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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Parsons, MD

Pumping at Work: What's In My Bag?

I’ve shared the initial challenges of my breastfeeding journey. And after P and I finally got into a groove with breastfeeding at home, we were hit with a new challenge. This mama needed to go BACK TO WORK. My husband and I had lots of questions about what to do with milk, what to do with pumping at work, and what to do with pumping during COVID. Via internet searches, recommendations from friends, and a little trial and error, we came a system that works for us and after getting a TON of questions, I thought I’d share with others! This post is all about what is in my pumping bag for work.

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What’s in my pumping bag:


Don't throw out those pregnancy scrubs right away Mama! Your body MAY not be back to its normal size by the time you go back to work. Mine sure wasn't. And if you plan to use a wearable breast pump, you will need extra space in your scrub top - for breasts filled with milk AND your pumps. At 9 months, I fit back into my pre-partum scrub bottoms (size medium Figs) but I can BARELY squeeze into a medium top (I previously wore a size small Figs top) with my boobs alone. With pumps, it's IMPOSSIBLE.

If you have access to free hospital scrubs, save money and WEAR THOSE during your pregnancy and postpartum time periods. I wore hospital bottoms and a maternity t-shirt for my pregnancy. And postpartum I just wore a larger scrub top. When pumping, I also kept wearing my maternity tank under my scrubs as an additional protective layer between hospital germs and my pumps/milk. It certainly wasn't necessary but made me feel a little safer and I got additional use out of my maternity tanks.

A pumping/nursing bra

This part is REALLY important. To use wearable pumps, you need a TIGHT bra. I thought initially that I would just wear a sports bra. NOPE! Don't be tricked. It was really important to align my nipple correctly in the pump and for that, the ability to fold down the bra, insert the pump and then hook the bra back together was KEY. I tried regular nursing bras, but those were WAYYY to flimsy to hold up my pumps. They are HEAVY! I highly recommend this bra from Kindred-Bravely. It is tight enough to hold my Elvie pumps in place while on the go. And when I say on the go, I mean HUSTLING around the Emergency Department!

I have the Elvie breast pump. I HIGHLY recommend the Elvie, because as a portable pump I was able to pump AND see patients, do procedures, run codes, and supervise residents. I didn’t have to be in an office with the door closed. I could be actively roaming around the Emergency Department. *** Full Disclosure- my pumps had their own black cloud. I’d put them on and immediately chaos would ensue in our ED. Fair warning.*** I read a ton of reviews about the Elvie vs the Willow and ended up choosing the Elvie.

  • I was told the Willow’s suction was stronger. The Elvie’s strength was plenty for me. I pumped almost the same number of ounces with the Elvie at work as I did with my Spectra at home. I also only put the Elvie on setting 2-3 (out of 7), so I clearly didn’t need a stronger pump.

  • Some reviews of the Elvie mention that it has to be aligned correctly. This is true! Your nipple has to be facing straight ahead. More importantly, you have to clip in the bottle first and check that the duckbill valve is in place (and not stuck) before putting the flange in. If you don’t, you will not have any suction. Look at the image below: the LEFT photo is correct. The RIGHT photo has the duckbill valve "stuck" under the pump part, which will drastically decrease your suction and make it impossible to pump.

  • The other complaint about the Elvie that I saw prior to purchase is leaking. In 6 months of using it, I have had 3-4 leaks. All of them were because the bottle was full. You do have to be cognizant of bending over, but I have done procedures in them including intubations, central lines and chest tubes without difficulty.

  • With the Elvie, you pump into small bottles, while the Willow pumps into plastic bags or a reusable bag. I loved the small bottles that Elvie uses.

  • I love the Elvie’s app on your phone, because I can check and see how full my bottles are as well as control the pump settings without touching my pumps. This has been super important on shift when I need to decide whether to stop pumping before or after a procedure or patient.

  • Also, Elvie sends you an extra set of pieces for your pump. I HIGHLY recommend keeping these in a bag in your pumping bag, for the shift where you forget a pump part or the day you forget ALL your pump parts. (I’ve done both.)

  • To use the Elvie at work, you do need a TIGHT bra to hold the pumps in place (see the section above). They are HEAVY and they are BIG. I highly recommend Kindred Bravely’s pumping/nursing bra.

These Nalgene bottles were LIFESAVERS in our house. We use different colored bottles based on location. So the HOME bottles are one color and the WORK bottles are another color. I take TWO 16 ounce bottles to work with me - one for WARM milk and one for COLD milk. This allows me to pour milk directly from my Elvie pumps into the Nalgene's. I don't bring a bunch of small bottles to work. I don’t use bags at work. I just use these two bottles. For more on my bottle system, click HERE to check out my prior post.

What I did NOT NEED in my pumping bag:

  • Wipes and cleaning bags for pump parts (I'm lazy...)

  • Breast pads

  • A bunch of bottles

Cleaning Pump Parts

I am BUSY on shift. Aren't we ALL? I don't have time to clean my pump parts. After a lot of research on the subject, I found you really don't have to! I bring a ziploc bag (I wash it and reuse it but you could totally do another form of reusable bag). After every pump session, I throw all my pump parts in the bag and into the refrigerator with my milk. No need to clean between pumping sessions! I DO keep some wipes in my bag in case parts drop on the floor or something else drastic happens. I've not used them yet!

Breast Pads

I was told these were a MUST HAVE item. That EVERYONE leaks. I never leaked. Not ONCE at work. Maybe first thing in the morning after 8 hours of sleep, but let's be real, that's a rarity. So don't go out and buy a bajillion boxes of breast pads (like I did) until you're sure you need them! And in the beginning, I highly recommend reusable pads that are super soft in case your nipples are sensitive.

Bunch of Bottles

I don't bring a bunch of bottles or bags with me to work. I take my two 16 oz nalgenes and use those to store all my milk. When I get home, it gets dumped into my "home" nalgenes and is ready to be poured into a bottle for P.

Hope this helps y'all get ready to head back to work AND keeping feeding your babe that liquid gold.

❤️ & 🌈 & ☕️, Melissa

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