Is it safe to pump breast milk while driving? It depends who you ask. Here's how one mom does it and what you should know if you're thinking about trying it.
There I was, hurtling down the highway at 60 mph in my Honda CRV, topless save for a purple paisley Hooter Hider. I was six months postpartum and late for a friend's bridal shower. My husband was staying home with our baby, but I had two C-cup bambinos of my own, and with hours until I'd next be able to nurse, I needed to take matters into my own hands. Or, shall I say, my own flanges.
Thus, my love affair with Pumping While Driving (PWD) was born. Since that bright summer day in 2012, when countless truck drivers no doubt saw my big rigs, I have pumped en route to work meetings, while squiring our toddler to preschool, on Thanksgiving road trips, in line at the Starbucks drive-through and everywhere in between.
It's an incredible timesaver–instead of sitting on the couch and channel surfing for 30 minutes, I can kill two birds with one pump and arrive at my destination drained and with a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it's so cold in Chicago that my front seat basically acts like a refrigerator as I spend hours writing from a coffee shop or running errands around town.
But full disclaimer: Safety should always come first. I only recommend attempting this if you can truly pump hands-free. If not, save the car pumping for when you are hitching a ride with a friend or co-worker.
When friends learn that I PWD, their reaction is usually that of shock mixed with reverence. Mouths usually fall open slightly. Immediately, they want to know how I do it. And if it's difficult. And if it's legal.
To put them at ease, I called a few police precincts to check. In Chicago, the officer who answered the phone was not amused.
Me: "Hi. I'm wondering if it's legal to pump while driving." Chicago cop: "Pump what?" Me: "Pump breast milk." Chicago cop: "The law reads you cannot do anything that might distract you while driving – cell phones, eating food, anything." Me: "But what if I don't actually..." Chicago cop: "Why are you continuing on when I just gave you my answer?"
Fair enough. But that wasn't the response I was hoping for, so I phoned a police station in Portland, Oregon, because lots of crunchy moms live there.
Me: "Hi. I'm wondering if it's legal to pump while driving." Portland cop: "It would be hard to give a ticket, unless the person was driving recklessly or swerving. Was the person swerving?" Me: "No, actually I'm asking for myself." Portland cop: "I think it's a fabulous idea. I bet you're not the only one who does it. Is it a plug-in?" Me: "Yup." Portland cop: "Just don't get in an accident." Me: "Are you a mom? Portland cop: "Yes I am."
The Portland cop isn't the only official on board with the idea. La Leche League, a non-profit that promotes breastfeeding, likes the idea of PWD, but urges moms to do it carefully. "As long as there are no safety issues, anything that mothers can do to make things more efficient and convenient is great," says spokesperson Diana West. "We support working moms... in long commutes who have to hit the ground running as soon as they arrive at work. A lot of people don't realize how not distracting pumping [in the car] can be."
The key, it seems, is making sure both hands remain on the wheel while driving–anything less is dangerous–and pull over if you need to make any adjustments. You don't want to be this woman, who was issued a warning for distracted PWD. And, of course, you don't want to endanger anybody, yourself and your baby included. Sound doable? Here are some tips for lactating in your Lincoln, letting down in your Lexus, or busting out the bustier in your Buick:
Hook up before you start driving. The following sequence works well for me:
- Make sure your cup holders are empty so you can easily stash your bottles there when finished.
- Fasten seatbelt. (Do this first, otherwise you might disrupt the tubes.)
- Situate your shirt so your hands-free bra is exposed.
- Plug in pump. (I use one that plugs into the car adapter but you could also use a battery pack.)
- Attach breast shields and tubes.
- Turn pump on and begin driving.
Cover yourself. Or don't. In the beginning, I always used a nursing cover. Now, though, like most Second Time Moms, I don't give a flying nipple shield what anyone thinks about my parenting choices, so I just drive with my signals blinking, ifyaknowwhatimsayin'. You could also drape a scarf over your chest.
Pretend you're Vanilla Ice. Drive like a boss. Do not feel self-conscious. Do not look down. Do not glance side to side; just stare straight ahead and rap to yourself, "Rollin' in my 5.0, with my hands-free down so my boobs can blow." (Inspiration here at 1:30.)
Disengage carefully. Once at your destination, make sure you are parked in a safe, secure area. Turn off the ignition and remove your pump parts, taking care not to spill any milk. Cap your milk and place in a refrigerated bag if you live in a warm climate. Go about your day proud of your newfound multitasking ability!