I’m sure most of you have seen mothers feeding their babies in restaurants, parks etc. I’m sure. It’s becoming the norm. However, have you ever seen a mother using a breast pump to pump milk for their baby… let alone IN PUBLIC? No?! In fact, I’m a mother and I still have not ever seen another woman breast pumping in my life.
Can you imagine the freedom and adrenaline feeling I had when I was doing my grocery shopping and pumping my son’s milk at the SAME time in PUBLIC? It sounds crazy, right? I had hit a tipping point of frustration always pumping in gross toilets or hiding in my car when my breasts got rock hard with milk because I felt that is what I am meant to do. In the meantime, other mothers casually got to sit anywhere they liked in public with a modesty blanket over them and no one blinked an eye. This is my crazy story about breast pumping in public. It did not start off easy for me but I hope it empowers other women to normalize breast pumping in public if they choose to continue on with this method.
Why I became an exclusive pumper…
When my son was 1 month old, I made the decision to pump my son’s milk instead of breastfeeding to give my nipples a break as he always had such a bad latch and was severely splitting my nipples deep. I would be crying and curling my toes every time he was attached to me. Breastfeeding felt like a torture treatment of 100 nipple cripples with sandpaper and paper cuts. I had been through 4 consultations with all different lactation consultants and tried all the strange devises that were out there and by the time I worked out he had a tongue tie another month later, my son was so used to the bottle and refused the breast. Sigh!
Oh F%#$K Me, This S*#%T ain’t easy…
So there I was, an exclusive pumper, hooked up to a loud big brick machine pump every 2-3.5 hours. My life lived around this thing and I felt it was always attached to me like a colostrum bag. My boobs were a ticking time bomb waiting to explode with milk. I only had minimal time to get anything done before they filled back up and need to be emptied. I had to pump in my car right before I arrived at the shops and was racing back to the car when my alarm went off 2-3 hours later. If I forgot or waited too long, my engorged breasts would be fighting blocked ducts or mastitis later that night. (Just for the record, I got mastitis 5 times, causing extreme pain and fevers).
I felt mothers who directly breastfeed were so lucky in this day and age I am in. Culture is changing that they could just whip out their boob and feed their baby any time, anywhere, (even under a blanket-for modesty). But for mothers who breast pump…well, I feel society still expects them to pump in toilets, closets, cars etc- anywhere out of sight.
Breast pumping can feel very isolating. When friends came over to my place for dinner, I would hide up in my room for 20-30 minutes pumping and it felt sooooooo isolating hearing every one downstairs laughing and having a good time while I’m here feeling like a cow hooked up to the milk machine- isolated and bored.
I was at The Magic Castle once and brought my Medela Pump-In-Style in with me as I was going to be there over my time limit and I didn’t bring my car. The managers were a bit flustered when I asked them where I could pump privately and they offered me the staff toilets. (Note, in workplaces they are not to send their staff to pump in the toilets and must offer a private room somewhere) so yea, it felt like a scared dear when different staff kept knocking on the door wondering why one person was in there for so long.
Oh, and the dreadful fear when I can’t find a powerpoint to plug my pump into when I am out. Some bathrooms (and airplanes) don’t have them in there. FUCK!!!!
I know I’m just “feeding my baby” and “who cares what other people think” right? I hear those kinds of comments a lot on social media. But it’s not like I automatically get those feelings just because I have popped a baby out my vagina! I did feel awkward being in a car or in a spare bedroom at a friends party and knowing at any second someone could accidentally stumble by and seeing my vulnerable state. I have had a teenage boy walk in on me before and his reaction was like he just saw his parents having sex and freaked out and walked out of the room covering his eyes. I know that I probably would have felt the same being his age and grossed out.
I could actually list another 40 horrible stories or more I have experienced. It’s also interesting to see that other exclusive pumpers are having trouble being an exclusive pumper.
- A mother named Lynda Mazzalai Nguyen was offered a dirty toilet when attending a conference at the Embassy Suites by Hilton at San Francisco Airport. She wrote, ‘They don’t eat lunch in the bathroom, so it’s gross to expect me to contaminate baby’s milk in there,’. She suggested other options to the hotel staff (such as using an office, a conference room, a hotel room or even an uncleaned room) but she received ‘so much resistance’ that in the end, she resorted to pumping very publicly in their front lobby to make a statement! You go girl!
I’m sure you get my point. Exclusive pumping is not fun at all.
New breast pumping technology is giving mothers the modesty and freedom back!
Technology is advancing everywhere but it seems that breastfeeding equipment has not really been revolutionized much. When I started pumping in 2016, I was given pumps where I had to undress and put on a horrid pumping bra that had holes to fit a flange-like-device that my nipples had to sit in with bottles attached to them. (See image of Pink pumping). If I wore any clothes or a modesty blanket over this setup, it would lift up the side of the flange and break suction and milk would tip out. errrgghhhhh! I didn’t want to be seen dead by anyone I knew while stripping off my clothes to change into this or even while pumping, especially the fact that you could see my nipples being sucked up and down. GROSS!!!
