Whenever people (ahem, men) express anxiety about pooping in public or in a new place, I have to admit my sympathy is pretty limited.
Pooping anxiety ain’t got nothing on pumping anxiety.
First of all, everyone accepts that people need a place to go to the bathroom. Dedicated places to pump, on the other hand, are few and far between. With pooping, there’s no lugging equipment around. When you find a spot, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be private; the chance (at least in the developed world) that you’ll have to pull out your goods and sit there basically naked for 20 minutes or more is pretty much nonexistent. The only thing you have to wash afterward is your hands. You don’t have to find a way to store your output and keep it on ice.
As a breastfeeding mama who travels quite a bit, and is a travel nomad — meaning I usually am not visiting an office where I can leave my stuff or hide out in a private room with my pump, I’ve had to get creative about where to take care of business.
My lessons learned are definitely not a complete guide to this inevitably stressful situation, but I hope they’ll help if you’re traveling without your baby and need to pump on the go.
What to bring
- Your pump. (DUH, I know). But double check that all the pieces are there; I had a pumping emergency when I arrived at our retreat and realized the tubing was missing from my pump. Luckily a fellow mama there let me use hers, and I was able to avoid a true boob emergency.
- Pump wipes. You won’t always have access to a place to wash your accessories, so I carry these wipes for on-the-go cleaning. I’m pretty sure they’re just repackaged baby wipes, so you could also just snag some from your LO’s diaper bag rather than buying yet another niche product.
- Milk bags. I love these bags for pumping on the go because they take up so much less space in your bag and then cooler. The Medela ones come with little adapters for your pump so you can pump directly into the bags.
- Ziplocs: the milk bags are notoriously leak-prone. I seal them inside ziploc bags for safer, drier travel.
- Lunchbox or other small cooler. True story: my husband used my pumping needs as an excuse to buy a Yeti, but holy hell that thing is a bear to drag around. I carry a lightweight lunch box cooler with me, and try to transfer to the fridge, freezer, or Yeti as soon as possible. I’m constantly asking for ice from Starbucks or other casual food joints. Most of them will just fill up your cooler if you ask, and not charge you the 10 cents or whatever, especially if the barista is a woman.
- Blanket scarf: something to hide the ladies under. Plus it’s lightweight so easy to pack or wear. God knows you’re already lugging around enough stuff.
What NOT to wear:
- Dresses that don’t allow you access to the goods without taking them off. See: my first mother’s day experience. Oh wait, I haven’t told anyone about that except my husband. Maybe I’ll share this mother’s day…
- Tops that will show wetness, or that can be stained by breast milk. Sayonara, silk.
- Pants that are not forgiving when you sit down. Your midsection is likely to be exposed for at least part of your pumping adventure … so I like to choose pants that, even if they aren’t super flattering on my exposed core, at least don’t exacerbate my mom-pooch and muffin top. (High-rise FTW).
Where to do the deed
Luckily, pumping rooms are becoming more and more frequent, but that doesn’t mean they’re a dime a dozen yet.
- Nordstrom: their women’s lounges often have Mothers’ Rooms, with everything you need to pump or breastfeed: outlets, comfy chairs, a sink with soap and paper towels, and some semblance of privacy.
This is one of many reasons I will always be a loyal Nordstrom customer. Also, their shoe section.
- Mamava: these handy little pumping pods are popping up at airports everywhere. I first discovered them in Austin, then also found pods in Oakland, CA, and San Francisco. These no-frills, lockable pods provide seating, outlets, and a mirror to help make sure you’ve rearranged yourself without any wardrobe malfunctions. Their app helps you find not only pods but other, user-submitted pumping-friendly locations.
- Baby stores: this is a long shot, but if you’re traveling in the burbs, you may have a baby or maternity store nearby, and they often will provide a place for you, suggest other local options, or, at the very least, empathize with your plight. Friendly understanding won’t keep your pressurized boobs from exploding, but it does help lessen your mounting anxiety about said pressure.
- When in doubt, just ask… I’ve ended up in random places for meetings, like hospitals, big office buildings, and cafes. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help. Some of them will get really uncomfortable, but I think that just encourages them to come up with a solution faster so they can stop talking about YOUR BREASTS. Ha. Some of the random places I’ve pumped are: in the lunchroom in a big office building, a doctor’s office after hours, the manager’s office in a restaurant, and in empty conference rooms.
None of those locations are fun, but they’re doable, and way less gross than a bathroom.
Now, if I could just crack the code of how to travel with a pump and ONLY a carry-on, I would be set. Any tips?