Pumping in a Different Office

How do you find time to pump if your job involves traveling to lots of different offices?  Do you just ask the HR people outright? Blogger / reader Road Warriorette wonders…

I am back at work finally, and will be taking my first trip this week. I have a game plan for pumping on the road. But the one thing I can’t figure out — how do you ask a client or customer if there is a place in their office where you can pump? Luckily, on this trip my meeting is only three hours so I can avoid the question. But next time I will be on location the whole day, and will certainly need a space. Do I reach out to my contact? An admin? Just suck it up and plan to pump in the bathroom? Am I over-thinking this?

This is a great question.  We’ve talked about what to wear for pumping at the office, but this is a different question — where do you go to pump when you’re not in your regular office?  It involves your breasts, so it certainly feels personal — you can’t very well just say to your male colleague, “Oh, by the way, Jim, while I’m working in the office, is there a comfortable spot for me to take my top off, attach foghorns to my breasts, and make a loud mechanical whirring noise for 10-15 minutes, a few times a day?” (Pictured.)

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That said… I think so much has been written about pumping (particularly in regards to female-friendly workplaces) that whatever stigma/weirdness there may have been has been taken away.  I know when I was working, long before I had kids, when girlfriends at the office talked about pumping, the mechanics of it all went over my head — I just thought of it as “baby related” instead of “boobie related,” if that makes sense.  (Sorry, couldn’t pass up the pun.)  So here’s my advice:

  • If your contact is a man and you’re uncomfortable asking him, ask his secretary or a female subordinate.
  • If you happen to know the folks in HR, ask them.
  • Whatever you do, be professional and calm about it — you have every right to ask this question, and if it’s a big deal it’s because of his/her/their problem, not yours.  Two suggested scripts:  “As you know I recently had a baby — is there a private place that I can pump?” or (although personally I hate the word “lactation”), “Does your office have a lactation room? If not could I request a private office?”
  • (Also: I seem to remember seeing apps that tell you where you can go to pump, but maybe I’m wrong… readers, does anyone know?)

Readers who travel often for work (and pump), how have you handled this situation? Do you think there is still weirdness about pumping at work?


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  1. I am lucky that I haven’t had to travel to client sites while pumping. I have had to go to my company’s main office, where there is a “Mother’s Room” in each building. Maybe you could call it a “Mother’s Room” instead of “lactation room”? I hate that word, too.

  2. Finding a hairdresser :

    Is it even possible to have a standard procedure for this? I think it depends on who your contact is, how comfortable you are with that person, how long you’re going to be there, the office set up….

    The one thing I think stays the same is that if you’re pumping, you have to pump, you have a right to it. Stay calm, stand your ground, and if you get “no” for an answer, you can figure out an alternative (especially if you have an adapter to use in your car or are going out for lunch)

  3. Diana Barry :

    I always just ask my contact (always a woman when I’ve had this happen) over email ahead of time. Then I ask them to show me to the room when I get there. I usually just say “place to pump.” I figure if it helps other people get used to the word, then good. :)

    • Diana Barry :

      Oh, and I would phrase it differently – not asking *if* there is a place to pump, but asking where you *will* be able to pump.

  4. I know it feels weird to ask about, but really — just ask for an empty room or if a mother’s room is available. Most people are more than willing to accommodate you. Definitely ask a female if that makes it easier, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

  5. Research, Not Law :

    I agree. Even after pumping for two kids, it would take me a minute to understand what someone wanted if they asked for a “lactation room.” I would use “place to pump” since an office may not have a dedicated ‘mother’s room’ but can provide private space.

    The closest experience I had was starting a new job while pumping. My only contact was my male supervisor; no female admin, etc. So I sucked it up and asked where I could pump. It was awkward, but I kept the request brief and to the point (almost exactly Kat’s first example) and he swiftly had me in contact with the key-keeper. No issue. It was actually a lot like asking where the bathroom is located.

    I’m sure the OP is already on top of it, but they should keep an ice pack and wipes in their pump bag. I find people fear seeing breast milk more than anything and are much more comfortable knowing that it won’t be in the break room fridge or splashed onto table tops.

