Mom of three Ana Rojas Bastidas didn't think pumping breast milk on a commercial flight would be an issue. As a daughter of pilots, Rojas Bastida had been in plenty of aircraft lavatories over the years and often noticed electrical outlets designed for men's shavers. She figured she'd just pop into a restroom and plug into one of these sockets for a quick pump during her flight.
But when the time came for her pump break, she found the plane's bathrooms were without outlets, and outlets in other areas were not compatible with her pump's plug. In the end, she did the only thing she could: She hand expressed her milk into a paper coffee cup.
She shared her story on her popular Instagram account, @powertoprevail, in the hopes of encouraging companies to consider pumping moms when designing public spaces like airplanes, and now her post is now going viral and making headlines.
"Not pumping is not an option, it's just not," Rojas Bastidas (who was traveling for business) told Motherly while preparing for her return flight.
"I'm at a conference with 5,000 people talking about AI and automated thinking—really high-level things—and here I am as a woman trying to figure out how to pump. This is how far behind we're being considered," says Rojas Bastidas.
As a mom, she says what happened is frustrating, but as a business person, she finds it perplexing that while airlines once considered low-powered lavatory outlets necessary so that men could shave, they've disappeared from many aircraft designs without thought to those Rojas Bastidas calls the "secondary market:" pumping moms. (While some moms have had success pumping in airplane lavatories with shaver only sockets, they are designed for low-power appliances and may not power all pumps.)
When Rojas Bastidas boarded her flight she informed the flight attendants of her intention to pump in the bathroom, and the crew assured her that was fine (possibly assuming her pump was battery-operated). She credits a flight attendant for searching for a compatible plug and even asking a fellow passenger to hold a curtain to provide the pumping mama with some privacy. Unfortunately, although there were numerous electrical outlets on the aircraft, none would accept her breast pump's plug with its bulky, square housing.
"It was fantastic, like everybody jumped in and was like, 'Girl, we got you, we're gonna do this, and I was like. 'Thank you so much, I appreciate it,' but when I went to go plug in, the outlet had some sort of track around it, and so the track blocked the plug," she says.
When a compatible plug could not be found, Rojas Bastidas ended up back in the bathroom, hand expressing her breast milk into a paper coffee cup. She notes that this took longer than it would have if she'd been able to use her pump as planned.
While some internet commenters have suggested Rojas Bastidas should have brought her own electrical adapter with her onto the flight, she says it shouldn't be up to moms to adapt when aircraft designers could simply include a standard outlet in the plans for planes, or the crew could carry an adapter.
"It all fell on me, as the consumer, like, you need to be prepared for all things," she told Motherly, noting that telling moms to pack battery-powered travel pumps on flights puts the responsibility back on the moms when she feels it's important for corporations and their designers to be made aware of the issue.
While many moms do pack battery-operated travel pumps or manual pumps for flights, Rojas Bastidas is hardly the only mom to find herself on a plane with a pump that requires a plug. In 2016, Toronto mother of two Elizabeth Arnold made headlines after she ran into the issue during a flight to London. According to the Toronto Star, Arnold's flight did have outlets compatible with her pump, but she was initially denied use of them. Eventually, she was allowed to pump using an outlet usually reserved for the crew's vacuum cleaner.
Since posting her story to Instagram, Rojas Bastidas has been hearing from other moms who've been in similar situations to what she and Arnold experienced on their flights. She says offering mothers power and a place to pump is important not just to mamas traveling without their children, but also to exclusively pumping moms who have babies with the on the flight.
"One woman shared her story, she was traveling with her child, but because her child wasn't latching, she has to pump and then feed her child. Imagine having to do this and you're flying by yourself with a baby," she says, noting that a mom traveling with a baby could not do what she did (manually express in the lavatory).
"Sometimes it's celebrated, like 'look at her grit and determination,' but it's not cute that I was milking myself in the bathroom for now an exponentially longer time [than it would take with a powered pump]," says Rojas Bastidas.
To moms who've experienced their own problems pumping on planes, Rojas Bastidas encourages them to join her in speaking up. "You do not have to suffer silently to ensure everyone else's comfort. Your comfort is just as important as everyone else's," she says.
She says her experience is a message to corporations that design teams need mothers, and that if a team designing a public space doesn't have a mom at the table, they need to find one to consult. "I am available for companies to reach out to," she says with a laugh.