One of the biggest mysteries to me when I was planning to go back to work was how people handled pumping logistics. And of course it turns out people do whatever works for them, which varies widely depending on your work situation and your baby's needs, but I found reading about what everyone was doing helpful for me to get ideas so I'm sharing here (I took notes at each stage, otherwise there is no way in hell I would actually remember all this). This is a super long post, and will be incredibly boring if you aren't in the throes of pumping. Sorry!
I'm not going to really talk about breastfeeding here because that is it's own separate (long) post that I'll get up sometime soon.
First of all, I'm super lucky because I got to work from home for a bit, so I didn't need to start really pumping on a schedule until 5 months. During this time I was able to build a decent freezer stash by using the Haakaa silicone pump during my early morning feeding, when my supply was highest. Adrian pretty consistently only nursed on one side in the morning, so I'd feed her and just use the Haakaa on the other side at the same time and I'd generally collect 4 - 5 ounces with minimal effort that way, which just went into the freezer in storage bags. The Haakaa is amazing, I highly recommend it. We're at almost 11 months and I still use it almost every day. It's so low effort, and so easy to clean.
When I was ready to go back to work I was also lucky, because I was able to plan it out so that my first week back was a bit of a soft start. Adrian was in daycare but I had a flexible week at work where I knew it would be okay if I had to work fewer hours. That let me practice pumping at work without feeling super pressured or stressed, and I figured out what I needed in order to make it feel easier.
Pumping at work set up - supplies
Spectra S1 - Hugely thankful for my Spectra S1, which holds a very decent charge (about three hours!), so I can pump while I'm getting ready in the morning and not be chained to an outlet. I've also (many times) had to use it in a bathroom stall when I'm working away from my office. Do you know how hard it is to find a private space with a plug when you're out in public? I got this pump for free from a friend (I just replaced the tubing, flanges, valves, etc), but it would 100% have been worth the purchase price for me and I've heard that you can use the 20% off coupons at Buy, Buy, Baby which would help. The S2 is a little less expensive and doesn't hold a charge. If you're debating between the two I think the extra $40 for the S1 is beyond worth it. (Also, if you are using a Spectra I found this post super helpful)
Hands free pumping bra - I bought an attachment (Bravado pumping bra panel) that works with most nursing bras, rather than getting a pumping specific bra. I have two so I can rotate while they're in the laundry. For bras, I use the Bravado body silk yoga bra, which is more supportive and feels a little like a sports bra, and the Lively mesh trim maternity bralettes, which provide basically zero support but make me feel less claustrophobic. Both of these work with the pumping panel.
Baggu - I thought about getting a nice bag designed to hold a pump but ultimately couldn't handle the price tag on something I'd be using for less than a year. This is fine. If I had to travel more for work I would probably have decided to get the bag. I did try to DIY an insert with some dividers for it, using cut up insulated bags and some hot glue and it kind of worked? I mean, it's falling apart but at least there's a little cushioned spot for the pump to go.
Cloth produce bags (from Ecobags) - I already had these and I realized they are amazing for pumping. Instead of washing my pump parts between sessions I put them in the cloth bags and stick them in the fridge, then bring them home and wash them each night. Another option would be to use a plastic or glass tub and just wash it out each night but this takes up less space. I also use the bags for holding the clean, empty bottles I bring to work.
Bottles - It took us a while to find bottles the baby liked and we settled on the Nuk Simply Natural. I bring empty, clean bottles with me to work, fill them up after I pump, and then drop them off at daycare when I pick up the baby each day. They give me whatever she used that day and I wash them at home. Side note - if you're trying to get your baby to take a bottle we found that we had to try several different bottles but also had to test different temperatures. It turned out Adrian would only take a bottle if the milk was very warm (about 104 degrees, which is the max recommended temp) - she would reject the bottle over and over again if it was cool, but if we got it up to her preferred temp she'd happily down the entire thing very quickly. Babies are weird.
Storage bags - I prefer the Medela bags personally (less floppy than the Lasinoh bags) so I use those. I always keep a supply in my pump tote, because there are multiple days when I've forgotten to pack bottles. The Target ones are my runner up.
