Pumping In The Car While Driving: A How To Guide

It’s no secret breastfeeding is hard work, especially when it involves expressing milk while you’re away from your baby. In fact, one survey by the Sutter Health Palo Alto Medical Foundation explained that half of the nursing moms they spoke to found it difficult to arrange a break to pump.

Combine the survey results with a quarter of moms worrying about their work schedule making breastfeeding impossible, and it’s easy to understand why so many moms stress about expressing milk.

Still, nursing moms (or those who pump exclusively) do what it takes to get the job done, including expressing on the go. So, learn about pumping while driving here, plus tips to help you make it simpler and more effective.

Photo by Bradley Gordon Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why Should You Pump and Drive?

Many nursing moms who return to work or need to spend time without their little ones opt to pump. Plenty of other moms either choose to pump exclusively or have no other option with a sick or unwilling nursling.

Whatever your situation, pumping and driving is a legitimate option for expressing milk on schedule. Here are a few scenarios which justify pumping while driving.

Short on Time?

Maybe you have an excessively long commute and want to multitask. Or perhaps it’s hard to make time to sit still at home and pump, so you decide to take care of business on the way to your destination.

Either way, pumping in the car eliminates the need to take 20 minutes or more out of your work or home schedule.

Plus, pumping in the car can help you maintain your pumping schedule without impacting your other responsibilities.

For example, if you pump on the way to work, you’ll know your first break needs to be two or three hours out, rather than one hour or less, depending on how long your commute lasts.

Supply Issues?

If you struggle to maintain an adequate milk supply, pumping more often can boost production.

While power pumping is a useful strategy anytime, adding extra pumping sessions in the car can spark further demand for milk. The higher the demand, the higher the output.

Also, pumping more frequently can help keep the milk fatty. If you go excess hours between pump sessions, the milk can become watery at the beginning of your pumping session.

Foremilk, which expresses at the beginning of a feed, still has plenty of nutrients, but it lacks the fat of the later hindmilk. If maintaining a high fat content is crucial to you, then pumping more frequently might help.

Endless Commuting?

If you have a long drive to get to work, school, or anywhere else, it almost seems like a waste of time to only drive.

Multitasking allows the pump to work while you focus on the road while still feeling accomplished before your day even begins.

You may also be able to push your next pumping session farther out, especially if you produce extra milk during on-the-go expression.

Pumping in the car could mean the difference between spending more time with family and having to spend further time with your pump.

When Is It Not A Good Idea to Pump and Drive?

Though pumping and driving is a lifesaver for many milk-making moms, there are a few drawbacks to consider. Here are a few scenarios in which it’s not a good idea to pump while driving.

Hands-On Pumping

Many moms respond well to a pump and can keep the milk flowing for a full 20 minutes or more. But other moms need hands-on help to make pumping more effective.

For example, Spectra Baby, which makes hospital-grade pumps for nursing moms, recommends breast compressions while pumping.

When you’re at home and focusing solely on pumping, you can use breast compression techniques to aid milk expression. In the vehicle, you need both hands on the wheel.

If you don’t respond well to a pump without hands-on help, you may want to skip pumping while driving.

Setting Up on Short Trips

On average, moms need anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to empty both breasts fully. You should keep pumping until two to five minutes after the milk stops flowing.

Unless you’re a super producer who can express a few ounces in ten minutes, hooking up to the pump may not be worth the hassle for short trips.

If you know you’ll have time to pump on either end of your trip, opt for leisurely pumping time instead.

An exception is if you can stay in the vehicle once you reach your destination.

Whatever you choose, try to avoid shortening pumping sessions as doing so can lead to reduced milk supply.

Planning Around Baby’s Meal Times

Another reason to skip pumping while driving is if you’re on your way to meet your baby.

If you breastfeed while at home, it’s better to “save” the milk for nursing directly. Especially with younger babies, nursing at a dry or mostly empty breast can cause frustration and even a nursing strike.

Breast pump manufacturer Ameda suggests pumping at least one hour before breastfeeding. With this gap, your body has time to make more milk and be ready for baby’s next meal.

However, you can still offer a relatively dry breast to baby whenever he seems interested. Doing so only increases demand and therefore your milk supply!

Easily Distracted?

You know your driving habits better than anyone else. Therefore, you recognize whether you’re able to remain focused on the road rather than what your pump is doing.

If you are the type of pumper who needs to watch the milk coming out or switch up the speed or suction settings frequently based on output, pumping while driving is likely not for you. Your safety while on the road – and that of everybody else around you at the time – is more important than pumping.

