How to pump in your car: The essentials
About halfway through my maternity leave, as I was beginning to feel barely confident as a first time breastfeeding mother, I started to panic about pumping when I went back to work. I work in healthcare as a sales rep, and my job is almost entirely based out of my car. I should take away the "almost"--my car is my office. So, not only did I find myself struggling to respond to the mechanical movement of a pump (I mean, who doesn't picture dairy cows at least a little bit the first time they, freshly postpartum, strap themselves into a double electric pump?) but, I also had this added element of stress thinking about literally "pumping on the go" out of my car. I was fiercely committed to breastfeeding, but I found myself doubting my ability to make it happen.
Well, I'm here to tell you, it can be done!! I am not an over-producer. I do not respond well to a breast-pump (my baby is so much sweeter), or find pumping "easy" by any means. And even though motherhood has definitely helped me to lose some of my modesty, I still do not feel comfortable being exposed. That said, I pump in my car--essentially in public--5 days a week. My son is currently 11 months old, and we have not had to use formula. I have had people tell me that I am "lucky" to have been able to do this. And while I do acknowledge some "luck" of being part of the estimated 95-99% of women who are considered to be biologically capable of producing enough breast milk for their baby, I do find this statement slightly insulting. Why? Because pumping out of my car while working full-time to maintain my supply has been a hell of a lot of WORK. I have contemplated giving up many times. But, we can talk more about that later. Let's get back to the topic at hand--pumping in your car.
I know many of your may not have to pump out of your car all day, and may only be looking for a guide for pumping on your commute, or pumping on a long road trip. Well, here is what I would consider "the essentials" for successful car pumping with a double electric pump:
1. AC adapter for your car: I have mostly used my Spectra S2 breast pump and a rented Medela Symphony while pumping in the car. Both have AC to DC adapters available, and they work just as splendidly as when they are plugged into the wall at home. Make sure to check the voltage of your pump and get the appropriate adapter. Some pumps are 9v and some are 12v so don't assume this is a one-size-fits all purchase. Firstly, it's not safe, and secondly, you don't want to harm yourself or your pump. If you have questions, call your the manufacturer of your pump they should be able to help.
Option b: You could consider a pump with a rechargeable battery, or battery pack. I do not have experience with this yet (I'm going on a business trip in three weeks, where I will test this out and navigate flying, so stayed tune for that post), but some things to consider are: How much pumping time do you need? How soon will you be able to get to an outlet to recharge? How strong of suction do you need? Is the pump you are used to a rechargeable one? Rechargeable or replaceable battery packs usually have a limitation of somewhere between 3-5 hours. If this fits your needs, great. If not, I highly recommend finding the right adapter for the DC outlet in your car. From what I have researched, many pumps (at this time) are not rechargeable--none of mine are--so another benefit of an adaptor is that you don't have to go an adjust to an entirely new pump just for car portability. And, most DC adapters are going to cost you less than 20 bucks. In my opinion, entirely worth the investment.
2. A "hands free" pumping bra: I would consider this an "essential" to pumping anywhere, frankly. Because seriously, I want to be hooked up to the machine for as little time as possible. But the added benefit in the car is that if you so choose, you can also DRIVE while you pump. It feels a little bit weird at first, but it can also feel like a multitasking superpower if you let it.
Option b: There are a few brands, like the simple wishes "supermom" all-in-one nursing and pumping bra. I wore these ALL the time for my first few months back to work. Positives: Convenience. All you have to do is move the padding aside and slide in your phalange and you are ready to pump. No opening your nursing bra and positioning an extra pumping bra, it's minor but it saves
Negatives: Can be a little bit lumpy, depending on your attire. For me everything was a little bit lumpy when I first returned to work, so one more thing that made it easier was worth it. If your work attire can't be adjusted for this, than this may not be the right option for you.
3. Easily accessible clothing: This was actually one of the harder things for me to figure out. I was always a dress-wearer in my professional attire and that did NOT lend itself well to car pumping, or nursing in general. I would either be undressed from the top down or have my dress pulled all the way up and be quite overexposed on my bottom half. Some solutions: don't be too proud to wear some maternity pants for a little bit and find tops that have buttons or are loose enough to be pulled up. If you are more comfortable in dresses a great option is the "shirt dress" look which can be unbuttoned all the way or at least most of the way down. This is where a bra like the "super mom" can really come in handy, so you aren't struggling to get a hands free bra around you and latched as you sit in your driver's seat. Simply unbutton, attach your pump, buckle up, and off you go. I was so reluctant to buy more clothes for work when I returned post baby, but after a few months of discomfort I finally realized "why am I trying to wear clothes from 2-3 years ago that I don't even like?" It was one of those identity shifting moments as a mother where I accepted that comfort, and really anything to make pumping easier, was more important to me than any of my old clothes. Although they did eventually fit. But do what is best for you and your budget.