  6. Just ask. I’ve pumped at a baseball field (in one of the upper boxes) during a seminar, I’ve pumped in a supply closet, the bathroom in someone’s office, the car…the list goes on. By far, the best thing to do is to plan ahead. Give people some time to think about it and they’ll come up with something that will work.
    I had an all day interview downtown, called the number they gave me, and asked the man who answered if there would be a place I could pump. He awkwardly showed me the room during a group tour, but it was private. He also volunteered to stand guard so no one would barge in since he said that’d happened before (talk about stressful pumping situtions!). I’ve had much better accomodations when I call ahead than when I try to find someone on the day to find me a place. If I do have to wait until I get there to talk to someone, then make sure to bring the pump that has a car adapter or batteries so you can pump in the car or bathroom (some don’t have outlets, so you need the battery option). I also bring a nursing cover, just in case.

  7. I would be suprised if you got any negative feedback on asiing this question. While I am as yet child-less, I do travel daily to unfamiliar offices and buildings, and even the military installations have signs in the ladies’ restroom that a Mother’s Room is available. I’ve also heard them called comfort rooms. Definitely check with HR or some female in the office if uncomfortable asking a man, and just be straightforward about it. I think if the office was all male I’d try to ask HR instead of the client/person I’m working with because I wouldn’t want to make him uncomfortable.

  8. I ran into this with having to take or defend depositions in others’ offices. The problem for me was always more on the timing – it’s hard to explain to a client or opposing counsel (especially of the male variety) why I needed a 15-minute break every 3-4 hours aside from the typical bathroom and food breaks. When I did need a break, I frequently went to my car and just covered up with a blanket. That way I could keep the milk in my car with a freezer pack as well. But I do think so much varies based on your work situation and where you will be.

    • I was about to have to do this same thing. Actually, i had to sub in at a depo my first day back from maternity leave. I didn’t think the depo would last more than 1-2 hours from when I arrived. I didn’t want to worry about seeking accomodations – especially after my boss walked in on my first pumping session in the office. I should’ve brought the pump… four hours later, I was miserable and literally running back to the office (and my pump).

  9. Katherine K :

    I’ve been to a few all-day conferences with several (male) colleagues, and I try to find someone who looks like they’re in charge and ask “I’m a nursing mother, is there someplace private I can go to pump?” Although last time, there was a (female) financial adviser on a call in the “private” room I was directed to … when I said I needed to pump and asked how long she’d be, she said “Oh, you’re pumping? I don’t mind at all!” and carried on with her conversation … I figured if she wasn’t going to be uncomfortable, I wasn’t going to either! And hey, free stock tips :)

    I find it a little more awkward to explain to my male coworkers why I have to keep excusing myself, but they get it after the first few times, and they’ve been very understanding.

    • This is hilarious! I have the same live/let live attitude about pumping. Yes, private space is ideal/expected, but I also love when other folks are just totally normal about it (b/c let’s face it, pumping is a fact of life and everyone SHOULD be normal about it).

  10. Car adapters are available for most pumps. If possible, pumping in your car would avoid the awkward question of asking for office space to do so.

    • +1
      I bought a general car adapter (to convert a cigarette lighter into a standard outlet) and pumped in my car during many trips out of town for hearings and trials.

      • Fed Gov Attorney :

        The Lansinoh Double Electric double pump takes only 6 AA batteries, and the battery is going strong after at least 8 days of use. I’ve had no issues, despite being used to a hospital grade pump at work.

        If the point of contact isn’t a woman, I look around for a secretary to ask, and then for any woman that I know is a mother. If all of that fails, then a man. I also call it nursing because “lactation room” takes many many uncomfortable seconds while people are processing.

        I once pumped in a full-windowed conference room on the 8th floor of a downtown office building.