Masking tape - I label the bottles with a strip of masking tape with the date when I fill them. I also align the top edge of the tape with the liquid level of the bottle. This was a game changer for us, because we like to track how much she's drinking but it's really hard to remember to write down how many ounces are in a bottle before you give it to her, especially when she's hungry and you're just in a rush to get her fed.
Sharpie - For writing on the tape. I keep one in my drying rack at home and one in my tote.
Insulated lunch bag with freezer pack - For transporting bottles and pump parts back and forth. Maybe not strictly necessary if you're just going straight from work to daycare, but I like it for peace of mind. Also very handy for the days when I've had to work off site and need to keep stuff cold all day without a fridge. I don't have a specific one to recommend, I just grabbed something on sale from Target.
Bottle drying rack - We don't have a dishwasher, and I don't want her stuff jumbled up with our dishes. The Boon patch is cute and fits well on our small counter. I also have a couple of the accessories (started with the flower, ended up with the twig and cactus) to give me more drying space for small parts.
Bottle brush - I resisted this for months because it seemed unnecessary and I regret waiting so long. It works so much better than our little hipster wire scrub brush and makes bottle washing go way faster every night. I don't know that the brand matters, probably anything that is specifically designed for baby bottles works well. We have the Munchkin ones and I like them.
Pumping schedules: For reference, I go into work early so I usually pump at 6am at home because the baby doesn't consistently wake up (or eat quickly enough) for me to wait for her. I decided I'd rather pump than wake her up to eat at 5:30 and hope that she'd go back down. If I left later then I would just feed her instead of pumping first thing.
Schedule at 5 months (pumping 3x a day at work, feeding/pumping at least once per night). Note - for me this schedule would also have worked at 3 months, her eating habits didn't change all that much in that time period.
Pump at 6am, put the milk in a bottle, leave it on the counter for D to give the baby when she wakes up.
Pump at 9am, noon, and 3pm (ish for all these times, +/- 30 minutes). I set alarms on my phone to remind myself. At each session, I pumped for 10 - 15 minutes, transferred the milk to a bottle and labeled it, then put the pump parts (in a cloth bag) and the bottle in the fridge. At the end of the day I'd transfer all the bottles to my insulated bag. If I was working somewhere without a fridge for the day I'd just keep both the pump parts and the bottles in the insulated bag.
Feed the baby before putting her down (~6pm). In theory, I would have fed her at daycare pick up as well (~5) but she is way too distracted to even consider it. If she's there, she wants to play.
Feed on demand at night - at five months she would wake up once or twice a night to eat, depending on how much she would take in at daycare (usually about 9 ounces during the 8ish hours there, but as little as 5 oz and as much as 12 oz).
Dropping my middle of the night pumping: By one month in, it was clear that I was not cut out for this level of routine sleep deprivation. D wanted to help by giving her bottles at night but that didn't actually help because I would still have to wake up to pump if I didn't feed her. I had a breakdown at 6 months when I realized I hadn't slept for more than 4 hours at a time since her birth, and my average was more like 2 - 3 hours, once you factor in how long it takes me to fall asleep after being woken up (lifelong insomniac here). I decided I had to cut out the night pumping for my sanity, so that we could alternate night duties and I could actually sleep through. I wasn't sure how to do this so I just tried stretching out the night interval based on my comfort level. I'm very lucky and my boobs adjusted quickly. In the beginning I could go from 11pm to 5:30am, but within a few days I was able to stretch it out to 9:30pm to 6:00am (everyone is different! check with an LC if possible, and be careful because mastitis is definitely a risk when you're dropping feeds/pumps). Starting around 6.5 months, D and I alternated nights on duty*. This was a huge help because we were each guaranteed a full night of sleep every other night. I would pump right before I went to bed just in case she slept through the night. This almost never happened but the few times it did were pure bliss. Personally, I found that my supply wasn't really impacted by dropping the night feeds - if I'm on duty and feed her at night, I usually pump 4 - 5 ounces at 6am, whereas if I sleep through I pump 8 - 10 ounces at 6am - that's stayed pretty consistent even to this day (10.5 months). Storage capacity is hugely individual, though.
