Every desperate pumping mom finds herself in this situation at one point or another. You need to pump and baby just refuses to be put down. At that point, you inevitably ask yourself, “How can I pump while holding baby?”
Good news! It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.
I’ll walk you through various options for how to pump while holding baby (and hopefully hang onto a smidge of your sanity in the process).
*This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission on purchases made through these links, at no additional cost to you. Please see my privacy and disclosure page for further information.*
To pump and hold baby, you need to do two main things.
First, make sure your flanges are securely attached and stable (level), so you don’t spill the milk. Second, make sure your baby is securely held and stable, so you don’t spill the baby.
(Okay fine, it should probably be the other way around. But if you’ve ever pumped and spilled that hard-earned liquid gold, you know it’s devastating. So humor me here just a bit.)
So how do you do it?
Obviously if you can avoid holding baby while you’re pumping, that’s easiest. I have an entire post that walks you through ways to keep baby happy while pumping besides holding them, so definitely check that out too.
But let’s assume that ship has sailed.
Baby is fussy and he (or she—but in our house, it’s four sons) keeps crying. You need to pump, but you also can’t stand to hear your baby cry for the next ten to twenty minutes while you pump.
Can you trick your baby?
Sometimes babies just want to be close to you. Patting them gently or putting your arm around them can sometimes be enough to soothe baby.
But if that’s not enough…
Can you prop them up on a boppy pillow (or something similar) so they feel like they’re being held?
A lot of babies hate being flat on their backs (or on their stomachs). They prefer to be elevated (and this is especially true for fussy babies with reflux).
Propping baby in a more upright position and putting your arm around him can make baby feel like he’s being held, without you having to support baby’s weight.
**Just a reminder that it’s unsafe to leave baby propped up and unattended. Your baby could suffocate! But if you’re right there pumping next to them, of course it’s fine.
Boppy-propping was huge for me when pumping with all four of my boys.
Try semi-holding your baby while you pump
One of my babies seemed to cry every single time I sat down to pump. I’d get a good five minutes or so into pumping, the milk would be flowing, and then cue the nonstop wailing!
Fortunately, this baby was really willing to be semi-held in the crook of my leg.
Sit cross-legged on the floor while you pump. Then gently place baby in the “crook” of one of your legs. At this point, if baby isn’t super upset, you may now be holding him enough to calm him down and let you finish pumping.
You can also wiggle/bounce your leg a little bit, like a butterfly stretch, which baby may find soothing.
And if all else fails, you may have to completely hold your baby while pumping
This, of course, is the most challenging option, but it can be done.
If your baby likes to be worn in a carrier, that makes this process 1,000 times easier. If baby is big enough to be worn to the side or on your back, obviously that’s preferable. But most moms who need to hold a baby while pumping have a baby too young for that.
At this point, holding baby while pumping comes down to simple physics.
You’re probably going to have to position baby in the middle of your chest. You’ll then attempt to position the flanges on both sides of the baby (this may require some breast smooshing, pushing, and angling on your part).If you use the Medela PISA or the Spectra provided by many insurance companies, the plastic flanges are hard and it can be a little more difficult to position them around your baby.
To make this easier, you can use special Freemie collection cups. They go right under your shirt and have no tubes to tangle on baby, leaving you to pump completely hands free.*Make sure you purchase the correct collection cups to go with your pump. If you have an open system, like the Medela PISA, you’d want these. If you have a closed system, like the Spectra, for example, you’d want these.
(You can check out this page if you need a more detailed explanation on open v. closed system pumps)
If you find it too difficult to pump both sides while holding your baby, you can switch to pumping just one side. Using only one flange will make it easier to fit both baby and the pump flange/horn on your chest simultaneously. You may even want to try a simple manual pump, which has few pieces and no cords to manage.If you’re not exclusively pumping and baby can nurse, I highly suggest breastfeeding on one side while pumping the other. It’ll keep baby happy and you’ll get better output on the pumping side as well (because your body just responds better to your baby).
My babies required a nursing support pillow, perfect positioning, and a sprinkling of holy water to breastfeed even semi-effectively, so this wasn’t an option for me…
Can you pump and hold baby without a carrier?
Probably, although I don’t recommend it unless you have a special hands-free pump.
Sure, you might get desperate during a pumping session with your regular pump and give it a try. After all, a screaming baby can get you to try anything.
If your baby is young and small, you may be able to successfully cradle them against your stomach, below your pumping attachments.
If your baby is larger, he or she may be too heavy for you to support with just your hands/lower arms. My babies tend to fatten up around three months. At that point, I need my full arm (biceps, in particular) to support them.
If your baby is older, he or she may be too wiggly and strong-willed for such a hold to be practical.
But as always, you know your baby and your body, so do what you think is best.
Get a good pumping bra
This is a critical pumping tip anyway, because a good pumping bra will save you so much time and hassle.
But this is especially true if you want to pump while holding your baby.
You’ll need your hands free to support baby’s body. Even if you put baby in a carrier, your hands will still be somewhat necessary.
The Simple Wishes bra includes easily adjustable velcro, so you can adjust it as your body changes postpartum. It also has a ton of positive reviews (14,474 as of the day I wrote this post) on Amazon.
You don’t wear this type of bra all day long (it’s not a nursing bra and would look funky under your clothes). When you’re ready to pump, you quickly strap it on over your regular nursing bra. It then holds your pumping parts in place so you can pump hands-free. This is ideal if you need to tend to your baby while pumping, but honestly, it’s also great for just having your hands free to browse your phone.
If you’d prefer a pumping bra that you can wear all day, the Essential Relaxed bra is my recommendation because it’s less clunky and fits more seamlessly under clothes. (And it has a lot of positive reviews on Amazon as well — nearly 5,000 at the time this post was published).
Pumping is hard work no matter how you slice it. Pumping while holding your baby can make it even harder.
Nevertheless, sometimes it’s the only way to make it work. Moms are absolute masters at making the best of tough situations and getting things done.
I wish you all the best on your pumping journey!
For additional resources, you may also want to check out:
What to Do With Baby While Pumping