Breastfeeding and Pumping in the Theatre: Our Stories | PAAL

It’s the final day of #worldbreastfeedingweek, and when I put out the call for theatre stories, experiences came pouring in. What’s important to highlight is the mix of readiness different spaces have for the possibility of a breastfeeding/pumping artist. Boobs happen in theatre all the time on-stage (oh, how human! how raw!), but what happens in the space when real people want to use their own breasts in real life to keep real children alive? (Too human! Too raw!) Some places respond beautifully, many parents respond creatively. Has your theatre considered what space would be available for a parent artist with lactation needs? Do you let your employees and contracted artists know that by law they are not required to pump or feed on designated breaks? Our Best Practices Handbook collection will be featuring the protocols and recommendations for these scenarios, but for now – enjoy the rough, the creative, and the awesome endurance of parent artists who feed, pump, and create all at once!
(This post is about inclusive celebration. No matter how you feed, we celebrate you.)

THE STORIES OF BREASTFEEDING/PUMPING IN THE THEATRE

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“I’m a props person at a university in Chicago and I use the make up room as my pumping room. It’s got a sink, nice lighting and I brought a microwave and my production manager leant me a fridge. And also, sometimes hats!” – Kathy

 

 

 

 

LIQUID GOLD & SWEET SUPPORT
“I was teching at an outdoor theatre when my baby was 8 weeks old. I had her during the daytime hours, but when it got dark and cold, my husband would take her home and leave me the pump to use for the remainder of the night. One night I realized that he forgot to leave me the pump! Soon my breasts were so engorged and hard as rocks, I had no choice but to hand express all that liquid gold down the sink! Every two hours! Tech was especially long and full of tears that night. And because I really didn’t get nearly enough milk out by hand expressing, my entire front was soaked by the time I finished my drive home. Wet weapy mama that night! Sure! Include, include! No need to be anonymous. Another detail of the story is that the only comfortable semi-private space to pump was the ladies’ dressing room (I’m a scenic designer) The female cast members were so gracious to let me pump there several times a night. Let’s just say we really got to know each other – they were fantastic women!” – Mellie

THE FIRST TIME AROUND
The first time around I didn’t check the university policy on pumping and neither did my (male, workoholic) boss so he made me use my breaks and make up any extra time in violation of policy. I discovered it three years later and calculated that he wage thefted $5000 from me, and since it was just him and not the department (his boss was out on her maternity leave when I returned to work) I can’t do anything about it. You better believe I took my full breaks the second time around and did not feel bad at all. – Kathy

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This is me pumping during an event rehearsal in a Radio City dressing room that I’m hoping isn’t being used while eating lunch and trying not to get milk on my work dress that was completely not boob-accessible. I stored my milk in the fridge in this dressing room hoping that whoever was using it during the show didn’t throw it out. But at least I wasn’t in a bathroom! I’ve also pumped in the bathrooms of the American Museum of Natural History’s Whale Room, the basement of the State Theater where the concert master kept trying to steal the room to practice, and in countless other theater and venue bathrooms. When working quick gigs, it’s super rare to be afforded a specific space. Mostly, I just looked for a door that locked.” – Jenna

MOVE WITH THE TEXT
“My first theatre thing after birth was a reading; my son was 3 months old, and I wore him and nursed him through the rehearsal, walking around the table while everyone else sat.” – Marni

HORRIFIED
“I was doing a reading with another pumping mama, and we were given a room to pump, but apparently other people were using the room too b/c different men walked in on us EVERY DAMN DAY, even when we locked the door. No apologies, no averting eyes, and one guy even asked when we’d be done because he “actually ha[d] to work.” When the theater found out, they were horrified and the next time I worked at the theater, I was given 2 amazing pumping rooms, one near the rehearsal space and one near the stage, complete with fridge and gorgeous pics of the different babies who benefitted from their theater mamas’ milk.” – Stephanie

WHAT’S THAT SOUND
“In my top 5 is telling the secret services they were welcome to come watch if the noise kept disturbing them.” – Sam

