Pumping at work…when you’re not at work

By now, you know that my new job has provided me an excellent lactation room—the Moo Moo room—and how relieved I was that I didn’t have to return from maternity leave to my old job where I likely would have been pumping in my car while the entire downtown business district watched. Having a private place to pump was not exactly a benefit provided by my former employer; with my new job, however, I am more than happy to escape to my comfortable, private room to watch TV while I pump and then store my stash in the in-room refrigerator.

But what happens when I’m working away from work? My job requires that I attend networking events, fairs, trade shows, and the like for the purposes of marketing the program that I manage. These events are usually the type where I am one of many exhibitors with booths lining the walls of a convention center ballroom or basement event space. With the exception of the very public, usually very dirty restrooms, privacy of any sort is hard to come by. At one of these shows, I was allowed to pump in the show producer’s show office, which served as the headquarters for the event staff. Of course, the one staff member who allowed me in to pump that day failed to mention my presence to his coworker at the changing-of-the-guard and I was walked in on by the show’s director coming in to grab her lunch from the fridge. Needless to say, at the next similar event—even though it was in a completely different location, produced by a completely different group of people—I was a little gun-shy, did not pump the whole day, and came home feeling physically ill, engorged and with a migraine. Not my best idea.

For these reasons, I tend to dread being away from my little nursling or the comforts of my at-work lactation room for extended periods of time. This weekend, however, forced me to suck it up and put my Big Momma pants on and figure out some alternatives.

On Saturday, my husband and I attended our friends’ wedding. You really couldn’t beat the location—held on the hillside of a Massachusetts farm, the ceremony and reception overlooking the valley. A gorgeous, open field in the great outdoors, void of any private hiding places for pumping.

The beautiful view from the reception tent.  Photo credit Gena Golas
The beautiful view from the reception tent. Photo credit Gena Golas

That day marks the first day that I excused myself to go pump in my car. I have to say, it wasn’t my most favorite thing, but it wasn’t traumatic, either. I should have felt right at home with the cows in the field next to where my car was parked.

Not terrible.  Photo credit Gena Golas
Car pumping.  Not terrible. Photo credit Gena Golas

Then, on Sunday, I had another one of those work events, this time at a local town’s sidewalk festival. Another outdoor event, smack-dab in the middle of the downtown area; pumping in my car for the second day in a row was an option, albeit not a desirable one, since my company would likely be less cow and more human.

When it came time to pump, I went to the table where the show’s organizers were headquartered and explained my situation. Almost without hesitation, they allowed me to follow them into the town hall, which was locked and closed to the public during the event. As hot as it was that day, I was relieved to just be out of the sun and in some air conditioning, rather than sitting in my hot, stuffy car. Had they stopped there, I would have been decently happy.

I wandered the corridors of the town hall with my escort, looking for an acceptable place to pump. Option one: the women’s room. She mentioned it, but knew it wasn’t ideal, so we kept moving. Then, she found a little alcove in a deserted hallway. That would have to do. She went into a nearby office to grab a chair, but then called me in to follow her, saying she found a private office for me. I was blown away. My options for a pumping space had gone from bad to better to best in a matter of minutes. I was able to pump in a comfortable arm chair of a private, air conditioned office. I thanked them profusely for being so accommodating to me. I felt they really went above and beyond for me.

They mentioned there was talk of adding a diaper changing area for next year’s event. I think this is a genius idea. After all, it was a family event, with kids and pregnant women everywhere. If they provided a tent for changing diapers, a few comfortable chairs for breastfeeding mommas, and possibly a curtain for someone like me to sit and pump, then they’ve just taken their event to the next level. Talk about a family event being family friendly. I intend to write a letter to their event organizers thanking them for my positive experience this weekend but also to advocate for this idea.

While this weekend was a milestone for me—getting over the hurdle of pumping in my car, and getting over the fear of being walked in on and asking for a place to pump instead of making myself sick by not pumping—it would be nice if pumping for work while not at work was not such a hassle. Kudos to those of you road-warrior working moms who do this on a regular basis. But, for those in my situation, more event organizers need to consider such an option, not only for mothers attending these types of events, but for us working moms who need to operate booths at these events. That way, we wouldn’t have to expose our boobs to someone’s lunch while we pump next to the refrigerator in the show office, or to the neighborhood while we sit in our hot cars while event goers mill about. It could be a relatively easy accommodation that would go a long way.

4 thoughts on “Pumping at work…when you’re not at work

  1. I used to work in consulting, so was always asking clients for private places to pump. I used offices, supply closets, file rooms, anywhere but the bathroom. One day though we had a company sponsored Women’s Network (6 hour) event. Since I worked for a company that offered lactation rooms and was used to asking I called up the event organizers and asked about a room at the location to pump. I was told there would be no accommodations available, but that of course I could use the bathroom. I ended up pumping in the back of the Limo we had taken down to NYC, while it was parked in the middle of Times Square. Luckily the windows were darkened, so no one could see in and the driver respectfully stood outside of the car, but it was quite an odd experience.

  2. I remember those days. As you know, I frequently go into New York for meetings. My pumping space was often one of the stalls in the ladies room at Grand Central Terminal – which is seriously one of the NASTIEST places to pump. I was always afraid of contamination, so I always dumped what I pumped.

    Finding a place to pump when your air traveling is extra hard too. You would think that airports would be so lactation unfriendly, but there really are very few places to pump there. Bathrooms were usually the location of choice…

  3. fellow road warrior here! I’m happy to have read your post – pumping on the go is tough stuff, but I always feel so empowered when it works out. I travel for business occasionally – I’m pumped on Amtrak, in the Smithsonian, in a fancy restaurant, in the DCA airport (baggage claim bathroom is the best, fyi) and a number of other places. Cheers to us all for making it work!

  4. So glad you got it all figured out. This can be a tough one. I was thankful to have not been client facing when I was pumping, so was mostly in the office!

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