Photo by Catherine D’Ignazio Licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Moms Need for Pumping and Driving

Pumping and driving won’t work for every mom, especially if she doesn’t have the right equipment. Here are the essentials you’ll need for prepping and pumping in your vehicle.

Portable Pump

Portable pumps have come a long way in the last few years.

Moms have plenty of options, from mobile pumps requiring batteries to hospital-grade pumps lasting a full day on one charge.

Although you don’t need a machine with specific “mobile” features, being able to tuck a small pump into a cupholder or pocket may prove more straightforward than taking up seat space with a hospital-grade model pump.

Power Source

Some portable pumps, such as the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump, Spectra S9 Plus, or Spectra S1 Plus, have their own power sources.

Rechargeable batteries, along with power cords and adapters, make these pumps versatile whether you’re at home or on the go.

In contrast, other pumps, especially hospital-grade ones, rely on an outlet for consistent power. Even machines which include optional battery packs may not allow full strength, leaving your pump working at a lower capacity or speed.

For pumps without battery backup or ones requiring an outlet, you can use an inverter for power. Look for an inverter which plugs into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter receptacle.

Inverters have outlets just like your home’s walls, and you can plug in any item with a power cord.

Most inverters include an on-off switch, and many provide multiple outlets. However, you may want to avoid plugging in various devices, since an overload is possible.

Nursing Cover or Shade

While many nursing moms have no qualms about feeding their babies in public, pumping in public can make you feel exposed. The solution is to use a nursing cover, put on a sweater, or strategically place a scarf over your pumping setup.

Opting for a nursing cover, window shade, or combination of the two can also offer you privacy while you set up, pump, and unhook. Some moms even design curtains to cover the driver’s side window once they stop driving.

With a privacy curtain or shade, you can ensure no one will look inside while you’re cleaning up.

Spare Parts

Being a nursing mom is challenging enough on its own, but pumping requires an additional set of tools and parts.

In addition to your pump, you may want to carry an extra set of tubing, spare membranes (the parts of the pump valve which “flap” as the machine works), and any other small and easily lost bits.

Also, keeping a spare set of pumping flanges, valves, and bottles is ideal in case of emergencies or days when you just forget.

You can also use a fresh set of equipment if you’re unable to clean your original set between pumping sessions.

Extra bottles will also help avoid overflow and guarantee you always have storage on hand.

Milk Cooler

While pump companies now offer coolers specifically for storing breast milk, many moms make do with a simple lunch bag type cooler.

As long as your bottles fit, you can choose any size or design you prefer.

And while it’s ideal to wash your pump parts between sessions, you can always store them in the cooler in a pinch. Bring along airtight zipper bags for this purpose.

Cleaning Supplies

Milk spills are inevitable no matter where you pump, but it’s no fun spilling milk in your lap during a commute.

Rather than sit in wet clothes at your destination, pack a spare set.

Better yet, keep a selection of burp rags or towels on hand to place in your lap and keep nearby. This way, you’ll have cleanup supplies at the ready.

Backup Pump

Though it’s impossible to efficiently or safely use a manual breast pump in the car, packing one can help alleviate some stress.

If you forget vital parts to your pump, your inverter fritzes out, or your car breaks down and you’re left powerless, you’ll at least have a backup.

Pumping Bra

A hands-free bra is critical for pumping on the road. After all, you can’t hold the flanges and manage to keep your vehicle in its lane.

But you have options, and it’s not necessary to purchase pumping bras specifically for this purpose.

Many moms have used a handful of hair ties to secure any pumping flange. You can knot the ties together on your bra strap, then slip the opposite end over the neck of the breast shield piece. Try it out a few times for practice, just in case!

Other options include cutting holes in the nipple area of a sports bra or buying a pumping bra from a pump manufacturer or other company.

Keep in mind what type of pump you’ll be using, the size of the flanges, and how they attach. Some flange and valve combinations may not work with all hands-free pumping bras.

Photo by Catherine D’Ignazio Licensed under CC BY 2.0

How to Pump and Drive

When it comes to pumping while driving, practice is the only way to make each trip relatively flawless. However, there are a few steps to make things easier from the start – and here’s what you should know.

Position the Pump

Straighten out the tubing, secure your pump in the seat or a cupholder as necessary, and make sure all buttons are accessible.

The idea is to keep your eyes on the road while managing any button-pushing the way you would a radio station change.

Know where your pump is and familiarize yourself with the buttons and settings. This way, you’ll avoid distracted driving while you try and figure out what strength suction you need or where the power button is.

