Pumping is a huge commitment a true act of love when it comes to moms getting milk to their babies. But it’s also really inconvenient, taking hours of moms’ time and often making them wary of pumping for longer than absolutely necessary.
Of course, despite the tough moments, plenty of mamas keep it up for months or even years. After all, we all know how important mama’s milk is for babies. And tons of moms get really good at multitasking—after all, when something needs to be done, it needs to be done—whether or not mom is connected to her milk-making machine.
And while there are plenty of things we can do while pumping, there are a lot that are difficult or even impossible. Some ingenious mamas have come up with hacks to get around most issues, but even with a hands-free pump that doesn’t require a wall outlet, our hands are still tied a lot of the time.
Whether you’re already pumping and are hoping to commiserate or you’re thinking about breaking out the milk maker for your next or current baby, it’s good to be prepared. And part of the prep includes recognizing what you can and cannot do while pumping—here are 20 that you usually can’t!
20 Cooking A Meal
If you’re one of the lucky mamas whose insurance covers a hands-free pump (or maybe you paid for it on your own), you probably appreciate the mobility it gives you. But even the most innovative pumps still require moms to be upright while pumping.
This means you can’t prep a meal for you or the kids—unless you can do it without leaning over.
Of course, reaching up to the spice cabinet or to get a pot down can also cause milk spillage, which really isn’t worth the risk. You might be able to manage a sandwich or a snack, but don’t think you’ll be cooking gourmet meals while multitasking at pumping.
19 Talking On The Phone
The first time you pump, the sound the machine may not seem so bad. The gentle “whooshing” is often soothing to babies, and moms probably don’t mind it much. But the longer you pump, the more that repetitive noise becomes an annoyance rather than a comfort—especially if you’re trying to have a phone conversation.
If you’re in a small room with questionable acoustics? It might sound like you’re flying a jet plane if you try to make an important call while hooked up to your pump.
And, if you don’t have a hands-free pump, you’ll be holding your phone one-handed—but don’t use your shoulder to hold it up, or you’ll be wearing all that hard-won milk!
18 Drifting Off To Sleep
Ugh, if only there was a way to sleep and still pump enough milk for our babies. But so far, this is one of the absolute no-no’s when it comes to pumping milk. You simply have to sit upright to keep the milk flowing and not backing up into your tubing or pump parts, or leaking all over your shirt, clothes, and bed or chair.
This is one way that pumping is way harder than straight up nursing—because you can feed a baby lying down, but you can’t pump lying down. Although, some moms report “hanging” their pump’s flanges over the side of the bed, turning them sideways as they attach them, but this sounds potentially painful and nearly impossible to me.
17 Feeding The Baby
Every veteran pumping mama knows the struggle: the moment you’re hooked up to your pump and shooting out the first streams of milk, your baby suddenly wakes up and decides he’s starving. And whether you have a stockpile of milk or not, the choice comes down to letting your kiddo cry while you make a fresh bottle, or ceasing the milk flow so you can go grab him and heat up a bottle.
The alternative, however, is prepping the milk and the baby beforehand—but of course, the joke’s on you if your baby doesn’t wake or decide he’s hungry while you’re pumping. Then you’re risking milk going bad, something a pumping mama never wants to do!
16 Picking Anyone Up
Many pumping moms report helplessly watching their toddlers or older kids from across the room while said child makes a mess, gets into things, or harasses their siblings or pets. And if you have a plug-in pump that requires a wall outlet, you are truly stuck while pumping. And that means no grabbing your kiddo to pick them up, and no retrieving the baby from her crib, either.
Even if you have a portable pump, good luck leaning over the crib in the first place, let alone preserving the milk or maintaining enough suction to even make it worth it while grabbing your tot.
15 Holding The Baby
Even after I mastered the hair tie trick for making my standard pump hands-free, it was still so hard to hold or tend to my baby while I was pumping. Not only do the pump flanges stick out really far, but they also include the tubing, which you have to be careful of lest you pop them out of their connectors.
