It's stressful enough to return to work after having a baby, but the ins and outs of pumping just adds to the headache. From making sure no one walks in on you while you're exposed to figuring out where to store the milk once you're finished, determining the answer to a few basic etiquette questions can help make the process a little bit smoother.
Never assume that the entire staff knows what you're doing behind closed doors. Emily LaRusch, found of Back Office Betties Virtual Receptionists, based in Phoenix, realized that first-hand when she shut her office door during lunch to, as she says it, "Get my pump on." She says that most of the staff was made up of women, and they all knew what she was doing. "One afternoon, I was pumping away in my office when one of our IT guys walked right in and started in on a lengthy conversation," she remembers. "When he finally came up for air, he heard it -- the 'woosh, woosh' sound of the pump." LaRusch's colleague got out of there pretty quickly. "I laugh now, but at the time, I was pretty embarrassed," she says. "Even though he didn't see my lady bits, I felt exposed and uncomfortable." Moral of the story: Put up a sign, even if it just says "Do not disturb."
By law, your employer must offer you a private place to pump -- that's not a restroom -- with an electrical outlet for a pump and reasonable time away from your desk until your baby turns 1. Only you and your employer can determine what "reasonable" means, but you should yourself be reasonable in demanding time. Draw up a plan for what you need and present it to your employer when you return to work after maternity leave. Your manager's goal, whether or not he supports your plan to breastfeed, is to ensure you keep up on your responsibilities, so show him that you're able to pump and get the job done.
While you might privately champion the cause of breastfeeding, it's not something you need to announce to the office. Respect that not everyone feels the same way you do about the situation. If you don't share with the office that you're going to pump, they won't necessarily know that's what you're doing in the private room. If you store your milk in a nondescript lunch bag in the fridge, no one will know that's what's on the shelf. If a co-worker does know what you're doing and makes inappropriate comments, don't engage her in the break room -- tell your manager or human resources that she's making you uncomfortable, and let the powers-that-be deal with the situation.
It's your right to pump at work, but that doesn't mean your colleagues are required to cover your tasks, such as answering phones, caring for patients or clients or delaying meetings, while you do so. If pumping means you have to ask for your co-workers' support, say thank you. Offer to cover their tasks if they want to take a long lunch break or leave early one day, as long as you have the authority to do so. When you're wrapping up your relationship with your breast pump, consider buying a small token of appreciation if there's one person who went above and beyond in supporting your endeavor.