After that was well established I also decided to cut my work pumping down to twice a day. I felt comfortable doing this because I had a good freezer supply and Adrian had reduced her milk intake after starting solids at 6 months. By 7 months she would rarely eat more than 9 ounces per day at daycare, often less, and with three pumping sessions I was routinely pumping 12 ounces (plus pumping more in the morning and pre-bedtime sessions). I knew some days I'd fall short if I cut back but I was willing to take that risk for the payoff of fewer pumping sessions. Surprisingly, this didn't end up affecting my supply as much as I expected. I had a small dip in the beginning, but then my body adjusted and between the two pumping sessions I would produce 10 - 12 ounces, which is almost the same as what I was getting out of three pumping sessions.
Schedule at 7 months (pumping twice a day at work, sometimes skipping night feeds):
Pump at 6am, at home.
Pump at 10am and 2pm at work.
Feed at 6pm, at home.
Pump at 9:30pm and either sleep through the night, or take my turn getting up and feeding her.
We're at 9.5 months now and I'm still using this schedule. As we approach 10 months I think it's time to modify again. Adrian now eats less than 5 oz most days at daycare (although it varies! the day before yesterday she ate 2 oz and then yesterday she ate 12 oz, insert shrug emoji here), as her solid food intake has increased. I'm considering reducing down so that I'm only pumping once during the workday. The fear of losing supply is so real that I'm super nervous about doing it, even though realistically I know we have a good freezer stash and I'm routinely pumping over twice what she eats while I'm at work which is a clear indicator to me that we're out of sync. So I'm probably going to try the new schedule once we hit 10 months, I think I just talked myself into it. I'll report back.
UPDATE: I didn't get this posted when I planned to, and I did adjust my pumping schedule right before we hit 10 months. I'm three weeks in (four weeks in? who knows?) and this is what my schedule looks like.
Schedule at 10 months (pumping ONCE a day at work, sometimes skipping night feeds):
Pump at 6am, at home.
Pump at noon at work.
Feed at 6:30pm, at home.
Pump at 8:30pm and either sleep through the night, or take my turn getting up and feeding her. We've split up our nights differently now, since she usually only wakes up once and goes back down easily. If she wakes up before midnight then D handles feedings (since I just pumped) and if she wakes up after midnight I handle feedings. Most nights she wakes up once but there are nights where she sleeps through, which is lovely.
Reducing down to one pumping session has lowered my supply for sure - I usually get 5 - 6 ounces during that one session (whereas I was getting 10 - 12 over two). But actually I think this is a good thing for me! My supply and her demand are better synced up so we have fewer frustrating weekend days where my boobs are dying and she isn't interested in eating - I rarely pump on the weekends anymore, other than my pre-bedtime session. I've also found that with a lower supply I can stretch out my night time a little more, so I pump at 8:30pm and can make it until 6:30am if need be (goal is to get to the point where I can just go from her last feeding until morning without needing to pump and we're getting closer). It's tough figuring out how to adjust to match her needs when we aren't together most of the day, but we're fumbling towards it.
Right now my plan is to stop pumping at 12 months but continue to feed on demand until she's ready to wean (hopefully within a few more months but I'm happy to follow her lead on that). As I mentioned, I'll also post about our breastfeeding experience, which was not really what I expected (spoiler - I feel like an evil person admitting it but I just don't love breastfeeding).
* This post is already sooooo long, but I feel the need to insert this here because it drives me nuts. Inevitably, if I say that D and I alternate nights someone will tell me how lucky I am (and I understand that! I'm not mad at the people who say it, just at the weird cultural norm that dads get to sleep more or are somehow less responsible for baby care). And my stance on this is that I am NOT lucky that my partner, with whom I jointly made the decision to have a baby, takes responsibility for caring for that baby. I mean, D is amazing and he's a wonderful partner for so many reasons and I feel lucky that he's in my life, but honestly, I think taking care of OUR baby should be a default, not something extra special and nice that he does for me. It blows my mind that there is some expectation that one partner will do all the night wake ups when both people work full time jobs, have the same sleep needs, and the baby is okay taking a bottle. Okay, rant over.