So you’re practically frozen in place, can’t lean over, and maybe even have to use one arm to support the pump parts while you try to grab the baby.
And forget about skin-to-skin or holding your baby on your chest—there’s simply no room between the two bulky plastic pieces for her to snuggle. Even the new in-bra pumps are unreasonably bulky!
14 Exercise At All
I love the videos and promo shots of moms wearing portable pumps while out walking, pushing their babies’ strollers. In reality, what mom is really going to hook up her pump, head out in public, and get sweaty and gross while making her baby’s meal?
Not only would I not want to pump while walking around because of the noise the pump makes (wouldn’t people be looking for the source of the sound and wondering what the heck it is?), but I also wouldn’t want sweat running into the flange and into my milk supply. That said, maybe some moms just don’t have milk-maker sweat—or maybe their babies don’t mind the extra sodium.
13 Tie Your Shoes
The idea behind portable battery-powered and hands-free pumps are that they help pumping moms become more mobile. They can also help us be more independent, since we can get a few things done while pumping. But one thing we can’t do? Tying our own shoes—or even putting them on.
Unless you have slip-on shoes or flip-flops at the ready, you’re not going to be able to lean or even hunch over to get your shoes on while pumping.
Ideally, you wouldn’t be trying to accomplish this while pumping anyway, but if it’s necessary, you’re going to have to stop the pump and maybe even unhook from it to avoid spilling milk or hurting yourself.
12 Be Hands-Free
While a hands-free pump sounds lovely, let’s be honest: most moms don’t sit passively while pumping milk. In fact, most sources suggest doing breast compressions or massage to get the milk out more effectively.
Doing so helps prevent clogged ducts, helps maximize milk supply, and ensures you’re getting everything out to avoid the potential for infection. Therefore, no pumping mama can just sit and relax with her hands free if she wants the most benefits from pumping—and don’t we all? That said, hands-free is still the way to go if you need to do compressions—that way the pump is working while you are, too.
11 Eat Messy Food
I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve dropped food or sauce on my pump and had to scrub it off later. I’ve also lost track of the amount of times I’ve dropped food in my lap while trying to multitask while pumping. Suffice it to say, eating potentially messy food is a definite no-no when pumping.
Even things like salads or other fork-able foods are too dangerous if you’re hoping to stay clean while pumping—whatever falls off will no doubt end up on your clothes or even on your pump. And, if it’s something hot or particularly messy, you might jump and end up spilling milk, too.
10 Feeding On Demand
While breastfeeding can seem like a dream—the milk is always ready, the right temperature, and baby usually tells you when she needs it—pumping often feels like the opposite. Most pumping moms have to maintain a regular schedule to ensure a decent milk supply, and that often means round-the-clock milk expression.
Even if your baby isn’t hungry in the middle of the night, you might be getting up to pump. And while your baby may have just eaten, when it comes time to pump, you’d better be there or you risk mastitis, supply issues, and other un-fun side effects.
9 Just Carry A Small Purse
No mom really gets to carry a small purse, am I right? But pumping moms need a ton more baggage to get the job done. First there’s the regular purse for her phone, wallet, gum, hair ties, tissues, and whatever other necessities she needs for daily life.
Then there’s a pump bag with the device itself, plus a bag of spare parts and equipment, a milk storage cooler for transporting the goods, and probably quite a few snacks because nursing moms are always insanely hungry. So you can forget about just grabbing a clutch for a night out on the town or even a lunch date—there’s a ton of baggage coming along for the outing, too.
8 Stopping Too Soon
Whatever the reason, pumping moms sometimes have to pause or stop a pumping session. And while it does happen that moms need to tend to emergencies while pumping at times, it’s not usually a good idea to just stop in the middle of a pump session.
So even if you’ve been pumping for 25 minutes already, if you’re still seeing streams of milk, you probably shouldn’t stop yet. Stopping before you feel empty—and appear empty, thanks to barely dripping or no milk whatsoever—can cause your supply to drop drastically. Leaving milk in there can also harbor infection and clogged ducts.
