Breast-feeding in the fast lane

All you need is wheels, a high-powered machine and a lot of moxie. Multitasking has never been so much fun!

Published June 20, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

If a baby is the fashion accessory of 2001, the breast pump is bound to be the personal electronic device of 2002. Even the best-dressed mommies (perhaps especially the best-dressed mommies) have got to work.

But where, oh where, to pump? Private offices are a thing of the past and few businesses offer even a cubicle where a woman can pump in peace. It is this dilemma that has forced many of us into the only semi-private sphere where a working woman can have some control: the car.

It is not uncommon for nursing working mothers to make a mad lunchtime dash for a car, plug into the cigarette lighter and pump away in the parking lot.

But not me. I pump on the road.

Sure, I could wait to pump until I get home, but that would mean getting so engorged that my breasts might explode all over the windshield, and that is not safe. And yes, I could pull over; but then I'd arrive home 20 to 40 minutes later, and that is time I prefer to spend with my baby, or, truth be known, asleep.

Surprisingly, few tasks are as compatible as commuting and pumping. First, they're equally boring. Each requires one hand and a fraction of one's brain power. But most important, they're both jobs that are impossible to delegate. Your husband or sister can pick up the dry cleaning, but they cannot pump your milk or assume your commute. Lastly, both tasks are improved immensely by a book on tape.

But, I must confess, the real reason I pump on the road is because it is deliciously subversive. When I power pump, as I've taken to calling it, I feel like I'm getting away with something. Responsible mothering offers few rebellious pleasures, and if I have to drive home standing on the accelerator with a funnel-shaped pumping flange hoovering my boob in order to experience this rebel joy, just call me "cc" Rider.

Not every mother will want to try power pumping, but for the intrepid members of the Class of 2002 who are compelled by either circumstance or cussedness to try it, I offer the following tips:

  • Choose your vehicle wisely. Conflicting trends in the automotive industry leave the committed breast pumper with few alternatives for her commuting chariot. On the one hand, we can dismiss the maximum visibility/minimum fuel-consumption cars exemplified by the Volkswagen New Beetle. No one wants to pump in the Popemobile. Our constitutional right to breast-feed does not extend to the ghastly spectacle of breast pumping. Also, there is a law to the effect that you must drive with both hands on the wheel; all that glass is a liability.

    Dare I suggest the supersized gas-guzzling SUV or minivan? Forget the tonnage differential that flattens any vehicle that dares to jump the median strip and threaten the precious offspring. Ignore the fact that some of these behemoths come with factory-installed, fully integrated booster seats.

    We power pumpers buy these things because they ride so high, no one can see if your nursing bra is open.

  • Don't scrimp on pumping equipment. Pumping while speeding demands speed pumping, so you'll want six cylinders under the hood and 12 volts on the passenger seat -- minimum. While hand pumps are strong enough to relieve engorgement, say, on the autostrada between the Bologna airport and your rented villa in Tuscany, they are as appropriate for the daily demands of extended breast-feeding as the Italian tin-can-on-wheels I once drove for long-distance commuting. Sure, you can do it, but it won't be pretty or comfortable.

    Unfortunately, what is missing from the nursing mother's arsenal is a serious commuter pump. The battery-driven breast pumps on the market now are a good start, but you have to be an octopus to use one while driving. You've got the funnels on your breasts, the suction tubes on the funnels, the bottles collecting the milk and a suction power knob so tiny that it can be difficult to control with a tweezer on a stable night table, much less with a free hand in the passing lane on the Friday before a long weekend.

    What power pumping mamas really need is for Chrysler/Jeep to make a car with an integrated breast pump as a factory option. Freeway pumpers don't want flimsy or demure, we need push-button operation, dairy farm efficiency and a three-year/20,000-ounce warrantee. Something bulky, something rubberized -- imagine if that bucket seat really wrapped its arms around you and went right up under your shirt.

  • Buckle up. No, I'm not referring to the universal admonition to employ your safety harness -- mothers are already so safety-conscious we've been known to buckle up on the living room sofa. I'm referring instead to the seat belt on the passenger side, which you'll want to strap around your pump.

    Laugh if you will, but the last thing you need is the whiplash of a 10-pound machine stretching your nipple all the way to the passenger seat floorboards in the event of a sudden stop. Experienced mothers know that if an infant can suck a nipple halfway down his windpipe, one's breast tissue will hold all the way to the floor mat -- we just can't guarantee that it'd ever snap back.

  • Stay left as you pump and drive. Do this to avoid buses and trucks with passengers who can peer down from their perches to see what you're fiddling with. Nothing can dry up a rush-hour pumper quicker than an audience of schoolkids -- or convicts.
  • Go slow. I don't mean stay below the speed limit. I mean, power pumping is a skill, and like all other skills, must be mastered one step at a time. So begin by pumping only one breast at a time.

    Sure, at least one company markets an alarming "Hands Free" nursing bra that's supposed to hold the pumping funnels in place for you. But, unless you're willing to walk around all day at work with three rubber bands pre-loaded into each cup of your brassiere, you're going to need to hold the funnel up to your breast to get the suction started.

    Do not stretch your hand to hold 'em both up at the same time. Once the pump has created good suction, you might be able to let go for a second to take a swig from the ever-present water bottle, but you'll want to save one hand for the steering wheel.

  • Turn off the cellphone. It's not so much that the typical mother cannot finesse the mental and physical challenges in juggling breast pump, water bottle, tape player, lip balm, blouse buttons and phone. It's just that breast pumps whine like a cat with pneumonia, and you don't want your clients wondering why you've got one in the car.

  • Lastly, in breast pumping as in life, timing is everything. You can pump through a nursing blouse while listening to the morning shock jocks. You can pump under a scarf at the midday errand hour (Let's call it like we see it: Commuting mothers don't get a lunch break, they eat their sandwiches on the way back up the elevator). You can even pump on the way home, your blazer insouciantly thrown over the "working" shoulder.

    Or you can do what I do: Pump with a T-shirt up around your neck going 70 mph at 2 o'clock in the morning. Then you know you're really getting away with something.

  • By Lisa Moricoli Latham

    Lisa Moricoli Latham is a freelance writer in Los Angeles whose work has appeared in various publications, from DUCKMAN to the New York Times.

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