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Making It Work

Finding a Place to Pump

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 4, July-August 2007, pp. 170-171

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I have been breastfeeding my three-month-old infant since birth. I have started to attend school and am having problems finding a place to pump my milk. I have asked various departments at the university, but there don't seem to be any options for me. I have been pumping in my truck in the parking lot, but this is uncomfortable. Quitting school is not an option. What suggestions do other women have for finding a place to pump? I really want to continue to breastfeed my daughter and provide her with my milk when I can’t be with her.

Mother's Response

Your situation brought back a flood of memories. I am a full-time graduate student, and I understand the challenges of being a breastfeeding mother while furthering one's education. My son, Fletcher, was born 10 days before the start of the fall 2005 semester in my second year of doctoral study. In the early weeks, my husband and son waited in the hallway or in our car while I took classes. When the baby needed to be breastfed, my patient husband "buzzed" my cell phone, and I would step out of class to feed Fletcher. I made my professors aware of the situation, and each instructor was supportive. Fellow students offered me their notes to cover the time I had to miss.

Once Fletcher was accustomed to receiving both the breast and bottles, I began pumping at the university, and I faced the same problem that you are encountering. For a time, I pumped in my car, but I struggled with the adapter and felt self-conscious in such an open place. In time, I found a sitting area in the campus library. A small couch had been placed in the storage area next to one of the women's toilet facility. This was not ideal, but I had access to minimal privacy, a sink, and an electrical outlet. Yes, I did feel slightly uncomfortable with these accommodations, but the room fulfilled my needs. Finally, when my son was six months old, I approached a member of the university staff about using her office to pump during her lunch break. As a graduate assistant, I did not have a private office, but Lonny -- a loving grandmother -- was happy to provide the time I needed in order to give my son my milk. Before I had my baby, Lonny had told me about La Leche League. Knowing that we shared a belief in the benefits of breastfeeding, I felt comfortable asking for this favor. Consider talking to instructors or staff members who have children of their own. You might be surprised who is eager to aid in your efforts.

Erica Goehring
McKeesport PA USA

Mother's Response

I'm in the fourth year of my doctoral studies and I pump for my two-month-old in my thesis advisor's office as he is out of country for the semester. He and the departmental staff have been very supportive.

I think your best bet is to find a faculty member, or, depending on the department, a graduate student, who can either help you directly without involving the departmental administration, or can be your advocate to the administration. A faculty member who is also pumping would, of course, be best. Direct help might involve offering their office while they're teaching or regularly letting you in to another suitable location.

The staff will likely view a request from one of their faculty very differently from a comparable request from a student.

Karen Yeats
Cambridge MA USA

Mother's Response

I returned to work after my son was six weeks old. He is now 11 months and we are still nursing. Pumping and working have been a challenge. At first I pumped in the bathroom at work (sitting on the toilet seat -- not very comfortable or sanitary). When my son was about five months old, I decided I needed somewhere more private and clean, so I began pumping in my vehicle. To help make my pumping session more private I purchased three vehicle window shades and set them up on the two side windows and the front window. Then, I'd turn on the air conditioner (or heat) and the radio.

Another suggestion would be to use a shawl. I call my shawl "the pumping shawl." I pump while I'm driving on the way to work and on the way home. After I discreetly hook-up my hands-free pump under my shawl, I'm off to work or home. Since I'm away from my son for up to 10 hours a day, this cuts down the number of times I have to pump while I'm at work.

Nursing is such a rewarding experience. It is wonderful that you are seeking help and support from LLL. LLL is what keeps me going and empowers me as both a woman and mother. Good luck.

Jeannie Oliver
Daphne AL USA

Mother's Response

I recall the frustration that several classmates and I felt in trying to find a location for pumping at my graduate school. It was particularly disappointing at a school for nursing, where we were frequently taught that "breast is best" for our future patients, but those at the building administration level would not help us in our quest to designate an area for pumping mothers.

We managed to find a few ways to make it work. One secretary shared the building's classroom schedule so that we could find an empty room at a given time; the classroom doors did not lock but we would put up a simple sign: "This room is in use. Please do not disturb." There were a couple of pro-breastfeeding professors who had heard us voice our concerns and offered their own offices at select times. Our library had some private study rooms (with doors) that could be reserved, so I would book one during a longer break between lectures. We had the easiest time pumping during clinical courses, because the hospitals provided employee pumping rooms.

Perhaps your university has a health care facility or larger office building where it offers a pumping room for its employees. It may be worthwhile to investigate the campus child care facility as a possible breastfeeding-friendly location that could provide a space for you a couple times per day. Maybe you know a faculty member well enough to ask her for assistance. Is it feasible to find child care for your infant close enough that you could go to him/her during the day? Maintaining a breastfeeding relationship despite separation is important and can take perseverance. Good luck.

Jennifer Dean Durning
Newburyport MA USA

Mother's Response

I went back to graduate school when my daughter was eight months old, and did not get any help in finding a good place to pump my milk. I finally toured the building and found that there was one bathroom with a plug in the lobby/sitting room area. It was one of the most popular bathrooms, so there was no privacy, and I had to sit on the floor to be near the outlet.

My situation was not optimal, and it was sometimes difficult to relax enough to pump well, but after a little while, I got used to it. What I discovered after a few months was that the women in the building were getting used to it, too, and even asking me about it. I was able to educate a whole group of young women about breastfeeding and pumping. Many of the graduate students were not yet ready to have children, but I felt I was setting a great example for them. Maybe by the time they have children, there will be more women around who have breastfed and pumped, and the facilities will be better.

Good luck finding a place to pump your milk for your daughter. You may be setting a great example for her as well as those other potential mothers.

Kari Kohl
White Plains NY USA

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