Luckily enough, there were a few special products that I found that made pumping more bearable (if not game changing) a few months after I started being an exclusive pumper and it is what allowed me to pump till my son was 8.5 months old.
I can’t tell you how many times I pumped at home with friends over for dinner and they had no idea. I would slip the cups in my bra (with the tubes attached) while quickly out of the room and when I needed to pump, I just attached the tubes to my machine under the table and turn it on. Taking out the cups (full of milk), I would just go into the kitchen to get myself some water and could easily slip them out with my back facing them and friends never guessed what had even happened.
Instead of lugging around my massive yellow hospital grade Medela Symphony pump everywhere and trying to find power points, I got myself a smaller pump called the Medela pump in style that would fit in my handbag with a cigarette charger for pumping on the way somewhere and also a battery pack for pumping out in public. (There are even smaller version pumps with inbuilt battery packs, but this one was a free option with my health insurance.)
***I was on a waiting list for 6 months for this new product to come out called Willow, which was a motorized version of the Freemie cup… meaning that everything (including the motor pump) is contained inside the pumping cups. Sadly, this came out a few months after I decided to dry up the boobs when my boy was almost 9 months old. I’m very excited to try it out when I have my next child. Im also curious to know if the suction level is as strong as the Medela Symphony! ***
Deciding to pump in public.
Pumping in public was something that started out slow for me. My first win was on an international flight from USA to Australia because I had no other alternative. I used a nursing cover up and felt relieved that you could not hear my machine noise over the white noise of the airplane or realize what was going on. I was gobsmacked afterward that not a single person noticed. Most people were too busy staring at their own screens. Then I got a little confident one day and decided to pump while watching a movie on my own at my local cinema. It was dark and loud and there was no one in the same row or behind me. So this is where I lay stagnant for a while with my comfortability.
Then one day I remember hearing a bit of a debate about women breastfeeding their baby in public. People were fighting so hard everywhere to normalize women being allowed to feed their baby in a restaurant, an airport or where ever instead of being confined to the toilets and then I thought “Hang on a minute, It’s great that breastfeeding women get the freedom to be out in public and exclusive pumpers are still banished to hiding. Still to this day I have NEVER seen another mother pumping milk.” I felt so alone. I felt like I was the only women in the world pumping. Where are all you people going to pump? Your HIDING!!!!!
So with this fuel inside me of frustration and being in such a rush to get groceries on the way home I decided to not finish pumping in my car and go “mobile.” I hooked up my battery to the pump and put it in my handbag, put on a loose sweater, popped my Freemie pumping cups in my bra and ran the tubes from under my jumper to in the bag then stepped out of my vehicle.
I had so many ranges of emotions while shopping. What if someone sees that I am concealing something strange under my shirt? Will someone thinks my tubes and pump were some kind of bomb? Maybe I had some kind of colostrum bag? Or think that I am shoplifting food? I don’t know. I zipped up my handbag as far as it would go and it drowned out any noise of the machine running. Every single person I passed, I looked to see if they would look at me and no one really did. At the check-out, the lady asked me the usual questions and everything ran smoothly. I got back in my car and continued home and feeling FREE!!! I just did that! Wholey Moley. I could not wait to tell my husband.
After that, I pumped in public whenever it suited me. I did while my son was strapped in front of me in his Ergo carrier walking down Hollywood Blvd in California. While enjoying some sun in the park and waiting at the airport. No more toilets. No more isolation. NO MORE!!!!!
I am so glad that technology had allowed me to discretely pump under my clothes instead while out and about rather than hide from the old system pumps that were big and really cringe-worthy to look at.
One question a friend asked me was “Is it illegal to do that?” The answer is “No! Because I am not exposing my breasts all over the place. I do have modesty, don’t worry. With the Freemie Cups that I insert into my bra, no one could even tell. Perhaps more women would pump if they simply SAW it more often.
Christen Clifford has pumped on a crowded train and in bars. She said “Many people look on with fascination, it is not something they normally see. I always smile and meet people’s eyes and young women, pregnant women especially, often engage me in conversation and ask questions. But her experience on social media has been different. People commented on her photo pumping “This is so gross! Is this really necessary?” and the photo was promptly taken down. Her nipple wasn’t even showing.
If any of you are exclusive pumpers, I urge you to give it a go mobile. I would love to hear your comments of the places you have had to pump too because you feared to pump in public or your workplace did not have a designated private where you won’t be bothered by coworkers or customers.
Here are a few inspiration pictures of other mothers pumping in public!!!