The Harrowing Tales Of Pumping Breastmilk At Work

I was horrified by the idea that someone might walk in while I pumped because it's such an undignified process.
Publish date:
October 30, 2013
work, motherhood, elizabeth street, breast milk, lactation

While I was working and pregnant, I wanted to ensure that my baby would have breast milk as long as I could provide it. Because I worked in an office, that meant pumping milk via portable breast pump several times a day.

In some states (like California where I live), there are laws that require employers to provide a private room, outside of a restroom, allowing breaks for lactating mothers to pump milk.

That's all well and good, but to say I was comfortable with the whole thing would be the overstatement of the year. I was horrified by the idea that someone might walk in while I pumped because it's such an undignified process. You attach plastic contraptions to your breasts, turn on a noisy machine that suctions tiny drops of milk out, and end up with maybe a quarter cup of breast milk. When my husband saw me pump, he likened me to a milk truck.

I wasn’t aware of a lactation room at my company, so I spoke to other new mothers to find out about their experiences. One coworker, Maria, felt uncomfortable pumping milk because none of the conference rooms locked--she had to ask colleagues to guard the door. She started pumping in her car (it helped that she drove a new Mercedes), but then her milk ran out because she wasn’t pumping enough and was stressed out about the situation. “I felt really guilty about it,” she said, because her son was young and she would have preferred to give him breast milk rather than formula.

Another coworker said she pumped milk in the supply closet and just prayed no one walked in. Sometimes her husband brought her baby daughter into the office to nurse. She felt self-conscious about washing the pumping equipment in the office kitchen and storing breast milk among the brown bag lunches in the shared refrigerator.

Then, there was my friend Alison who worked at a Fortune 500 company in San Francisco. The company didn’t have a lactation room so Alison had requested blinds to cover the glass windows in her office. She never got any so ended up pumping from underneath her desk, but found it too difficult--and her milk supply diminished. (The less you pump milk, the less milk you produce.) Alison’s colleague, who didn’t have her own office, would pump in a teleconference room equipped with giant TV screens. One day, while she was pumping milk a teleconference unexpectedly launched--and she was broadcast globally over the monitors. I assumed her milk supply came to a halt from such a harrowing experience.

After hearing all these stories, I decided to make a fuss about having a mother’s room. I didn’t want my milk supply to dwindle because I couldn’t pump due to not having a private place to express milk. I sent human resources an email that I needed a private room to pump milk, and per state law, that the door must have a lock. Surprisingly, human resources accommodated my request.

A small conference room called the Itty Bitty became the mother’s room. It was great: There was a comfortable couch, and I was able to pump milk twice a day. I stored the milk in small bottles in the shared refrigerator. Best of all, my milk supply didn’t run out. In fact, I ended up with a surplus of milk that’s still in the freezer. All mothers have the right to a private place to pump milk--not a car or teleconference room.

Reprinted with permission from Elizabeth Street. Want more?

Which Celebrity Launched a Breastmilk-Sharing Program?

One Pediatrician

Tells Us the Best Foods for Babies


I Finally Got the Courage to Stop Breastfeeding