Posted by: workforcookies | January 7, 2010

Public Pumping

Last night, I sat next to a woman on my train ride home from New York City to my suburb in New Jersey. She was a new mom. I know this because she had a breast pump…and she was using it!

I’d like to say I gave her a big smile and a thumb’s up as a show of support. After all, just like me, she’s a working mom trying to make it work. But I didn’t. To be honest, I tried not to look at her at all.

I nursed both of my children until their first birthdays and I’ve never been one to argue about whether nursing in public is a right—I see it as a necessity, no question.  But, there was something disturbing about the sight of this woman untangling the tubes of her Medela underneath her Bebe au Lait nursing cover. It looked like she was conducting some sort of bizarre science experiment on New Jersey Transit, and it didn’t seem like this was something she was doing in a pinch or on the fly—she had a system. Bottles, tubes, cover, then came that unmistakable swishing sound…

Admittedly, I have pumped in some pretty odd places myself: bathrooms of restaurants, behind a skrim at a photo studio, the passenger seat of my friend’s Porche. I remember going back to work after maternity leave with my breast pump in hand. After my first child, I returned to an office building with a pumping room that was stocked with Easy chairs and smelled of soured milk. With no fewer that six new moms working at the company—one who was still nursing her four-year-old—there was never a shortage of company in the pumping room, like it or not. After my second child was born, the office I went back to had no pumping room. Fortunately, I had my own office with a door. Unfortunately, the door was made of glass. I taped sheets and sheets of company letter head up as high as I could reach in order to make a private space for me and my breast pump. My barrier seemed to work pretty well until an I.T. guy came to work on my computer. Not understanding why my door was locked, he stood on a stool to peer over the letterhead. I turned just in time to see his eyebrows pop over the top. For the next year and a half, the poor guy apologized profusely every time I passed him in the hallway. I haven’t seen him in a while, so maybe he got a job elsewhere. Wherever he is, I’m sure he is glad not to have to bump into me. I’m even more sure that if he ever comes upon another wall of letterhead, he’ll keep his feet firmly planted on his side.

Now I’m wondering…why did I go to all the trouble to hide away with my pump for those two years, why did I rearrange my schedule to fit in time alone with my pump when my fellow commuter clearly thinks that pumping is an activity approved for the public eye?

Personally, I don’t think I would have been comfortable pumping publicly, but my question to you is: Should anyone be comfortable with that?

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  1. That is a great question. When I was nursing my babies, I felt very strongly that I should be able to nurse anywhere, anytime my baby was hungry. I was offended with the thought of feeding my baby in a bathroom stall. I think the commuter should be able to pump whenever she needed to also. I agree, not something I would be crazy about doing publicly, but maybe she has a story, let’s say, ‘premie TWINS who are in the hospital’, and she has to pump frequently to keep her milk supply going. Not so great if you are an old man sitting next to the gal though. Interesting to think about!!

  2. I agree with Deb above. I she has a lot of balls — or should it be boobs?! — to pump on the train. I also pumped in a lot of weird places but never had the nerve to do in a public places. One of my most discreet friends pumped once standing up in the bathroom of an airport bathroom. But she had no other choice (cord wouldn’t reach into the stall and she was without batteries). Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. The world doesn’t make it easy to be a breastfeeding mom. And worse, a pumping one. So I raise a flang in support. But I would never have the nerve myself.

  3. As we discussed, I wouldn’t do it and I do ALOT of things. Breastfeeding myself, I know that you can adjust your time to pump over several days. If this was an emergency situation, I can be totally sympathetic (been there, done that), but if she does it on a regular basis, I would suggest that she work on a new pumping schedule like right before she leaves or right as she gets home.

  4. okay, this topic totally freaks me out. 🙂 and that’s all i have to say about that. 🙂 hugs to you and yours!! xoxoxo

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