THE GLAMOUR OF MOTHERHOOD
“Hand-pumping in the bathroom of Radio City Music Hall right before Tony’s. Whipped my boob out in a full on formal gown. I had even acquired a gold shiny giftbag I passed off as Tony swag. It really only contained my Lanisoh Hand Pump. When it came time to do the deed, I had already had two glasses of champagne and most of a Manhattan, so dumped it in the toilet and died a little on the inside.” – Jackie

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“Nursing in the costume shop this summer. I opened three shows in two different theatres. Everyone was incredibly supportive and on opening night I got a special thank you from the artistic director saying with a great role model I was for the younger company members. You CAN be a professional theatre artist AND a mom! I was incredibly lucky! The first theatre is local but the second actually got a private cottage for my family including our dog and provided childcare for our four year old! It was the perfect situation for my family!”

SLINGS AND ARROWS
“I directed when my (now 13 year old) was 6 weeks. Over the rehearsal process I figured out how to nurse with her in the Bjorn and slings.” – Kirsten

NAMASTE OUT OF MY PUMP ROOM
“I am a stagehand, and I was covering at a Broadway show, and I went to stage & company management and asked where I could pump. We ended up in the balcony in the anteroom of a ladies bathroom, the door didn’t lock, I agreed to it once because it was close to preset and and I NEEDED to pump. I sat behind the door, and five minutes in a cleaning lady started pounding on the door telling me to come out, I finally packed up and came out and she backed me into a corner about what I was doing in there. Went back to SM/CM – said between shows I need a new place. Ok. It was a show with kids in it and they cleared with the teacher, that between shows I could use their little ‘classroom’ (basically a closet), the first person in there questioned me to death about what I was going to do and refuses to get out. The second time I went in there the choreographer was in there doing yoga. SM/CM explains what’s going on and why I need the space. Woman looks at me and asks if she can stay in the room and nap. I- confused- again explain what I’m doing. And she tells me she understands, but her eyes will be closed, etc etc etc. At this point I am so frustrated, and OVER IT, I agreed and let her stay while I pumped.” – Dani

REWARDING COLLABORATION
I expressed more milk if I did so while in a meeting. Like four times what I would in privacy. I proudly kept that milk in the green room fridge.” – Amanda

BREAKING POINT
“I had to pump on my breaks because I didn’t know any better, and because my theatre doesn’t have an official policy about it. I got so sick of missing every break, every time there were treats in the shop, etc, and honestly that’s part of why I decided to wean him – if I’d been allowed to take my break and then go pump, I could have gone a lot longer.” – Sarah

LEAK IN THE LIGHTS
“I did some fine leaking during a show when I couldn’t get off stage in time to pump.” – Blair

NO RETREAT
“At a faculty “retreat” my friend and I asked for a location to pump together. We were first given the green room of the larger theater in the building then during our first pumping session a plumber came barging in because the adjoining toilet needed repair. We were then relocated to the back of the house of the large theater. All was fine, we are both theater professionals so we are used to the sights and sounds of an empty large theater auditorium. Then in the midst of pumping crew begins walking out on the stage and preparing for their evening show. Needless to say that venue had never dealt with breastfeeding mothers before. Management got an earful.” – Bailey

COMPANY VAN
“I was the costume department shopper while my son was being breast fed and so twice a week I was out and about shopping when pumping time would arrive. I parked in back of stores and pumped in the company van a lot.” – Heather

HI RYAN
“Pumped in a production meeting around a table that was behind Ryan Seacrest while he filmed a drop in on the models’ dressing room. It was a tight shot so I didn’t show up.” – Erin

GOING PUBLIC
“I wish I could contribute as a mom, but I was out of theater by the time I had kids. I can say that while working front of house during a summer family season, our department head (who was a mom herself) made absolute sure we knew the laws and company policy when it came to breastfeeding women attending performances. Any office was made available for nursing or pumping, as was any part of the lobby. There was one mom who openly nursed a (approx) 14 mo while walking through the lobby following her older kids making sure they got autographs from the actors post show. There were complaints from other patrons, but she was well within her rights and we kindly told the complainers so…And I carried that with me to a university’s theater school for their young audience productions. It all made a huge impact on me well before I became a mom.” – Shannon