7 Wear Normal Undergarments
While nursing moms may need bras that are easy access, pumping moms must also consider how easy it is to access both sides at once, strap on their pump parts, or even accommodate an in-bra type of pump. If you try the hair tie hack, you’ll need a nursing bra where you can secure the hair ties to part of the bra that doesn’t fold down.
If you have an in-bra pump, you might need a bigger size to fit it in there. And if you don’t have a hands-free bra, you might go the route of cutting holes in a sports bra—but then you need a double layer to avoid everyone seeing your goods through your shirt post-pump.
6 Leave The House Without Fanfare
Along with all the baggage pumping moms need to bring along, they also have to do a lot of planning before heading out of the house. Therefore, as a pumping mom, you just can’t leave the house without a lot of fanfare. First, you have to figure out how long your trip will take—and decide whether you need to pump before leaving, even if it’s early, so that you don’t miss or delay a pump session.
Then you have to figure out when you’ll reach your destination and where you’ll pump when you get there. Also, there are considerations like whether you need a power supply or adapter for the car, whether you need an extra battery, and a ton more logistical problems.
5 Talk To People – Like, At All
I can’t tell you how many times I had to hide in a separate room while at a function—or even in my own home—because the fact that I needed to pump made other people squeamish. And unfortunately, it’s something that happens for a lot of lactating moms—both pumping and nursing ones!
While our closest besties won’t care at all—heck, they’ll be bringing us snacks and cooing to our babies about how big mama’s milk makers are—but everyone else will avert their eyes or stare awkwardly. And it does feel unnatural, of course, to use a machine to make milk, but seriously—people shouldn’t be making us feel weird about it. We’re doing good by our babies—it’s just we’re doing it in the other room, in “private.”
4 Be Part Of The Festivities
Another problem that comes with pumping in polite company is that you’re ducking out every so often to express milk. And while a bit of planning can keep you at the party for a decent span of time, some moms need to pump more frequently than every three or four hours; some moms need to pump every two, or even more often if they’re trying to increase their supply or just have a low capacity for milk.
This inconvenient timing can cause moms to miss out on a lot, whether it’s family time at home, chatting with friends at a party, going out with colleagues, or even taking frequent breaks while at work.
3 Sipping On Caffeine
Plenty of moms take the advice that it’s bad to drink caffeine while pregnant or nursing, but there’s so much conflicting information out there! And if you’re a pumping mama who’s up every two hours no matter whether it’s night or day, you probably need your coffee more than the rest of us! The thing is, even if caffeine doesn’t affect your baby’s sleep patterns or behavior, it can cause a dip in your milk supply.
Many sources note that caffeine can reduce your milk supply, effectively drying you up. Of course, it’s hard to know whether it will affect you, and it may not, but many pumping moms swear off coffee until they produce their last drops of milk.
2 Try To Drive
Driving while pumping is not usually a good idea—and while it’s not impossible, I don’t really recommend it! These days, it’s easy enough to find a battery-powered pump or one that plugs into your vehicle’s power outlet. You can also find hands-free bras, or even pumps that fit into your bra and don’t need complicated systems to keep attached.
When you’re driving, you could either be distracted by the road—letting milk overflow, spill, or getting your sensitive bits pinched in the pump—or be distracted by the pump—weaving around or slowing your reaction time. So while you can do it, you probably shouldn’t!
1 Multi-Task At Work
For the mamas who have private offices and can keep working while they pump, I envy you! For both my babies, I sometimes had to pump in an employee bathroom, while other times I was given a designated corner of a room that people always needed to use while I was in there. And there was a camera covering half of it, so I had to huddle in a corner for privacy.
From my point of view, it’s nearly impossible to multitask at work—which can make it hard to get in your eight hours, especially if your company allows multiple pumping breaks per your milk-making needs.