If you are exclusively pumping, it’s a good idea to try to get comfortable with pumping in public. It makes living your life a lot easier if you can, say, pump in your car between errands versus running home to do it. Additionally, if pumping outside your home isn’t an option, it’s easy to start feeling trapped at home and resentful about pumping, especially in the beginning when you need to pump every few hours or so.
As with nursing in public, whether or not pumping in public is something that you feel you can do will depend on the culture of the area you’re in, your feelings about modesty, and your comfort with the idea in general. Pumping in public has an added degree of awkwardness, though, as it is a lot less common than nursing in public. Also, some people might not understand why you need to do it at that moment/why it’s not something that can wait until you get home, whereas they might be able to understand the need to feed a hungry baby.
I started pumping in public in my car. Sometimes I would pump while my husband drove, and other times I’d just use it as a lactation room if we were out of the house and parked somewhere. Then, my son was sick and I needed to pump in the ER waiting room while we were waiting for him to be seen, which helped push me to get more comfortable with pumping in public. I’ve also pumped while playing poker (with a bunch of good-natured friends), while sitting outside having a picnic with a big group, and – my bravest moment – while sitting in an airport gate. I sat down next to an outlet, set myself up, and pumped for about 7 minutes until my flight was called. No one paid any attention to me. (I also pumped on the plane in my seat and no one noticed.)
Wherever you decide to try it, here are the key things that have helped me be successful with pumping in public:
Choose a good location for pumping in public
There are two kinds of pumping in public scenarios: semi-public (for example, in your car or in a family restroom) and out-in-the-open-public (such as sitting on a bench watching your older child play soccer).
It might be easiest to start with a semi-public situation, and then work your way up to other scenarios if and when you feel comfortable doing so.
Use a nursing cover
Personally, I don’t think nursing uncovered is a big deal (though some people don’t like it), but most of the general public has never seen the complicated apparatus that is a modern breast pump and without a nursing cover you will get stares. If you use a cover, most people will have no idea what you’re doing.
The two different kind of covers that work well with pumping are apron-style or poncho.
Have everything ready to go to minimize the time you spend hooking and unhooking yourself
The less people see you putting your pump parts together and screwing in the bottles, the less they will wonder what you’re doing and stare. Before you leave the house, put everything together except for the breast shields – so assemble the pump parts and attach the bottles to them. Then put them in a gallon-sized ziploc bag in your pump bag along with your breast shields and bottle caps. (Note: It’s really easy to forget the bottle caps when you do it this way, so make sure that you bring them with you. You can also stash a few extra in your bag in case this happens at some point.)
Then, when you’re ready to pump, put on your nursing cover, then your hands-free bra and breast shields, and finally quickly attach the pump parts/bottle.
(Even better: if you can make it work with your outfit, wear the hands-free bra under your shirt so that it’s already on and you just need to pull up your shirt/unzip your hoodie, etc.)
Act like you know what you are doing
Even if you’re a little nervous about the idea of pumping in public, try to fake it until you make it. Start someplace easy, where you can feel somewhat confident, and then act that way. If you act like what you are doing is perfectly natural and no big deal, people are a lot more likely to not notice you. Remember, most people are far too busy worrying about themselves and what’s going in their own lives to pay attention to you.
Additionally, having your partner or supportive friends around while you pump – at least at first – can be really helpful in making you feel more confident and less self-conscious.
Have a sense of humor
It’s inevitable that something will go wrong at some point – a curious toddler will come lift up your cover, or you’ll run into your boss when you’re out and happen to be pumping, or you’ll accidentally spill breast milk on a stranger as you unhook yourself from your pump parts. Anticipate that this stuff might happen and try to see the humor in it. You probably will laugh about it one day, and it’ll be a good story!
Hopefully that will help you get started pumping in public. Feel free to leave additional tips or stories below in the comments!