  11. Make sure to ask in advance, and look at your schedule to plan as much in advance — you may need to add an extra break somewhere.
    I had a union negotiation when my son was 10 months old. I was lucky that I was down to pumping once during the regular work day, but for a 4 day business trip with lots of late nights…whole different ball game.
    I emailed the person coordinating the venue and asked if there was a wellness room or lactation room near to our location, and what the procedure was for using it. Unfortunately it was inaccessible after 10pm, so she also arranged to leave a key to an unused small conference room as necessary. I brought my Freestyle pump in its little bag and snuck away as I could. I also brought my hand pump for emergencies. I ended up using it 4 or 5 times on bathroom breaks just in a stall — totally quiet and quicker than getting everything set up. I was dumping most of the milk anyway, so it was just for relief.

    I also have pumped in my car many times. Not just while commuting (which I did every single day for 8 months, and I promise I did all the set up while parked at home, then pushed the off button 20 minutes into the drive and did all the take down while at my office parking lot. I parked as far from all the other cars as possible, which had the added bonus of adding steps to my day), but also if I had to drive to a long offsite meeting I would leave about 20 minutes earlier than necessary and pump while parked at my destination. A few times I would take a break, return to my car, and pump in the back seat. Under a nursing cover/blanket, of course. I thought about buying window shades, but that seemed excessive. The freestyle — which runs off a rechargeable battery — made this super easy, along with pumping pals horns and hands-free device, which were easier FOR ME AND MY BODY than any other hands free solution (I know that everyone is different)
    Good luck to all the pumping mamas! I am glad that my (still nursing) son is now old enough that I don’t ever need to worry about pumping. My last business trip was 4 days. I thought he might wean while I was gone, so I didn’t bother to bring a pump. Didn’t matter. I was never uncomfortable, never needed to pump, and he didn’t wean.

  12. i am reading this while on a break during an administrative hearing at which i FORGOT to bring my pump and am panicking that i wont be able to pump for at least another 3-4 hours (its been 5 hours already). Will this hurt my milk supply much? If i pump extra the next few days i should be fine, right? Determined to BF for 1 year like i did for my first….. but man oh man do i hate hooking my boobs up to the pump.

    • Katherine K :

      ppp, missing a few feeds (if I’m reading you correctly) shouldn’t affect your supply permanently. I think you have the right idea, trying to pump a little extra later. You can try hand expressing for a few minutes in the bathroom. You won’t be able to save the milk anywhere, but you might be more comfortable, and at least you’ll get a little bit of “demand” in for your supply. Best of luck!

    • ppp: how old is your baby? how long have you been pumping? I mean, short answer: NO. It will not kill your supply so that you can never nurse again. It MIGHT mean that you run out of pumped milk and have to give some formula (do you have a stash?). I MIGHT mean that you need to add some extra sessions in the next couple days to get your supply back up…but that is totally going to depend on your body and how established nursing is. In the meantime, don’t panic, drink a bunch of water, and hand express a little if you need relief.
      (I forgot my pump three times in the first couple months. It was always fine. I once managed to hand express 3 ounces into a bottle, but mostly I just was uncomfortable. It never had an impact on my ability to nurse/pump later. HOWEVER, everyone is different. It depends on your body. You are doing the best you can, and that is fine. If your supply dips, it’s not the end of the world and there are ways to work around that and come back from it. But it might not dip. No panicking!)

    • This, or something similar, happened to me a few times. Sometimes I was able to run to a pharmacy and purchase a hand pump which definitely helped. The other thing I would suggest is pumping on one side while your baby nurses from the other when you get home tonight (this will tell your body that it needed more than the baby actually consumes; let the baby nurse from both sides like normal but also pump on the opposite side). I don’t think that this will impact your supply, like Katherine said, especially with the weekend coming up (assuming you aren’t working this weekend). Good luck to you!

    • Research, Not Law :

      Your supply will be fine with missing one day, but running to a drug store for nursing pads (you’re going to be leaky), bottle (for hand expression), or a manual pump will safe you some grief.

      If you need the bottles for tomorrow, try to pump after work before baby feeds. Otherwise, pump while nursing.