BACK OF HOUSE BADASS
“When my oldest was 6/7 months I brought him to rehearsal at a small theatre above a pub in London. He would eat when he needed to eat – often during breaks, but sometimes during notes. On the days he wasn’t there I would use the dressing room to pump, but there was at least one tech rehearsal where I decided it wasn’t worth taking a longer break so I just pumped in the back of the house (I had a small hand pump, so it didn’t make any noise). If anyone noticed, they weren’t fazed by it! There had been a baby in the room since auditions. I felt like kind of a badass.” – Lydia

GENUINE GOODNESS
“Requested my stage manager give me a good 20 minute break in tech. every 3 hours (to pump). I was pretty obvious about why – years later they would still schedule me the break, even though I no longer needed it. They were being so respectful of my request, when I asked they honestly hadn’t known why – just knew I was real earnest when I asked and wanted to help me out.” – Kelly

LADIES WHO LUNCH
“Sneaking into the Plaza Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria to breast feed while designing and shopping for costumes while baby was in a Bjorn. Classy hotels won’t kick you out for lingering in the powder room – upper east side ladies who lunch were horrified.” – Valerie

HUFFINGTON PUMP
“Expressing milk while at the Aspen Ideas Festival into toilets while on breaks from sessions. I was without my daughter, and was using Fenugreek to keep up supply, and had a ton of milk. I would stand over the toilet facing it, with the electric hand held pump going, and the sound milk in the basin sloshing, then walk out. To my surprise/chagrin several times I came out to find some famous people sharing the rest room with me, washing their hands. Arianna Huffington, Alma Powell (Colin Powell’s wife)…I vaguely remember having a conversation with “Arianna” about babies, I was so blitzed on hormones for those 6 years I was pregnant or breastfeeding nonstop, I am not 100% sure…” – Kirsten

PAVING THE WAY | HASHTAG HERO
“I had to learn to ask for breaks when I needed them… but the fact that there was only one restroom in the whole rehearsal space meant pumping in private = co-opting everyone’s toilet access. So I invested in some Freemies (NURSING/PUMPING WORKING MAMAS, THEY ARE A LIFESAVER) and learned to just get cool with sticking ’em on under my shirt, plugging myself in, and pumping in the main rehearsal room. When we moved into the theater building for tech week, I’d use the public restroom for pumping breaks, and the dramaturg would follow me in and give me all her notes while I pumped. Less than a year later, she had her own baby and thanked me for helping pave the way for future theatre-women-with-babies, since the company hadn’t dealt with that before…One of my all time theater/BF favorite stories was actually from when I was tapped to step in and perform as Willow in a Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical. Pre-show, I was in the tiny shared dressing room, plugging in my pump. One of the actors asked what I was doing, and I told him. He broke into a huge grin and said: “Holy shit. You’re making food for your baby while the rest of us are just, like, doing vocal warmups. Hashtag HERO.” All in all, the theater community was way, way, WAY more encouraging and supportive of the breastfeeding thing than the general population was… which is awesome, and awful.” – Beth

THE WORRY IS REAL
“I was in tech for Jersey Boys in Toronto for a week when my first kiddo was 9 weeks old. She stayed home in Florida with dad. As an ALD I was used to spending good chunks of my 10 min breaks on little work tasks but this time each one was spent sitting on the floor of the women’s restroom off the lobby. There was one plug near the floor by the bank of sinks if I remember correctly. People would walk in on me periodically but not that often because it’s a ladies room during tech. I didn’t care and those who did walk in got used to it I think. That was a lot of milk down the drain that week and I was constantly concerned about my dip in productivity and frequent disappearances. No one ever commented negatively. I just do that to myself.” – Sarah

IMMERSIVE THEATRE MILK
“I fell asleep breast pumping in my office at work; because I have twins, it was the double pump. Apparently a facilities worker knocked on the door a few times before he opened the door, much to my surprised, suddenly-awakened self. I’m sure he thought it was the weirdest rehearsal ever seen.” – Carmelita

BONDING PUMP
“I was working at a boarding school designing lights. I was able to pump in a locked office of a male co-worker. I always wore a nursing cover and told my male co-workers that I was always covered. One day the office guy completely forgot and immediately covered his eyes so embarrassed, even though I reassured him that I was completely covered. He did what he came in to do saying that it reminded him of his wife who pumped as well. Another interruption came from the female student stage manager who have to get into the locked prop storage in the office. I reminded her of her mom and it was kind of a bonding moment for us.” – Liz

