Are you a breastfeeding or exclusively pumping mom?
When you committed to nursing or pumping your milk, you probably envisioned doing so in the privacy of your own home or office. But sometimes a situation arises where there’s no private, convenient space to pump. So what happens then?
How do you meet the your medical need to pump when there’s no apparent space to do so?
Turns out, it’s possible to pump in public – and even do it discreetly.
What Exactly Is “Pumping in Public?”
“Pumping in public” refers to any situation in which you’re outside of your normal, guaranteed private space. When you pump in private, you’re in a personal space – your home, your office or designated (locked) workplace pumping area, or in a hotel room.
When you pump in public, there are varying degrees of what constitutes “public.” Pumping in a semi-private situation means you are pumping in an enclosed space that others still have access to.
Examples of semi-private spaces include:
- Nursing mothers’ rooms in public locales
- A bathroom stall
- Your car
- A friend’s house
Then there are times when you are pumping in a truly public place – out in the open where other people are around and may (or may not) be able to tell what you are doing.
Examples of pumping in public places include:
- Concert arenas
- Public bathrooms (outside the semi-privacy of a stall)
If you prefer modesty or feel self-conscious about pumping in public, it may be best to find a semi-private location when you first do it to gain confidence about your ability to pump discreetly despite lacking a completely private space.
Can’t I Just Wait Until I Get Home to Pump?
Most of the time, if you’re simply running late to get home from an outing or back to the office after an appointment, delaying your pumping session by a half hour to an hour is no big deal.
But if you are regularly on the go, erratic pumping times have the potential to significantly affect your milk production.
Generally, your body will reduce your production after 3-4 days of a reduced demand, so it’s necessary to continue to pump as frequently as you do during your normal routine (source).
Especially after your milk is “established” (right around the 3-month period), it’s much more difficult to increase your supply – so it’s a good idea to pump regularly and maintain your supply.
Is It Legal to Pump in Public?
While 49 states have provisions granting women the right to breastfeed in public, they do not explicitly provide protections for moms who are pumping (source). It may be a good idea to check the legislation of your specific state to see if they have any specific language in their legal code pertaining to pumping in public spaces.
If no legal permission is given, you may want to consider making sure that, when you pump in public, your nipples are effectively covered so as not to be cited under “public indecency” laws.
While any nursing or pumping mom understands that there is nothing “indecent” about pumping milk for their baby, it’s better to be safe than sorry when there is no specific legal protection.
Do I Need Special Equipment to Pump in Public?
There are some special equipment considerations to keep in mind if you plan to pump in public. While not all of them may be absolutely required, they can certainly make the job easier. The good news is that many of these items will also make pumping in private more convenient, too.
Some items to consider:
Breast pump bag to keep everything organized and together
How Do I Pump In Public?
1. Ask If Space Is Available
These days, many places have lactation rooms or are happy to make private arrangements for those who need them – but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Ask the front desk or another employee (a manager is probably best) if there is a space available for nursing mothers.
You can even do an internet search to see if a nursing room is available close to you.
If there is, then your problem is solved and you can simply pump as you normally would. If not, then get ready – you’re ready to embark on your first public pumping adventure.
2. Wear Your Pumping Bra
If you know you’re going to be pumping in public, it’s easiest if you put your pumping bra on at home and wear it for the day if possible. If your hands-free bra has holes in the nipples without an enclosure, affix a breast pad in them to cover the nipple and provide you protection while you’re wearing the bra full-time.
If you don’t own a hands-free pumping bra, you can actually DIY your own. Cut small holes in the nipples of an old sports bra. When you are wearing the bra, affix breast pads inside it to provide coverage and protection. When you’re pumping, remove the breast pads and slip the flanges through the holes.
Image Credit: Lil-miss.com
If you find yourself in a situation where you didn’t intend to pump publicly, or it wasn’t practical to wear your hands-free pumping bra all day, you’ll just need to move your regular bra above your breasts and put on your pumping bra while under the cover of your nursing cover.
Another alternative is to privately change into your pumping bra in the bathroom, even if you don’t intend to pump in there.
3. Choose the Ideal Pump for Your Lifestyle
Evaluate how frequently you’ll need to pump in public, and in which setting that’s most likely to occur. Choose your pump accordingly.
- A manual pump is silent and discreet. It takes more physical effort than an electric pump and is not as efficient; this may be a good option for the mom who might be embarrassed by the noise and attention an electric pump may draw, or the mom who does not expect to need to pump frequently.
- An electric pump that also has a battery compartment is able to be used in any location without the need for a power source. This may be a good option if you expect to pump frequently and aren’t sure whether an electrical outlet will always be available.
- An electric pump paired with either a car adapter or a car power converter is a good option for those who expect that they will most likely need to pump in the car and don’t want the potential added expense of purchasing batteries for their pump.
If the pump comes with a car adapter accessory, it will plug directly into the car’s cigarette lighter. If no adapter is available for your breast pump model, then use a car power converter plugged into the cigarette lighter; the pump will then plug into the converter just like any other outlet.
4. Pre-Assemble the Parts
To make the process of pumping in public faster and more discreet, pre-assemble the pump parts and connect them to the collection bottles.
Place them in a gallon-sized zip-top bag to keep them sanitary.
Don’t forget to pack the tops of your bottles if you choose this method, though. You’ll still need them when you’re done pumping and need to store your milk.
5. Dress For Pumping Ease
Before you leave the house, make sure the shirt you have chosen will be easy to pump with. Wearing a nursing top usually makes it easy to access the breasts and nipples. If you don’t have an appropriate nursing top, consider button-down shirts or loose-fitting tops.
Avoid tight-fitting shirts that will restrict your movement and make it difficult to access your breasts and nipples when it comes time to pump.
6. Choose Your Cover
Bring something with you that will provide plenty of coverage while you’re pumping and that also allows you freedom of movement as you maneuver your pump into place without exposing your breasts. Some options include:
- A nursing cover
- A large scarf
- A baby blanket with two corners tied behind your neck
7. Store Your Milk
After you have pumped, you will need to properly store your milk to preserve it until you’re home. To avoid spills, either pump directly into milk bags that were designed for direct pumping, or store in the bottles. Don’t try to transfer milk from bottles to bags when you’re out and about.
Place your pumped milk into a cooler with frozen ice packs to keep it cold until you can place it into a refrigerator or freezer.
8. Clean Your Pump (if Necessary)
If your public pumping session is a one-time event that will not be repeated later in the day, there is no need to clean your pump parts. You can simply take them home and wash them in the convenience of your own kitchen.
However, if you plan to pump again before you get the opportunity to wash them, consider bringing breast pump wipes along for on-the-go cleaning. With a simple wipe of the flanges and other breast pump parts, everything will be clean and ready for your next on-the-go pumping session.
While pumping in public sounds daunting, with a little preparation – and the proper tools – it can be a breeze.
By choosing the proper pump and accessories for your lifestyle, along with a good, large nursing cover, you will be able to pump discreetly even if you don’t have the privacy of your own space.
Do you have a public breastfeeding story to share? Send this to a friend who might need some tips!