If you are exclusively pumping, it’s a good idea to try to get comfortable with pumping in public. It makes life a lot easier if you can pump in your car between errands, for example, versus running home to do it. Additionally, if pumping on the go isn’t an option, it’s easy to start feeling trapped at home and resentful about pumping.
But how do you do it? We’ll go through everything you need to know.
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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 or why it’s not something that can wait until you get home, whereas they might be able to understand the immediate need to feed a hungry baby.
Tips and Tricks for Pumping on the Go
Here are the key things that have helped me be successful with pumping in public:
1. Have a plan for powering your pump.
If you don’t have a portable pump (if you’re looking for one, there are some great options here), you’ll either need to plan to pump near an outlet, or have a battery pack.
There are a few different kinds of battery packs – car adaptors that plug into a vehicle lighter, rechargeable battery packs, and the type that use regular batteries. Make sure you use the correct voltage for your pump. More on battery packs here.
The other option is to use a manual pump. This can work out well if you don’t want to carry a huge breast pump bag (say, if you’re out at a bachelorette party or a wedding).
2. Choose a good location for pumping in public.
There are two kinds of pumping in public scenarios: semi-public (for example, in your car, in a lactation pod, 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.
3. If you’d like, use a nursing cover (in your case, a breast pumping cover!)
I think you should pump however you feel most comfortable – whether that’s with a cover or without.
The two different kinds of nursing covers that work well with pumping are apron-style (where you have a strap around your neck holding up fabric over your chest) or poncho (where a large poncho goes over your head and covers your front and back, while allowing easy access underneath).
4. Have everything ready to go to minimize the time you spend hooking and unhooking yourself.
This is a great way to ensure that you don’t forget anything essential, like a valve or flange, and also minimizes the time you will spend fumbling with your gear when it’s time to pump.
Note: It’s really easy to forget the bottle caps, 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.
When you’re ready to pump, just put on your nursing cover (if you’re using one), then your hands-free bra, and 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 – or use an integrated pumping bra – so that it’s already on and you just need to pull up your shirt/unzip your hoodie, etc.)
5. Store your milk safely.
Breast milk can be kept at room temperature for about 4 hours, though the exact amount of time will depend on the ambient temperature. Therefore, if you’re feeding the milk to your baby fresh or will be home shortly after pumping, you may just be able to leave it at room temperature rather than storing it in a cooler.
If you’re going to need to keep your milk cold, you have a few options:
- You can bring a breast milk cooler with an ice pack for storing your milk.
- Some breast pump bags have insulated compartments that can work well if you put your full bottles in them along with an ice pack.
- The Ceres Chill might be a good option if you pump on the go frequently – it’s a cooler than you can pump directly into. (They gave me a discount code – use EPUMP for 15% off!)
Breast milk can be stored in a cooler with an ice pack for about 24 hours.
6. Store and (if necessary) clean your pump parts.
Once you’re done pumping, if you won’t be pumping again, you can place your pump parts back in the plastic zip-top bag or wet bag.
If you do need to pump again, you can:
- Bring multiple sets of pump parts and use a clean set for the next session
- Use Medela Quick-Clean Wipes
- Find a clean space to wash your pump parts (preferably in a collapsible wash basin)
7. Act like you know what you are doing.
Even if you’re a little nervous about the idea of pumping on the go, 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.
8. 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!
My experience with pumping on the go
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.)
Hopefully this will help you get started with pumping in public. Feel free to leave additional tips or stories below in the comments!References
- What to Expect. “Breastfeeding in Public: Tips and Laws for Nursing Mothers.” https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-in-public/