In case you didn't know this, I am an Industrial Engineer by background, which means I am always trying to streamline processes, even in my personal life. Now that I have this new baby, it is more important than ever for me to optimize my time. And this is especially true at work, since I look forward to 5:00 when I can run to daycare and snuggle the little one as soon as possible. This being said, I am also still nursing said little one, which means I am also pumping at work. For any other mama's planning to do the same, I would like to offer a few tips:
First and foremost, make sure your employer is aware of your need to pump and what this means. You will need a clean private place to do this, and some flexibility in your day to take breaks to do so. It doesn't mean you won't be working during these time periods, but it may, even if you have the best of intentions of staying productive. Know that if you have a desk job, it is likely that you can still get some things done while utilizing a hands-free pump, but you may also need to focus on getting yourself in the "baby zone" (see below) or have some technical difficulties to contend with that might preclude work during these pump breaks.
Secondly, as you are planning to be out (and for sure before you return) go ahead and block out some planned pumping time on your calendar. This prevents you (or others if they can see this calendar) from over-scheduling you. Its not fool proof: of course there will be those meetings that you really can't negotiate. So you'll have to adjust forward or back some. Don't stress about this too much. Your milk will still be there. And if you can at all have a store in the freezer before you come back, this takes the pressure off, too.
How many breaks per day should you plan on? Ideally you should pump when your little one will be eating (with the caregiver you have entrusted). Before I had the baby I envisioned that would get it all in with only two breaks per day, but by the time I was actually returning to work, I figured I'd better play it safe and go with 3 (and occasionally he was actually eating 4 times!). This proved to be successful. I did find that the first pump of the day (after having only nursed on one side in the AM) yielded the most and the other two, significantly less. Eventually, as the little guy's feeding schedule changed, I dropped down to two pumping sessions.
So what should you bring with you to pump?
You'll probably find your grove after a while, but initially I would plan to pack the following:
A really good, reliable, hands-free pump I am loving my Medela Freestyle. I am not sure of any other truly hands-free competitor out there. I really struggled with my decision, though. I felt guilty about spending so much $$ on a pump, when there were several options out there that were less expensive. I even had a friend that used one and said it worked "just fine." The one she had wasn't hands-free in-and-of-itself, she used one of those hands-free bras. I just wasn't 100% convinced that would work, so I went this route, and don't have a single complaint. And I feel totally justified after I discussed the price of formula with another new mommy. This pump, as expensive as it was, paid for itself in just a couple months. Until a friend asked me about it recently, I didn't realize how passionate I really was about my pump. But you go with what makes you feel comfortable.
...all the pieces that attach it to you, whether that means the straps and clips for the Freestyle, or a hands-free bra.
Burp cloth. I find this serves several purposes: it can be that thing that smells like your baby, if you need the reminder to put you in the lactation mood; it can be your pumping placemat, where you can lay out all your equipment, and still protect your workspace from potential drips or spills; and also it is great to wrap up the "horns," as some call them (the parts that attach to you, and might have milk still on them), and put them back in your bag for next time.
Empty collection bottles (and lids!) If you do go with the Freestyle, know that Gerber bottles are compatible with the pump as well (which can really save some $$$ as those Medela sets are not cheap!). I also recommend looking into several sizes for milk collection. We were pumping from day one, since our little guy needed some time to learn to latch on. We started with some teeny 1 oz containers at the hospital, which really cut down on the intimidation factor of the 9oz bottles we had waiting at home. Just starting out, there was a pronounced progression from the 1oz, to the 2.5 oz to the 4 or 5 oz, and finally the 9oz-ers. each subsequent size really felt like an achievement for me, and a milestone for the little one. And if you are using the Medela cooler bag that comes with the pump, it neatly fits 4 of the 5oz bottles, but also two 5's and one 9oz (tilted sideways) and a full milk storage bag, when/if you get to needing that combination.
And while you're packing these, go ahead and slap labels on them. Our daycare requires that we use a specific color tape to label our bottles, and that we write our child's name, the date the milk was expressed, and when it will "expire". I go ahead and and label at least the first two when I pack them before pumping.
Wipes I keep these in the bag for wiping off the pump parts, but I honestly don't use them all that much. I went to a moms' group hosted by a La Leche League rep while I was on maternity leave. (I highly recommend mommy groups while on leave for a variety of reasons, by the way...). They really talked about the almost magical powers of breast milk, such that a thorough washing and sterilizing is not required between each use throughout the day. I do rinse the "horns" every evening during the week and let them air dry on my counter, and I sterilize them once over the weekend.
paper towels/napkins These are the mainstay of what I use to clean up after the pumping session. I usually grab a handful from our break room in the morning and keep them stashed in a desk drawer. As I am disconnecting myself from the horns, I have a napkin handy to catch any drips, and to wipe out the cup before I detach the collection bottle, so it doesn't drip on me. I do tilt it back some to see if I can get any of that milk to go into the bottle, but usually I can't, and be careful that you don't pour milk out of the backside of the bottle if its really full.
hand sanitizer I keep a pump of this at my desk and sanitize before opening my pump bag to pull out all my equipment. I am not a super-germaphobe, but its probably not a bad idea when handling my kid's food.
milk storage bags You will definitely need these if you are trying to rotate your freezer stock to keep the milk less than the recommended one month old. I also try to keep a few extra of these in the pocket of the pump bag. You never know when you are going to have a really good pumping day and need a little extra space for stashing milk. My favorite were the Nuk brand ones (I found the lansinoh bags to leak when I defrosted them... sad sad)
permanent marker for labeling the storage bags
nursing bra maybe this is obvious (because the hands-free attachments for your pump will clip to it, but just in case. Also make sure the ones you buy are compatible with said attachments. All of them are not. And you may not need one if you are going with the hand-free bra + not-so-hands-free pump option. One I love is the Bravado seamless silk.
cooler bag and ice pack(s) for storing pumped milk until you get home to the fridge
A/C adapter plug just in case the battery on the pump dies on you. Plus, its nice to keep all of the pump stuff together, so you don't have to hunt it down if you want to pack it for vacation, etc.
photos Or in this age of the Internet, have access to your personal web or Facebook page (via smartphone, computer, etc.) to view all those cute photos your are sharing with friends and family. Your baby's smiling mug will do a lot to get you in the mood for lactation.
Don't forget to also pack plenty of (healthy) snacks for the day, and drink lots of water (or milk, as I was advised by my child's pediatrician) to replace all those calories you are pumping out!!!