Check Flange Fit

Positioning your breast and nipple correctly inside the flange (aka breast shield) is crucial, both for milk production and comfort.

Breast shield sizing is confusing, but a proper fit can help achieve the highest milk output. Plus, if your flanges don’t fit properly, you may wind up with painful blisters from pumping.

Check to ensure your nipples are pointed straight toward the back of the breast shield, rather than tipping down or to the side. Run a “test” pump before you head out to make sure the suction won’t prove painful once you get moving.

Ideally, you should also keep a breastfeeding cream or balm on hand to help reduce friction. Many moms choose coconut oil as an easily accessible and baby-friendly option. Other moms use lanolin, a type of lubricant derivative of sheep wool.

According to Dr. Sears, modified lanolin helps heal wounds and retain moisture, too. There are also many natural nursing balms available which will serve the same purpose. Avoid any cream made from ingredients baby shouldn’t ingest, sticking with nursing-friendly formulas only.

Cover Up

Once you have your flanges secure and set, it’s time to cover everything, if you feel the need to.

Drape a towel or burp cloth across your lap, too, to prevent spills.

A towel is also handy for detaching from the pump, especially if you’re prone to leakage.

Track the Time

Unless you’re purposely pumping for a longer time than usual, it’s smart to stick with your typical pump time.

Pumping for too long can damage your breast tissue and cause rashes, blisters, or other discomfort.

Once you reach the time limit, or if you feel no more milk coming out, turn off your pump and stay attached until you stop.

Photo by Catherine D’Ignazio Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Additional Tips

It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it! Here are our top tips for success with pumping while you’re behind the wheel.

Wait to Disconnect

If possible, once you finish pumping, switch off the power and leave the breast shields attached.

You’re less likely to spill milk or have an accident if you leave everything as-is until you stop. Also, if you’re still leaking a few drops, the pump will catch and contain it.

Keep a Cover Handy

Even if your outfit helps cover your pumping setup, or you’re not concerned with people seeing what you’re doing in your vehicle, it’s helpful to have a cover-up.

If you need to enter your work building, for example, before disconnecting from the pump altogether – having a jacket, scarf, or cover will keep you concealed while you get indoors.

Hopefully, concealment is enough to avoid awkward conversations about breast milk expression.

Transfer Milk Elsewhere

It’s possible to disconnect from your pump and store milk in your vehicle. However, it’s easier and more sanitary to do so in a kitchen or other interior space.

Hopefully, if you’re pumping on your way to work, your building will have a lactation room for nursing moms.

If you’re truly fortunate, it will also have a sink and a fridge. A clean environment is crucial for handling breastmilk, and you should always wash your hands before doing so.

You should also properly wash the pump parts after each use.

When in Doubt, Power Down

If you suddenly feel pain or discomfort while driving, switch your pump off until you can safely pull over.

Pinched or bloody nipples are not worth a few extra drops of milk. Worst case scenario, you run a little late wherever you’re going.

Leave Early

You never know when you may need to pull over and adjust your pump, return home for extra parts, or deal with a leak or spill.

Give yourself extra time to get to your destination so you don’t add speeding on top of managing your pump.

Imagine explaining yourself to an officer if you get a ticket for distractedly pumping while driving!

Is It Legal to Pump In The Car While Driving?

The short answer is yes, it’s perfectly legal to pump while you drive. But the more complicated answer is legality depends on whether you can pump safely while maintaining control of your vehicle.

Activities like texting and talking on a handheld device while driving are against the law, but pumping is more of a grey area.

Distracted driving laws vary by state, but most ban the use of mobile phones and other devices that take your eyes off the road.

In some cases, drivers can legally use their devices via hands-free modes such as a headset or voice control. At the same time, no laws restrict our ability to eat or sip a beverage while driving.

So how does pumping stack up?

If you follow the guidelines we’ve provided, including not adjusting the pump or its settings while you drive, logic says you should be well within the limit of the law.

Even pressing a button on your pump is as simple an action as changing the radio station. The key is to keep your eyes on the road and make driving your main priority.

With that being said, do your research on the legality of pumping while driving in the state you live in – or country if you’re outside the USA – to make sure you’re abiding by the law.

Wrapping It Up

With our guide to pumping and driving, you’re all set to tackle milk production while on the road. Even though this isn’t for every mom, but it’s a helpful “hack” which can help maintain your milk supply and your routine.

If you keep your eyes on the road, pumping as you drive can prove efficient, simple, and even enjoyable as you multitask with minimal effort.

You may find you’ve increased your milk supply with the extra pumping sessions, too – a bonus in addition to saving time!

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