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Pumping Etiquette: Do I just put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my office door and hope everyone pays attention? On Babble.com’s Parental Advisory.

I am going back to the office soon and I plan to pump a couple times a day. But I’m worried because we have the kind of workspace where it’s an unspoken rule that we leave our door open, and if it’s closed people will give a quick knock and stick their head in. And there is a small window I’d have to partially block with a poster or something. I am trying to figure out how to communicate to people that I’m pumping milk so there are no embarrassing moments. Is there some kind of modern woman’s protocol? – getting pumped to go back to work

Dear Getting Pumped,

It would be really nice if there were some kind of universally accepted protocol for this situation. Perhaps small plaques depicting restroom style woman-symbols with tubes affixed to their chests could come packaged with the Pump in Style professional model. Sadly, we can offer no such apparatus. But we can help you think about how to devise your own plan in the context of your work. Office cultures vary widely, as do styles of communication. So the way you handle the situation will depend on the vibe of your workplace and what you feel comfortable saying to your co-workers.

If such a thing exists at your company, the Human Resources department is a good place to start. There may be procedures in place, maybe even a designated room with a door with a lock. But there are many pros to pumping in your own office, such as the option to work (relatively) freely while you pump. So you may want to seize the home turf advantage. Another good idea is talking to any other recent new mothers who may have forged this road before you. Someone may already have developed some system or code that can save you work and/or possible embarrassment.

The simplest solution is a sign on the door. You could be vague: “Back in five” or “Do Not Disturb.” This is sometimes all it takes. But if there is a general open-door policy this kind of note might invite some guesswork on the part of other staff. If you think a blanket “go away” message might be interpreted as slacking or potentially threatening covert ops, a more direct communication may be in order. You can be super direct with something like, “I’m pumping, please come back in ten.” You could add “breastmilk” if you feel like the word “pumping” is too vague for some staffers. The word “breast” shouldn’t bother people, but it might. Humor can be an excellent way to broach the awkward discussion of breast-related activity in the workplace. And there are no shortage of jokes to be made: “Caution: Functional Breasts at Work,” “Milking in Progress,” “If I’m pumping, don’t go thumping.” We know one mother who just wrote “INSERT BOVINE JOKE.”

Oblique and/or witty tends to go down better than out and out crude. “Boobs out, stay out” may not be the most professional approach, but hey, you know your office humor better than we do. And if your office is humorless, well, maybe something like “Privacy please” will do the trick. You can try out different signs and see how people respond. Heck, maybe stopping by to see your pumping sign will become an office ritual. Okay, maybe you don’t really want that.

Another approach is to tell everyone at once via a mass email or an announcement at a staff meeting: “Hey guys, I’ll be expressing milk every now and then in my office, so if the door’s closed, please come back in a few minutes, email, call or IM me.” This strategy can work for a casual, intimate office, but you’ll want to think a bit about the impact a big splash might make. Though it’s lame, a commitment to breastfeeding can sometimes be misread as a commitment to family over the almighty work ethic. You know and we know and many mothers know that it’s no big deal to pump once or twice a day and only takes minutes and you will likely work through the session. But if you’re concerned about how your return to work post-baby is being perceived, you may want to avoid raising eyebrows en masse.

No matter how you communicate your private pumping, we really want to reassure you that these concerns will soon fade into the background. Your fear of mixing milk and work might be standing in for fear of mixing baby and work. Though the transition can be anxiety-producing, the reality is generally pretty uneventful; most moms quickly get the hang of making pumping happen in a quick and quiet way. You have a lot going for you. It’s your right to pump, you have an office, you’re thinking ahead. We’re confident you’ll learn how to take on this new balancing act: one ounce at a time.

Have a question? Email parentaladvisory@babble.com

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