    • Thanks everyone! My daughter is 5 mos old and i plan to overcompensate with the pumping the rest of the day and of course nursing over the weekend. in the meantime i (thankfully) have nursing pads and though running to the drugstore wont be an option, expressing some in the bathroom is….
      I think logically i knew it would be fine, but emotionally i needed reassurance – ha! :)

      Thanks again, ladies!

  13. I don’t have much to add to the conversation re asking for a space to pump. I’ll second Heidi’s suggestion to have a hand pump available — I found my Isis was perfect for shorter breaks and less time consuming to set up/break down than the electric pump. I think that one also needs to consider what kind of pumper they are — I was horrid, in that I lived ounce to ounce and rarely pumped more than the amount that my kids needed for the next day at daycare (despite using every trick I knew…). For me it would have been less stressful to take the day off or work from home the day after my return so that I could sort of reset my supply, though I’ll admit that this rarely happened in practice.

  14. V -- nursing cover :

    I used to keep a nursing cover handy to use as a pumping cover. And I second the car pumping (esp. if you have something that sits higher up or has a way back to it). If you don’t have the hands-free zip-front pumping corsets, they are lifesavers, as are the sanitizing wipes in case you will want to be cleaning things on the run.

    Don’t feel weird if you try a practice run in terms of supplies, packaging, wardrobe choice, etc. I used to go to overflow (so using more than would fit in my pumping bag) if I worked late, and often packed the plastic milk storage bags just in case that happened when I wasn’t planning.

    Finally, you may wind up hoping for a break that comes too late, so think if you can wear a jacket or blazer some such in case you wind up leaking even a little. It’s all about suspenders and a belt for me.

    My phrasing:

    I’m nursing, so I will need a place to pump [with a locking door] [a few times through the day] [during my visit].

    I’m going to have to take a break now and I will be back in X minutes.

  15. If you guys think men are NOT weirded out by the question, I think you’re naive. I have 3 kids, 4th on the way, and it was always incredibly awkward. I never asked for a special room. I mean – what law firm has that unless it’s a BigLaw firm? We have 25 or 30 lawyers, and we don’t have that. Just bring your battery pack and pump in the bathroom.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I’m not a mom but I think the issue with bathroom pumping is germs. Would you want to eat in there? I’ll admit, I gnoshed a protein bar in the court bathroom before so as to avoid getting caught with food. (Certain courts in my area have a no food, no exceptions rule.) However, I was totally grossed out eating in the bathroom and don’t think anyone should have to pump in one.

      • Anonymous :

        I’ve pumped in the bathroom at a conference before and it was totally disgusting but I did what I had to do… hung the pump up on the back of the bathroom door and had an extension cord going from the sink to the stall. The worst part was sitting there smelling people’s sh*t while I pumped 3 times a day.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      PS – I do agree guys can be clueless about it. One mom returned from leave and was in her office with the door shut and blinds all closed. (Our offices were fish bowls.) A male attorney wondered by and said “what the heck is she doing in there??” To which a large pool of female support staff sitting right out front said nearly in unison “she just had a baby, what do you think??” And he continued to look dumbfounded until someone just shook her head and said “she is pumping.” Even that I think took him a minute to get. I really thought he was going to say “pumping what?” This man had kids too.

      • When I pumped for my first baby, I had a fish-bowl office with a glass wall. At that time (1997) there was no legislation on pumping and it was not the norm, at least not where I worked. I asked if I could put up curtains or blinds on the glass wall, and was told no, that was not allowed. I think the assumption was that I should pump in the bathroom – not an option.

        So I bought a Japanese screen and put that up every time I pumped. It made me very self-conscious, but hey, you do what you need to do.

        My husband told me I should have just pumped for all the world to see – that would have had them installing blinds for me in a jiffy, LOL.

      • A labmate once put up a sign on the office door that said “Pumping in progress. Do not disturb.” Our boss barged right in, thinking the sign meant that the vacuum system across the hall was pumping down for a lab run.

      • I always send my brothers articles like these in hopes that neither of them will be that guy that is completely confused and embarrassed by women’s issues.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Feeling that it’s a completely reasonable request is not the same thing as thinking that the question won’t weird them out. Just because it makes a man squeamish to be asked doesn’t mean that a women can’t request it.