4. Nursing cover-up: Yeah, duh, I know. My son has never loved nursing under a blanket, so I don't have extensive experience with nursing covers honestly. But, I have used a nursing scarf while in the car, and often just the over-sized scarf I may have been wearing as part of my outfit (if you're tired of buying maternity, nursing, and mommy specific clothing already) could be unfolded in a way that was plenty to stay covered.
5. Cooler: Get a legit cooler. One that is meant to keep things cool for days, or at least a day. If you want to buy one of the pump brands special "coolers," go for it. They come with ice packs that are molded to fit around your breastmilk storage bottles. I have a medela "cooler" that I place inside of my small Igloo. It works great, and my breast milk always feels cold when I get home to put it in the fridge. I would suggest a stronger cooler for any amount of time over a couple hours. It would be such a waste to put the effort into pumping and then doubt if the milk was usable based on temperature. As a general rule, I always refrigerate or put my milk in a cooler after pumping, but if you intend to use your milk soon, this may be unnecessary. Also, while in your car you won't have access to a sink to rinse your pump parts. If you have a cooler that is well insulated, you can essentially use it as a fridge and throw your phalanges and bottles into it and not have to worry about rinsing between pumps. I do not consider myself a germaphobic person, but I would rather do this, than take my pump parts into a public bathroom, where... well, its a public bathroom.
6. Storage Bottles and caps: Have enough storage bottles on hand for your day. I usually take four storage bottles as well as the two bottles that are attached to my phalanges, so I am really taking six bottles everyday. As mentioned, I do not have an abundance of supply so most days at least one if not two of those come home clean, but I would rather have them on me and be ready for a long day, than lose any of that liquid gold.
7. Water: All nursing mothers need to make sure to stay hydrated, but if you find yourself in the car for a good portion of your day, or even a long road trip. Don't hesitate to bring multiple bottles of water. I will admit, I have often been a terrible water drinker. I like water, but I am awful at refilling it throughout the day and staying hydrated. This is a habit I had to change. Now, I carry a 20 oz Hydroflask on me at all times, and a 28oz Stanley. Having a highly insulated water bottle makes all the difference on those warm days. Whenever I make a stop somewhere with a fountain machine, a drinking fountain, or anywhere that serves water, I always make sure to refill. Even if you are just pumping on your commute, its good practice to make sure your water bottle is your handy companion.
8.Wipes and hand sanitizer: This is a little bit of a more "optional" item. If you pump in your car frequently, or even just once and aren't used to it. You will likely have a few drops spill here and there. Have some baby wipes on hand to wipe off your car and yourself as needed. and Hand sanitizer is also great to have on hand so that you are always handling your pump parts and milk with at least mostly clean hands.
If you intend to pump and drive, it really can be as easy as follows:
1. Attach your phalanges to your nursing bra and pump.
2. Cover up with your nursing scarf/cover/what have you.
3. This is important: TURN ON your pump and make sure it is working properly. Make any necessary adjustments if suction is not correct, tubing is tangled, etc.
4. Buckle up. Put your seat belt across your lap and place the shoulder strap gently between your breasts and the phalanges, over the top of your nursing cover. You may feel tubing tug at this time, so adjust as needed making sure that your pump still feels as though it is attached to you properly and wont cause discomfort.
5. And off you go! Drive safely! One nice thing about pumping and driving is that it can get your mind off of pumping, but make sure that you try to stay relaxed. If you are stressed while driving it may make it difficult for you to let down.
Keep in mind, that for your safety, you are going to need to stop driving to disconnect everything and store your milk in 20-30 minutes from now depending on how long you pump.
Some additional tips for the pumping in the car mom: If you don't feel ready to pump and drive, then don't!! Personally, I find pumping and driving a little bit more stressful than if I have the time to just stop and take a break. My preference is to find a corner of a parking lot facing shrubbery or a more quiet tree-lined street to park and pump.
Also, if you drive a vehicle like a minivan or SUV that has tinted windows in the back, I would highly recommend making the back seat your pumping station and getting comfy! The added privacy of tinted windows plus being a row back from the windshield will hopefully put you at ease. If you don't drive a vehicle as stated above, but know you will be doing an exorbitant amount of pumping out of your car like I do, you may want to consider investing in tinted windows or a privacy screen. Check your state laws for how darkly you can legally tint your windows and again, consider your budget because this won't be cheap. I did make the decision to tint my windows while I was on (unpaid) maternity leave. Yep, even with the medical bills and seemingly never ending expenses related to pregnancy and babyhood, I thought this was a good idea. I had a few brief moments of guilt about it, but overall, it helped me to be successful in my breastfeeding and pumping journey, so I am glad that I did it.
Share any of your questions or thoughts below.