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Expressing in public

Baby Feeding Bottle
What it’s all about

Kidspot recently published an article titled “How to express when out and about” but what the piece was about was whether or not a person should express while out, not anything about how to.

If I was going to write a “How to” about expressing in public it would read:

Or whatever it is you need to do to pump milk.

Frankly I think women who pump for their babies are flipping heroes and absolutely every effort should be made by others to accommodate whatever it is they need to be able to pump successfully! If that means some people need to experience a little bit of discomfort so that someone’s baby(s) can be fed – so be it.

Some people might argue that pumping in public isn’t as necessary as breastfeeding, even though pumping is actually protected by law right alongside breastfeeding, it’s not like you have a screaming hungry baby who needs to breastfeed right then and there – but SURELY pumping can wait.

I can think of plenty of scenarios where pumping really can’t wait.

A mum might have a baby/babies in a NICU and she’s living between hospital and home, while pumping on a strict schedule. She might not always have a the time, or space, or care, to pump privately, because there are way more important things going on in her life than someone else’s feelings.

A mum might be pumping full time, because her baby can’t breastfeed and she’s decided to give her baby breast milk. What if said baby isn’t her only baby? How is she supposed to fit pumping around school drop offs, kindy runs, trips to the park and so on – and still maintain her milk supply?

Or a working mum who is continuing to breastfeed (or pump full time) and her work place simply lacks the facilities to accommodate pumping. So she has to pump at her desk, or in the staff room, or if those aren’t an option (not all work places even have these) she may need to pump at a cafe or somewhere else near work on her breaks.

Whatever it is I sincerely doubt anyone is pumping in public for the fun of it or just to upset people and cause a fuss. It probably has a little something to do with the breast milk they are going to feed to their babies.

And just like breastfeeding, I cannot stress this enough – Breasts are not sexual. Breasts are not sexual. Breasts are not sexual. (They CAN be, so can hands, and mouths, and heck – feet – if you’re into that.) But it is not what they are for, they are for feeding babies, and even if there isn’t a baby attached to them at the time, if they’re are being used as food for a baby then they are not about sex in that moment.

Yes – I get that it could be a little uncomfortable, but trust me when I say you will survive accidentally seeing someone pumping. One time when I walked into a parents room there was a mum pumping in the communal space, I’m assuming because there was a table to put her electric pump on and there wasn’t one in the curtained off spaces – because she did apologised to me as I walked in and I very quickly assured her it’s not a problem at all! I felt a little bad that even in a space that is for parents this mum still felt like she had something to say “sorry” about. Nobody needs to apologies for pumping, no matter where they are.

The example of expressing “out and about” given in the Kidspot article wasn’t in public, it was someone’s living room and many of the comments on their Facebook page were outraged that this mother had apparently made her sister, brother in law and other guests uncomfortable in their own home. The horror. The actual story though reads like this:

“Once, I was sitting on my sister’s sofa with my breasts out, when my brother-in-law and two of his friends came in from the pub. There being nowhere else to sit, they arranged themselves gingerly around me and, with their eyes on the ceiling, tried to make polite conversation. I might have been better company if I hadn’t had an electric pump affixed to each breast, creaking and puffing like a pair of rusty bellows. I was determined to beat my personal best of 4oz of milk from each side, even if it meant traumatising these young men.”

What she’s written is a bit tongue in cheek but it seems to me that everyone was cool with it and acted like adults. I think it’s awesome that they sat down next to her and had a chat, even if it was a bit awkward.

For what it’s worth if it was my house it would be fine. I’d probably text my partner a brief heads up so he’d act cool when he walks in rather than getting a shock  but otherwise, it would be totally okay for anyone to pump on my couch. There would be no need for outrage on my behalf about someone expressing on my couch – I’d genuinely be okay with it. Even if I don’t think I could express in front of other people myself.

I’ve only ever had to express once in a public space and that was directly into a sink in the ladies toilet at a wedding venue the first time I was away from my first baby for a length of time. Thankfully nobody walked in but if they had – tough titties! (Well… hard titties… hence desperately needing to let some pressure off because I was in some serious pain by then!)

The other word that was thrown around in the comments on this article was “respect”.

I love it when people talk about breastfeeding and respect. It’s a perfect segue for me to talk about what it really means to be respectful of others when it comes to feeding babies.

It goes a little something like this:

I respect your right to feed your baby however it is you feel is best. Whether that’s formula from birth, breastfeeding on demand, in public or in private, full or part time pumping, covered or uncovered, mixed feeding or with a supplemental nursing system. Whatever it takes to get your baby fed – do that!

Sometimes I just wish that respect could go both ways.

About Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central Australia. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner.

She has a background in early childhood education, but right now is content to be a stay at home mum.

She is passionate about birthing rights, breastfeeding and mental health. She enjoys crafting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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9 comments

  1. What a great article, so well said! I completely agree with you. I remember in one of my old work places I had to breast pump in the staff toilets! While I ate my lunch. NICE!

  2. What a great article, so well said! I completely agree with you. I remember in one of my old work places I had to breast pump in the staff toilets! While I ate my lunch. NICE!

  3. Well said. A woman should be able to feed her baby wherever an whenever she needs to, and this includes pumping milk.

  4. Well said. A woman should be able to feed her baby wherever an whenever she needs to, and this includes pumping milk.

  5. It’s funny how in some areas, as a society, we are moving forwards with acceptance & normalising {insert whatever here}. But on the other hand we are still in the dark ages. We all want to accept breastfeeding mothers, yet when it comes to the act or the nitty gritty – then it’s suddenly frowned upon. It will be a fabulous day indeed when all workplaces, restaurants, shopping centers, cafe’s all have a quiet, visually appeasing room where parents can go to care for their children (without knocking into stacked chairs or moving mop buckets out the way).

  6. I really didn’t enjoy pumping and I was glad that I didn’t have to do it too much at home let alone in public. Serious respect for anyone who does!!

  7. Oh yep, I’ve pumped in all sorts of places. I went back to work when my youngest was only 7 months so was having to pump twice during each work day – sometimes that was just in my office, but sometimes it was in external training rooms, standing up in the loos at a conference, in the back office at a restaurant during a work function, in my boss’ office (while we were having a meeting)… pumping is quite an awkward thing to do anywhere I think- it’s that rhythmic droning noise that gets me, every time! And feeling like a dairy cow…

    I’m loving Kourtney Kardashian’s pumping photo on Instagram at the moment!

  8. Oh yep, I’ve pumped in all sorts of places. I went back to work when my youngest was only 7 months so was having to pump twice during each work day – sometimes that was just in my office, but sometimes it was in external training rooms, standing up in the loos at a conference, in the back office at a restaurant during a work function, in my boss’ office (while we were having a meeting)… pumping is quite an awkward thing to do anywhere I think- it’s that rhythmic droning noise that gets me, every time! And feeling like a dairy cow…

    I’m loving Kourtney Kardashian’s pumping photo on Instagram at the moment!