      See my post above. I’ve done it. We both survived.

    • I don’t know, maybe they are weirded out by the question, but the truth is, I don’t care if they are, it’s not about them. I am firmly in the “can’t get what you don’t ask for” camp, so when I needed a place to pump, I’d ask for it, straight up. Typically, I’d get an immediate referral to someone else to ask, a receptionist or secretary, the person they know who pumped herself, something like that. Which works fine.

      Now, many times I already knew the location would be difficult (small office, construction site, etc.), so the car was a great fallback then. Although I live a pretty public transit life, and use cabs when in a different city, during my pumping days, I would often drive or rent a car in situations that I wouldn’t otherwise, so I could take my pumping room with me.

    • Many are probably wierded out but wouldn’t outwardly express it (tee hee). The point is that maybe they feel wierd but we shouldn’t.

    • It can be awkward to ask, but it’s much better than pumping in the freaking bathroom. Even in a small office (I’m in one, too), surely there is an empty conference room or private office that could be an option for two 20-minute breaks.

    • Before children, I would have been a bit confused by the phrase “mother’s room” or any euphemism.

      And fecal germs seem to be all over bathrooms, even ones that look clean, so I’d not choose that if there were any other choice (and in this economy, we have tons of empty offices and small conference rooms and even storerooms).

      And if you can get a room but it doesn’t lock, a triangular door stopper will work in a pinch. It may not stop the determined, but it will really slow a door down.

      • Triangular door stopper!!! Brilliant. Going to put one in my pumping bag immediately.

        • SugarMagnolia :

          I don’t have a lock on my office door at work, so having a door stop (I actually use two of the rubber ones) is a godsend.

    • I work for a large company and we have lactation rooms. If men are freaked out by such a question they can deal with it however they can. Not the pumping mom’s problem.

      I would no more pump in the bathroom than I would eat my turkey sandwich there. It cannot be that hard for the hosting company/firm to find a private office for OP to use.

      • Meg Murry :

        We have lactation rooms, but they aren’t labeled as such in some locations, or others use the euphamism “Wellness Room”. I weirded out one of my single male colleagues asking what the Wellness Room was as I really had no idea – he stammered something about “room for new mom’s, you know …” then turned beet red and ran away. So just because the company has them doesn’t mean everyone knows that they do.

        • We don’t have lactation rooms, but a friend a firm that does has reported that they are often scheduled. It was hard enough working out a schedule for my b0@bs, let alone coordinating with the bo@bs of others. Another thing to keep in mind. The person you ask may not know how subscribed or oversubscribed they are.

          I can’t recall if this room was just locking or locking w/ sink or locking with sink / fridge.

          • Meg Murry :

            At our company the room with a lock & a fridge was busy enough for a while that we scheduled through Outlook room reservations – with lots of frantic “my meeting is running late can I change times with you” texts being sent around. Its a royal PITA to share a space, thats for sure, and sometimes we wound up doubled up in the space – not fun, but better than the ladies room.

    • Divaliscious11 :

      Do you prepare your food in the toilet? And why should they get weirded out – and why should that be any mom’s problem?

    • I think it’s reasonable to ask for a private place to pump that isn’t a bathroom. Most offices have SOMEWHERE that will suffice, even if it’s a vacant office or something.

  16. Also in Academia :

    Just ask! I think that the more people ask for space or time to pump, the less flipped out other people will be.

  17. Roberta told me she did her OWN pumpeing at her desk when her kids were babie’s. Of course, she had a nice office, with a door that close’s. My office here is terible, and the manageing partner can alway’s look in and see what I am doeing.

    That means that if I get MARRIED, and have a baby, I will have to have a BETTER office, with a door that close’s so that the manageing partner can’t PEEK! FOOEY!

    • “Roberta told me she did her OWN pumpeing at her desk”

      … as opposed to doing somebody else’s pumping?

