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Making It Work

Pumping with Limited Privacy

From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 1, January-February 2001, pp. 29-30

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


I'm the only worker at a service business. My job requires me to be available to customers as much as possible or we will lose business. I also need to stay in the store to monitor the people who come in and out. Some times of day are pretty slow and I have thought about pumping during those times. However, I worry that it would be hard to stop pumping quickly and discreetly if a customer came into the store. Has anyone pumped in a situation like this or found techniques to help them pump when they have limited privacy?


I had to chuckle when I read your situation because it reminded me of last year when I was in a similar position!

I own a pottery-painting studio with my sister. We don't have any employees, and we are often alone in the store. We also don't have a back room. In addition to bringing my baby to work with me, sometimes I had to pump at the store. In order to do this, I would put a chair (mine happened to be a rocking chair) and a small table behind a three-paneled screen. If a customer came into the store I would simply say, 'I'll be out in a minute' and finish pumping for the moment. If the sale took more than a few moments, I would put the milk away and wash my pump.

It helps to have a bell or chimes on your door in order to hear when people come in. It also helps to wear nursing shirts in case someone peaks behind the screen. If possible, have a telephone with a headset so you can pump and answer calls. Background music is also nice to drown out the sound of the pump, even if it is a quiet manual one.

I did this for about a year and it worked quite well. In fact, many interesting conversations started when (and if) people realized what I was doing. I had children discussing the benefits of breastfeeding, mothers explaining to their children how they used to nurse, and women asking me for advice.

During the time I nursed and pumped in my store, we definitely had more customers nursing in the store. We have signs all over stating that breastfeeding is welcome here, but nothing made people feel as comfortable as actually seeing someone "making it work." Good luck.

Elizabeth Parise
Concord MA USA


Privacy was never an issue for me while pumping at work; however, there was a possibility that I would need to "drop and run" in an instant. I'm a registered nurse who works on a medical/surgical floor, and if there were an emergency with one of my patients or on the floor when I was the charge nurse, I would need to stop what I was doing immediately.

While I find double pumping to be more efficient for me, (the amount of time I have to pump is limited!), you might find it more convenient to pump one side at a time. That way if a customer comes in you'll simply have to pull up your bra flap and pull down or close your top, which would take only a few seconds. If the noise of a pump is an issue, a good hand pump might be an acceptable alternative. I have found that a pump I could operate with one hand worked well for me for light-duty pumping, although I use a double pump set-up at work. As for clothing, I'd suggest two-piece clothing or dresses with nursing access.

Is there a side room that you could go into to pump from which you could see and/or hear customers as they come in? If there is no such room, it may be possible to put a curtain or divider of some sort in a convenient corner. Perhaps a bell on the counter (or on the door) could alert you when someone needs your attention. As far as storing the milk when you have to stop pumping quickly, perhaps a small cooler with some ice or the little blue freezer packs would keep the milk cool until you could finish packaging it.

Elisa H. Casey
Tallabassee FL USA


Congratulations on the birth of your baby and your decision to breastfeed! Your challenge reminds me of an LLL Area Conference session I attended on working and breastfeeding. One of the speakers showed slides of women pumping in all kinds of situations where they had limited privacy. She showed women using breast pumps in their cars with a special connector that used the car's battery to power the pump. One slide showed a mother pumping in a theater dressing room (the mother was a singer in costume).

One woman was in a situation more similar to yours, though. She had a job that required her to stay at her computer work station all day, except for a few five-minute breaks. Needless to say, she didn't have time to pump! She bought one of those black, opaque capes that hairdressers put over their clients while cutting their hair. She would put the cape on, get out her pump and adjust it underneath. Then she would sit and pump for 10 minutes or more while continuing to monitor her computer. When she was finished, she would unhook the pump, adjust her clothes underneath, take off the cape, and take a five minute break to store the bottles.

Perhaps you could do something like this in an out-of-the way corner where you could still supervise the store and make contact with customers. You'd be covered up and no one would know what you were doing, especially if you kept a book or paper and pen in front of you and let customers know you could be with them "in just a few minutes."

Getting the support of your employer is vital. Let them know that breastfeeding is important enough to you that you want to find a creative solution to this problem. You won't need to pump forever, and a responsible employer will cooperate with you to make things easier for you during this critical time in the life of your baby. Good luck!

Carla Dobrovits
Evergreen Park IL USA

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