LACTATION CLEARANCE
“I will never forget going on the grad school recruiting tour while nursing. I was going to be away from my little one for 4 days, but was trying to maintain the pumping schedule. I was flying to NY and had to pump in a bathroom stall. My colleague came in after me and was so perplexed by the sound. Also, it was really fun explaining to the TSA people that my medela breast pump was not a bomb.” – Lauren

MYSTERY DRESSER
“On different locations for a film shoot and I always had a room with a door because costuming, but the walls weren’t always thick and I would sit and pump and hope no one was walking by hearing the rhythmic sounds…. No one ever said anything… Still I wonder…” – Sarah

POWER OF SHAKESPEARE
“My first time back on stage was as an understudy in King Lear. Baby was 8 weeks old. I had a pump in my dressing room, and plenty of opportunity to pump. BUT! I was off stage listening to the storm sequence, getting ready for an entrance. My emotions were high and so were my hormones. The actor on stage was giving a powerful performance. There was a crack of thunder and my breasts just started gushing. I ran to the nearest bathroom and just hung my chest over the sink. Insane.” – Christine

MANY MEANS OF EXPRESSION
“The Drama Dept I work in is spread out over 6 main buildings in 2.5 block radius. We have 3 theater buildings. The one official lactation room is located 1.5-2 blocks away from any of the theater buildings. I hated having to go all the way over there just to pump. So I would pump just before work, pump at end of lunch, do a longer mid afternoon break, and run straight home at end of day to feed baby. I pumped in dimmer rooms, dressing rooms, back storage rooms, hand expressed into a ziplock milk bag at intermission to relive pressure, and dealt with pumping at two conferences away from home. I went back to work when baby was 5 months old and kept up pumping during work until she was a year old. She continued to breastfeed mornings and bedtime until 4 yrs old, and still loves to cuddle with the boobs on wake up and bedtime. I’m currently the only mom on the hands-on production staff, and several of the female design students have mentioned how inspiring it is to see me live my theater life with kids at age 35+, since they have delayed their having a family for school and are feeling their clocks ticking. I feel very lucky to have a supportive male boss who understands the need to care for kids first.” – Linda

REHEARSAL BABY
“I started rehearsals for Tempest when my son was 3 months old. I was very clear with my director before we started that baby would be at the theatre with me and that I was nursing. I had a nanny, but as newborns are want to do, he would want to nurse on his schedule, not mine. I was awed at the amazing support of the director and cast (college students) as I would break to feed him, babywear so I could calm him/nurse without stopping rehearsals, and at adopting him as the show baby. It was a pretty awesome experience.” – Rebecca

FEEDING THE SHARK
“Totally gave up trying to pump in a small music room which took me away from my desk for over 20 minutes a few times a day and instead bought freemie cups, a big scarf, hung a cute picture of my baby dressed in a shark costume (from Halloween) outside my cubicle with a sign that said “feeding the shark: feel free to chat with me now or come back soon”…the spectra pump was so quiet, most people didn’t even realize I was doing anything and then all of a sudden would say, “do you hear that dull, humming sound?” – Rachel

TWENTY-SOMETHINGS
“When my daughter was eight months old, I was doing an immersive house party musical in Bushwick. We’d built the footprint of a suburban home inside a raw space that had been infested with cats and garbage until we took it over. There was one “office” where I pumped. It smelled of cat piss but it had air conditioning and an outlet. I counted myself lucky until it became the sound booth. I was pumping one day when the sound engineer, who was perhaps my least favorite person on the project came barging in and saw me in the most vulnerable compromised position. I was already making do pretty hard and I felt completely demoralized. That was when I started hunting in the suburban home. I took over the closet of the teenage girl’s bedroom. There was electricity in there and I could pump while talking to the actors who had made that their space. I was trying to pump in between rehearsal moments when I was needed (and also I was pumping ON THE SET so I had to stay out of the way of the actors) – trying to grab 10 minutes here or there – and often it was exactly they turned off the lighting grid, which is where I was getting my power source (by unplugging a practical lamp). So then I couldn’t pump again. The show had a club vibe, and there were a lot of times when the lights pulsed and my pump would pulse on and off while the lights and music throbbed. The irony of all of these ironies is that the show is about nostalgia, about twenty-somethings, about a time when you don’t have to think about pumping, and I was going home every night having an anxiety attack about not being able to do my job and provide milk to my daughter. Finally, that month ended up being the only time in my daughter’s life where she had formula. Something had to give. On the upside, I breastfed her til after she was 2 and nothing bad happened. It just made an already stressful situation (the most complicated project of my work life) feel even more stressful.” – Kait