  18. This topic is super-close to my heart. Pumping is SO hard and anyone who points to BF’ing as the “cheap” alternative to formula doesn’t take the cost of time into consideration.

    I’m not on the road much for work anymore so I can’t be useful in this except to chime in on what others have said. I’m 8 weeks out from baby #2 and now have my own office (as opposed to last time I had a BF’ing child, when I pumped in a large/private bathroom). I need to retrofit my all-glass door and get a lock installed, but otherwise my setup is pretty good.

    • SugarMagnolia :

      I think that people also fail to factor in the costs of the sanitizing wipes, breast pads, special nursing bras, nursing shirts and tanks that you end up buying. But even if it cost more, I think I would still be doing it, for the health of my little one.

  19. Meg Murry :

    I think like others it totally depends on where you are going. Small offices probably won’t have a dedicated space, especially if its the kind of place where most people have private offices. A lot of big companies have a space, but require jumping through hoops to get a key to it. I agree with asking for “a place to pump”. I know others that were more squemish asked for “a place to make a private phone call back to the office”. Wherever you wind up, I would highly recommend using a handsfree setup and draping a cardigan or jacket over your front in case you get walked in on, and have a plan B like a hand pump in the ladies room or car adaptor and your car.

    Also, for those of you who often have to pump in places that you are worried about being walked in on, or in the car frequently, I highly recommend the Freemie concealable collection system – instead of horns and bottles, its a round shell that you put in your bra and just snake the tubes out of. I use it every day on my commute (like others have said – setup at home, no fidgeting with it while actually driving) and its been great. Customer service has also been wonderful when I lost parts – the overnighted me the necessary pieces for free. http://www.freemie.com

    • Fed Gov Attorney :

      Omg I want this!!! Thanks Kat for beginning this post, I am so excited to see this!

      • Meg Murry :

        They are pretty awesome. Not concealable enough to walk around with them on, as its like putting half a grapefruit in your bra, but at least you can pull your shirt down and no one will see them. I’ve also worn them into the gas station with a fleece jacket zipped over my shirt – I probably looked like I had mega b00bs, but eh, I didn’t know anyone there. Read the reviews on amazon for a good listing of pros & cons, but buy direct from the company to get their excellent customer service.

  20. I’m not a mom, and I like to think of myself as less clueless rather than more, but I know when I hear “pump” or “pumping” my mind does not automatically conclude “pumping breast milk.” If I were in the situation where you were going to ask me for a place to do it, including the phrases “nursing mother” or (the dreaded) lactation room would ensure that I didn’t give you a furrowed brow in response.

    On a related note, whenever I read posts that refer to “bf-ing,” my first thought is always that the poster is making the F word safe for print, which makes reading comprehension difficult, since the post usually refers to a baby/children.

    • Meg Murry :

      Its ok Coalea – I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know breastpumps existed before I became a mom. I just never had a reason TO know and had never really thought about it. I don’t think my boss at my last job knew either until I explained it to her – this was before there was legislation about requiring a space to pump (I think the term they use is “express”).

      I’ve also had young male colleagues ask me what’s in my bag or why I carry 2 bags every day – trust me sonny, you don’t want to know.

      • I overheard a hilarious conversation between my brother and one of his friends a few years ago – they were both just out of college, maybe 22 or so.

        They were sharing stories about their respective workplaces and the friend noted that someone in his office was apparently bringing breast milk from home and storing it in the office fridge, for coffee, he assumed. Neither my brother nor his friend could figure out a reason why anyone would do this, so I had to jump in and explain that working moms who are breastfeeding will often pump their milk at the office and bring it home for the baby. They were both stunned at this idea – I was stunned that the idea of someone spiking his/her coffee with breast milk seemed like a more logical conclusion!

        • Meg Murry :

          Unless his coworker was me – because after my son was done with bottles, I used his baby bottles or the pump bottles to store soy milk in the breakroom fridge for my coffee. They were the only thing I had that wouldn’t leak in my lunchbag or purse. And I did tell one of my coworkers it was breastmilk once just to freak him out, but he knew I was joking. Maybe someone else didn’t though … oops. :-)