Julia Sachdev describes herself as “a person who has questions.”
She is the mother of an 11-month-old son whom she breastfeeds, and in the months leading up to the Boston Marathon, Sachdev was wondering how she would be able to pump before the start of the race.
The logistics of a point-to-point course like Boston’s for a breastfeeding mom are daunting. Sachdev, for instance, knew she would have to leave her hotel room around 7 a.m., catch a bus to the race start in Hopkinton, and begin the race with Wave 2 at 10:25 a.m. If she ran a time close to 3:30, she would be looking at being away from her baby—or her breast pump—for at least seven hours, which would create painful engorgement of the breasts.
If she couldn’t pump at the start, she couldn’t run.
“A race like Boston, it’s a dream race,” Sachdev, 32, told Runner’s World. “People work really hard to get there. You’re not going to have a good experience if you are uncomfortable or in pain.”
Sachdev, who lives in Orinda, California, emailed the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) before the race, asking about breastfeeding accommodations, and she learned that she could pump in a tent before the start, and then her breast pump would be transported back to the finish area in a medical device gear bag.
She had more questions. Among them: Will there be outlets for electric pumps? (Yes, there were outlets.) Could breastmilk be transported to the finish? (No, the BAA would not transport milk, it would need to be disposed of at the start, which in lactation parlance is known as “pump and dump.”)
When she got to the expo to pick up her number, Sachdev got the medical device bag and, on race morning, she found her way to the tent.
There, she found a surprising number of mother runners pumping and chatting about their kids and their training. A BAA spokesperson wrote in a statement to Runner’s World that about 30 women are thought to have used the service.
Sachdev (pictured above) snapped a photo of six of the pumping women (with their permission) and posted it to her Instagram. She also included screen grabs of her communication with the BAA.
“The camaraderie in the tent was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” she wrote in her caption. “A group of strangers, instantly bonded by this shared experience.”
Sarah Curtis, who has a son, Julian, who is five and a half months, was one of the women in Sachdev’s photo. She also found her time in the tent to be unexpectedly emotional.
“I cried my eyes out,” she said. “Because of COVID we haven’t really had mom groups. I haven’t been around moms with newborn babies, let alone moms who are also runners trying to do all this at the same time, sharing stories and talking about how hard it is to train and how supportive our partners were and how we made it work. It was really moving to me. Talking with all these other women and what it took for everyone to be there that morning was so phenomenal.”
Curtis also met her partner and Julian at about mile 14 in Wellesley, where she walked along the course for a stretch and nursed the baby. She posted video to her Instagram. She finished the race in 4:37—slower than her qualifying time but a powerful experience every step of the way.
“My goal was just to complete it,” she said. “To be able to get to Boston and run that course meant so much to me.”
The BAA told Runner’s World that the pumping tent has been part of the race starting area for almost 10 years, and the medical transport option is not just for breast pumps. Runners can check other devices, like inhalers, insulin monitors, and medication pumps—anything a person would need at the start and then again at the finish.
A New York City Marathon spokesperson confirmed that race, also a point-to-point course, has a setup similar to Boston’s for breastfeeding moms, and it’s also about 10 years old.
The only shame, Sachdev said, is that more people don’t know about it. After her post was shared widely on social media, she heard from other moms at Boston who had smuggled handheld breast pumps onto the bus to the Boston start and had pumped behind trees, under extra large sweatshirts, or in porta-potties.
“Unless you do what we all did, which is email and ask, it’s not called out,” said Jess Gillman, one of the other runners in the tent. “It’s very stressful.”
She added, “This is something men will never have to experience.”
Gillman ran 3:25:52. Sachdev ran a 5-minute PR of 3:04:42.
The BAA spokesperson wrote that next year it will include information for breastfeeding accommodations in all its “participant communications more proactively going forward.”