THE ART OF MOM HAND
“Sitting in the theatre breastfeeding a 9 month old in the crook of one arm while typing up light cues for the show I was directing with my free hand!” – @wifeofbean IG

WHEN BABY CALLS
“Working as a costume designer for soap opera /Whenever we had any of the babies all set and they would cry – my nipples with spring a leak – even if I heard them on a monitor. Horrifying all the men in the costume department. They used to have to send me out of the building when the babies would be called – always a silly coffee run or errand.” – Valerie

ALL IN THE TIMING
“The first job I took after my son was born was a reading when he was about 10 weeks old. I informed my stage manager about my pumping needs and, because it was a reading, they tried to schedule me around the breaks I needed to keep his feeding schedule on time with my pumping schedule. BUT the day of the reading, everyone forgot about it. We rehearsed right up until the half hour call. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. I was starving, I needed to pee and my breasts were engorged. I had arranged for my husband to bring the baby to me because I knew time would be limited and I might not even have enough time to pump fully on this short break. I quickly went to the bathroom and then found a seat amongst the audience waiting to go in. I put on my cover, my son latched and I suddenly felt light headed. My husband had half a protein pack from Starbucks and he squeezed the packet of peanut butter into my mouth while my son nursed. I ate one apple slice and then performed for 2 hours straight. After the reading, I pumped on the floor of the bathroom and the whole theater had cleared out and the house manager walked in on me – THANKFULLY because he was locking up and I would have been stuck there. I learned a lot from that actually.” – Farah

MAKING SPACE
“My son was a preemie and in the NICU until his due date. During that time I did a reading at NOLA studios and went in to an empty studio on breaks to pump, but there were no chairs in it, so I sat on the floor plugged into the outlet. Then 3 weeks after he came home (at 3 weeks old in his “real age,”), The York Theatre asked me to do a MUFTI concert, and I was so stressed about being away from him, so they offered to rent the studio next door to the rehearsal room at Pearl for my teeny baby and his babysitter so I could see him every hour and breastfeed!! I have never forgotten their incredible generosity in doing that for me.” – Rachel

TEACH THEM YOUNG
“The Artistic Director/Director offered his office as a pump room for me and a fellow cast member anytime we needed during rehearsals!! Also, sharing a dressing room with a 16 year old, she learned about pumping and breastfeeding FAST and even held a pouch of expressed milk for me when my hands were full. Teach the youth young!!! Then during tech a janitor walked into my dressing room without knocking and I was mid-pumping. I was shocked, he realized he walked in on me and I told him to proceed! I mean, he was already half way thru the room.” – Joanne

LIMA MILK ALONE
“I was choreographing a show for NYMTF and still breastfeeding feeding. I had to have the babysitter bring my son to me every 2.5 hours so I could feed him. Luckily we were rehearsing close to my apt but it was tough. The other story is that I performed in the Victoria Secrets fashion show 4 months after my son was born and it was right after hurricane sandy. So the super model Adrianna Lima and I would pump and store our breast milk in the production trailer. Of course her pumping surroundings were much better than mine, I was in a corner of the basement in the armory and I’m sure she had her own dressing room. But we did laugh about it as we labeled our breast milk in the tiny trailer fridge.” – Aliane


Floored by the resilience, humor, and creativity of these feeding/pumping professionals. Keep supporting one another! Keep celebrating! Your voices are why we continue to advocate for you and find that national standard that will make spaces accessible – even before you arrive.

HAPPY #WORLDBREASTFEEDINGWEEK!

from your fellow parent performing artists at PAAL.

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