time? Pumping at work: It sure ain't easy.

Baby BottlePicture this: I'm 40 minutes into my hour-long commute and running only minorly late. I realize that my boobs are beginning to get heavy and make a mental note to pump when I get to work. But when I glance to my right, I see my oversized purse that desperately needs to be organized and my haphazardly-packed lunch. The seat looks unusually empty though.

That's when it hits me. My handy dandy electric breast pump is missing. Panic strikes. I swerve into the right lane, ready to turn around. Then I remember: I am 40 minutes from home and I battled bumper to bumper traffic to get this far.

I weigh my options. I can turn around and admit defeat . . . or even call in sick, but I hate calling in sick and doubly so when I have work due. I could just go without pumping . . . but then my breastmilk-only daughter won't eat. The little bugger refuses to give into formula . . . Or, I could hop into Target and buy the cheapest electric breast pump they have.

I opt for the third and head to the store.

The Options

I already own a tried and trusted Medela Original Pump in Style. It's seen me through pumping for my son for five months when he was a baby. And now, it's been my constant pumping break companion since I returned to the office three months ago. But, with a price tag in the high $200 range, I neither need nor can afford another.

My backup pump — the one that I bought the last time I forgot my pump — is a Medela Harmony hand pump. For all my angst about the manual aspect of it, it does work really well – almost as well as my Pump in Style. But, being a manual unit, it can only pump one boob at a time so it takes twice as long to use.

I glance over the Target shelves. The bargain-priced Evenflo Comfort Select Electric Breast Pump, at about $38, is out of stock. There is one First Years Deluxe Comfort Electric/ Battery Double-Breast Pump (about $60), but the box is ripped open. The price then jumps to about $100.

Uneasy with spending $100 on a secondary electric pump that I may or may not ever use again, I look at the manual pumps. The Avent Isis, at about $60, comes with a carrying case and all the bottles I need. Sold.

Thirty minutes later, my pants are drenched with expressed milk that is going everywhere but into the bottle. Plus, the pump doesn't suck (and that, my friends, is a very bad thing).

Should have gone with option A.

Five things you should know about pumping at work

  1. Have a backup pump in your car or desk. It's worth the extra $30-$40.
  2. Don't EVER impulse-buy a pump. The Avent Isis and I just are not compatible, but it can't be returned. Fortunately, it is good motivation to remember the Pump In Style everyday.
  3. Bring something to do. A book, a game on your cell phone, or even a phone call can really speed the pumping time up. That makes it so much more tolerable.
  4. Don't be ashamed to wash the parts in your office kitchen. Your coworkers will likely fall into one of two categories: 1) Those who know what the pump is because they've used it or their wife has, or 2) Those who have no idea what it is and don't care. Cleanliness of you and your baby's food takes priority over anyone who does care.
  5. Set a schedule for pumping. Stick to it as much as you can. But be flexible if you need to be.

In other news

Medela has released a new pump that is the ultimate: the freedom of no wires with the power of a battery pack. The Medela Freestyle is the new Porsche of pumps ... Charge it up and it's ready to go.

"Creating Freestyle was a totally mom-focused process because we wanted it to be user-friendly and appealing, as well as hand-held and technologically superior," said Jill Solberg, manager of industrial design. "We know moms juggle so many things, from parenting and working to managing the household and social commitments. So we made Freestyle easy to use as well as ergonomic, so you can hold it and use the buttons one-handed. And it was input from our mom focus groups that inspired us to add features like a structured waist belt, backlit display and built-in timer."

If I could get my hands on one of those babies . . .