Pumping in Non-Traditional Work Environments

Q&A with Amber Bahler

Amber Bahler is a freelance sign language interpreter. This means her schedule is different every day–her gigs could involve anything from a semester-long commitment for one college student to a business meeting to a theater performance. She nursed her son Emerson (3) and is currently nursing her four-month-old baby, Olivia, and pumping on the job.

Amber with her children

Amber Bahler with son Emerson and daughter Olivia

Katy Rank Lev: What’s your work load like right now?

Amber Bahler: This fall, I have a pretty regular schedule since I’m mainly working at colleges. Sometimes, though, I’m interpreting for medical appointments or a legal job where I’m in a courtroom. It can vary pretty widely depending on the day. I’m trying to limit that variety right now.

KRL: It’s hard enough finding time and a place to pump when a mama works in a traditional office setting. How do you pump while working?

AB: There are times when it’s been a challenge as far as finding a time and a place to pump.

This is why I’ve made my car my home base. I know some people are bothered by that.

I feel like, if I’m in my car and somebody sees me, that’s their problem because that’s my space.

Sometimes, I observe that people come in and out of the parking lot pretty regularly, so I drive around the block and park in a residential area to pump during my lunch break. It’s more private.

KRL: Aren’t there places for regular employees to pump? Lactation rooms that you could use?

AB: Well, I’m a sub-contractor. I’m not sure how that works when someone’s not an employee. When I had Emerson I was going to a business downtown and was told there was a lactation room. But I asked about it once and the HR person didn’t know where it was!

KRL: So do you always get enough break time to hop out to your car?

AB: In theory, I get breaks. There’s almost always time scheduled for lunch. Usually a break time, too. But this varies in reality because sometimes hearing people decide to do a working lunch. It’s hard for Deaf people to keep their eyes on their food and interpreter at the same time. It’s different than for someone who just has to listen!

It’s sticky‚Ķsometimes I can say “the interpreters need a break” but the client gets affected. You could hurt your client’s work performance by saying something, you know? If the client signs that they want to keep going through lunch, you suck it up and you say what they signed! So, some days, I don’t get as much time to pump as I’d like and I get nervous.

KRL: What makes you nervous? That you won’t get enough milk?

AB: No, for me it’s the opposite. I have a pretty strong supply. Over supply means engorgement. I have had painful days where I couldn’t find time to pump. I also worry that I’ll get sick–that happens when I am working too much and not taking enough naps or rests.

¬†I get worried that I’ll leak. This is a very visual profession–all eyes are on me, so it would be very obvious.

KRL: Has that happened to you?

AB: It’s never actually happened, but it’s something I worry about. I use nursing pads to be safe. I like the cloth ones. If I don’t get my 30-minute lunch, I pump in little spurts as best I can throughout the day, often in bathrooms. It’s not ideal, but better than trying to feed my daughter formula. So I do it.

KRL: Do you have any advice for other moms who have non-office jobs?

AB: I’ve had to learn to speak up for myself.

KRL: How did you learn that? It can be a tough thing–I sure wasn’t good at it when I was pumping for my older son.

AB: When Emerson was 5 months old, I was invited to a bachelorette party for my boss’s daughter. It was one of those all-day affairs in a limo, where we went to a bunch of wineries. A whole bunch of gals who weren’t married, didn’t have kids. Which was fine, and I had a nice time tasting some wine.

But the whole day in the limo, I kept thinking how awkward it would be to bust out my pump. I should have just done it, but I didn’t. So from 8am until 10pm, I didn’t pump once! I don’t know why I didn’t find a bathroom–we were in some of those wineries for an hour and a half. It was one of those times where I should have spoken up for myself and I didn’t want to and I was totally a mess.

I was so engorged! I was in so much pain.

I just came home and immediately got out the pump because Emerson was in bed (He was such a precocious sleeper there was no way I was going to wake him up).

Now, I feel like I speak up for myself more than I did before. I also no longer let myself get in situations like that. I plan more for these situations than I did before. I am more careful about which work assignments I take now, sometimes turning down interesting gigs or lunch with co-workers. You have to think about what works for your family and then make it happen!

Do you work outside the cube? What pumping tips and tricks do you have for other mamas in non-office environments? Leave us a comment to let us know!

3 comments to Pumping in Non-Traditional Work Environments

  • This is so interesting! Thanks for sharing about non-traditional work environments. As someone who works from home (which, thankfully, makes breastfeeding/pumping easy, ha ha!), I imagine that more and more people work in non-office-type situations. Thank you for sharing your experience and accumulated wisdom!

  • Lovely interview, thanks for sharing! Appreciate it!

  • Alma

    Thank you SO much for this interview. I work as an in-home counselor, so I am always either in my car or visiting a client. I am worried about finding a place to pump during the day, especially since my schedule and location are different each day.

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