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Making It Work

Expressing Milk at Work

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 2, March-April 1994, pp. 52-3

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"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.

Situation

I am expressing milk at work twice a day. I have to use conference rooms to do this as there is no facility, and the women's room does not have electrical outlets. Often when I am carrying my breast pump (in its case) someone asks me what I am carrying. What can I say? I would not mind telling some people the truth, but I don't want to cause anyone, including myself, embarrassment.

Response

Down the hall I'd come, pushing my squeaky wheeled cart with the breast pump mounted on top--no cover nor case to hide the evidence. I was lucky, though; my employer furnished a pump. The only problem was that the room where the pumps were stored was nowhere near the room available to do the pumping. The route I pushed this pump took me past many people, most of whom were men.

The first day I made the trip I was so self-conscious. I felt as though I had a sign on my forehead that read, "This is a breast pump and I'm going to pump my breasts!"

Actually, most people just looked and said nothing. But sometimes there would be the dreaded question, "What's that?"

"A pump," I would say. Then I would try to change the subject by adding, "How are you doing today?"

For many people, that's all that was necessary. If anyone inquired further I told them it was a breast pump (with a tone that sounded like everyone walked around with one). The more I acted as though it was no big deal, the less awkward these conversations were for the person asking the question and for me.

One gentleman who inquired about my "cart" was so embarrassed. Rather than let him stand there with that blank look on his face, I said, "Hey, it scared me the first time I saw it, too!" We both laughed. If you're going to breastfeed your baby you need a great sense of humor.

For the next year I saw this man four times each day as I made my trips to the "pump room." One day I saw him and for once I wasn't pushing the pump.

"My gosh, I've never seen you without that cart," he said. "I was beginning to think it was permanently attached to you!"

We laughed again then he went his way and I went mine.

One year later, after our second son was born, there I was pushing that cart again.

All he said this time was, "Oh no, here she comes again!"

Jolene Bartlett
Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA

Response

I've been back at work for a little over a month and my pump and cooler are part of my life. I'm sure my six-month-old appreciates getting the "real stuff" during the day, even if it is in a bottle and the feeder is a caregiver. We have a wonderful nursing relationship mornings, evenings, and weekends, and I enjoy being able to provide for her in this way while we're apart.

So, how do people react to the blue box I carry to work every day?

Well, everyone around here knows I just had a baby. For several, the question about the box was not "What is that?" but "Is that a pump?"

The answer is simply "yes," then we usually talk about babies, breastfeeding and working, and the amount of "stuff" parents of new babies have to carry around.

Occasionally, though, I get asked what it is. Once, I was asked if I had an oversized lunch box (my pump is a rented double-pumping system about the size of an . . . well . . . oversized lunch box!).

What do I say? I've never hesitated to tell the truth, but once I said "It's a breast pump" and the man asking seemed embarrassed so now I just say, "It's a pump." If more needs to be said, I add, "I pump milk for my baby." It seems that some people are uncomfortable using the word "breast" in public. If I simply leave that one word out things are fine.

Nancy Smith
Oswego, New York, USA

Response

I expressed milk for both my children from about four months (which is when I returned to work) until they were about seven-eight months old. One thing to keep in mind is that, in the overall scheme of things, it's a very short period of time. It's also a great gift to give to your children and to yourself.

Given that perspective, two things helped me. The first was the discovery that the manual pump given to me in the hospital offered greater flexibility than the electric one I had bought for myself. And the manual pump didn't make that awful sound! Once you become proficient at it, the manual pump is only slightly less efficient than an electric one.

Second, when someone asked, I simply stated, "I'm expressing milk for my baby." Believe me, if they're embarrassed it won't go any further. If they're interested, you have an opportunity to tell them about breastfeeding and La Leche League.

Overcome anxiety by finding an ally. Mine was a woman who was an LLL Leader twenty-five years ago! Support will come from surprising sources.

My son nursed until he was three years old and my eighteen-month-old is still nursing. It was well worth the effort!

Sandra Johnson
Manchester, Connecticut, USA

Response

I am an employed breastfeeding mother of a one-year-old. I returned to work when my daughter, Cameron Camille, was six weeks old. I use a breast pump on my morning and afternoon breaks, and I go to nurse Cameron on my lunch hour. For the first nine months after Cameron was born, my husband worked at home. The week he started a new job and Cami started day care was the same week I had to attend a mandatory three-day business meeting across town (a forty-five minute drive from day care). I pumped three times a day and brought a cooler to store my breast milk. There was only one other female participant at the business meeting and thirty men. Many of them asked me about the cooler or the equipment I was carrying back and forth to the ladies' room all day. I used a very friendly, mater-of-fact tone to reply to their questions, such as: "What's in the cooler, lunch?" I answered "breast milk!" No one seemed embarrassed by my answer, although in some cases the exchange ended there.

Surprisingly, quite a few of the men then commented favorably on the fact that I was breastfeeding, with several of them going on to tell me that their children had been breastfed also. My advice to you is to answer questions with the truth ("this is my breast pump") as you smile and project confidence by looking people in the eye. Without even knowing it, you may be positively influencing and educating others to the benefits of breastfeeding, by your example of continuing to breastfeed while employed.

Kelly Gillespie
San Antonio, Texas, USA

Response

I returned to work full-time when my twin girls were four-and-a-half months old. My short answer when someone looks inquiringly is "It's my lunch," or "I'm a nursing mother; it's my lunch." or "I'm nursing twins; it's my lunch."

Recently I had to fly out of town for an all-day meeting. I had discreetly packaged my breast pump and paraphernalia in a large brief case. The gentlemen I was traveling with, as well as those I was meeting, were constantly offering to carry that briefcase. When they lifted it, they rather balked at its weight. I joked that I brought a case of beer for after the meeting. (In Canada, we usually drink beer from glass bottles, so 24 bottles of beer are quite a hefty load.)

For those who are particularly irksome or dense, I tell them it is my portable dialysis machine.

My twin girls are now seven months old and have been exclusively fed on breast milk. They now weigh sixteen pounds and twenty pounds respectively. The twenty-four to thirty ounces of milk I express daily doesn't always satisfy them, so we think they are ready for solids.

One last word to breastfeeding mothers planning to return to work. Do all you can to continue your breastfeeding relationship. In my case with seven-month-old twins as well as a two-year-old, if I didn't take time to stop and nurse my babies, I don't know when I'd have a moment to hold and touch them in my busy, busy life.

Marthanne Robson
Verdum, Quebec, Canada

Last updated Thursday, October 19, 2006 by njb.
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