Traveling and Pumping: Bringing Home the Bacon and the Milk

Welcome to the first week of my favorite month–October. This month brings many of my favorite things, from birthdays and anniversaries, bonfires and cookouts, vineyards and Oktoberfests, to wearing scarves, crunching leaves, and joining the rest of the nation with gorging myself on pumpkin-spice-flavored everything. This year, however, I will be adding to my October excitement by attending the ABC Kids Expo with BuyModernBaby, and, although I’m completely thrilled to travel to Louisville and be surrounded by amazing exhibitors, buyers, and media, I am slightly panicking at the thought of leaving my then ten-month-old son for three days. He is deep in a separation anxiety phase, and after hints of a teething-induced nursing strike a couple of weeks ago, I am worried about him self-weaning while I am out of town.

I have left home one other time since his birth, for three nights in February due to a family emergency and I didn’t have time to think about anything other than deciding that the best location for him was to stay at home rather than travel with me. He was ten weeks old and I was still struggling with exclusively breastfeeding. I had my husband use our entire breast milk freezer reserve and I brought my pump with me as a carry-on for my flight. I pumped and dumped on the trip. Like I said, I didn’t have time to think or research any guidelines regarding being a traveling, pumping mom. After my return, I worked even harder to build up my supply and replenish our emptied freezer stash, so this trip will be different.

A friend of mine is a new mom to a beautiful six-month-old boy, and she has returned to her career outside of the home which includes frequent travel, both domestic and abroad. She is writing here today as a Guesspert on her experience traveling and pumping. I am so thankful for her advice and hopefully it will be able to help other breastfeeding, pumping moms out there, too.

Let us know what your experience has been. Any tips? Suggestions?

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Hi all!  I’m joyessdc, fellow first-time mom, trying to figure out how to balance having a career, being a mother, and a wife.  Plenty of women are doing it and I hope this post adds to the conversation!  My job requires me to travel, mostly internationally, so I had to quickly figure out how to travel with breast milk.  Let me begin by saying breastfeeding and pumping have been the most challenging part of motherhood for me, but I’m determined to make it work (so far, going strong for 6 months!).  It is so EASY to travel with breast milk!  Finding time to pump while on business is another issue…

Let’s begin.

1) Hotel Refrigerator

  • Before you leave for your trip, call the hotel and ask if there are refrigerators in the room.  At one hotel they brought it in, no charge.  The other time, the room already had a mini-fridge.  If the room does not come with a fridge, ask for access to a Guest Refrigerator. This is trickier.  I’ve read online, people suggesting bringing gift bags to conceal the milk in the communal fridge.  But you’d have to do this every time you pump. I really would find a hotel that had fridges in the room.
  • According to KellyMom breast milk can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-8 days.  So keep that in mind when you’re traveling. You don’t want to freeze it because if it thaws on the way home, you have to use it within 24 hours.  Breast milk cannot be re-frozen.

2) Supplies

  • The Basics: Pump, extra membranes, bottles, hands-free bra, breast pads (love Bamboobies), nursing cover.  This is your normal everyday stuff you need when you pump at work.  One thing that I found useful was storing my flanges in a Ziplock 32oz square plastic container in the refrigerator in between uses.  Saves time, and just wash it each night.

As an aside, I have the Medela Pump In-Style Advanced.  If I could do it over again, I would so get the Hygeia EnJoye LBI instead.  I like how it has a rechargeable battery which would be convenient for pumping anywhere.

  • Soft Cooler.  You want a soft cooler so you can pack it in your luggage on the way there.  I bought it from Sports Authority, it’s the perfect size (9 can).  I like that it has an outside zippered pocket to hold Ziplock freezer bags, sharpie, and breast milk storage bags.
  • Ziplock freezer bags to hold the full milk bags and ice packs.  I pack 4 total.
  • Sharpie for labeling storage bags.
  • Breast Milk Storage Bags.  I like the size of the Lansinoh storage bags. I typically produce about 5oz from each breasts so I combine them into one bag.  Plus the double zipper closure assures me that it won’t leak!
  • Ice Packs.  I bring two gel packs and the blue Medela pack.  On the way there, I put the gel packs inside the cooler, and then pack it in my checked luggage.  According to the TSA website, you could carry on frozen gel packs without milk, but I always check my bag on the way there just to be safe and avoid this incident.
  • Cleaning supplies.  I bring a dish towel, dish soap, and a sponge for cleaning bottles and pump parts.  You could also just use the hotel towels or buy soap when you get into town.  I just grabbed the stuff we bring for camping.

3) Getting There

Again, I put the ice packs in Ziplock bags, inside the soft cooler, packed in my checked luggage.  I carry on my pump bag, in case I have to pump while en route.  Luckily both my trips have only been short direct flights so I did not have the need to pump at the airport or on the plane.  But carry it on, just in case of delays!  KellyMoms says breast milk can be at room temperature for 4-8 hours.

4) Finding Time to Pump

  • Look over the meeting agenda to find appropriate times to pump. For my first trip, there was a lot of software testing time so I could easily leave when I needed to.  This last trip, I was briefing each day, so really was only able to pump during lunch, so I would quickly eat, and the run off to my room to pump.  Both times my meeting was at the hotel so it was very convenient.
  • If you are traveling where your meeting is not at the hotel, that is going to be a challenge.  My suggestion would be to contact the meeting organizer and ask if there are options.  Or if all else fails, pump in the restroom with nursing cover.

I was able to pump at least 4 times a day (morning, lunch, after work, before bed). I did have one incident where I pumped at lunch and didn’t have another opportunity because meeting ran late, then went straight to dinner and continued to stay out for drinks (about 12 hrs from last pump!).  Well, my boobs just exploded, leaked all over my shirt.  I was able to hide the stain with my purse, but it was uncomfortable!  So now I know my max without pumping is 6 hrs, comfortably.

5) Freezing Ice Packs

The afternoon before I flew out, I asked the front desk to store the ice packs in the Guest Freezer.  No problems at all, the even gave me a luggage tag for it.  If you need the packs frozen each day, I’m sure they would do it, just ask.

6) Checking Out

Depending on when your flight departs, you may need to ask for late checkout.  You want to keep your ice packs frozen as long as possible and your milk cooled in the fridge.  This last trip, I had to check out at noon, but didn’t need to leave for the airport until 3pm.  I had the front desk keep my cooler in the Guest Refrigerator, no problems. I’ve never had to mention what’s in the cooler or why I needed the packs frozen.  If asked, I would just tell them it’s breast milk, if that’s uncomfortable says it’s medicine.

7) Going through Airport Security

….IS EASY! As you’re putting your items on the screening table, just mention to the agent that you are traveling with breast milk.  Put your cooler on the table to be screened.  When flying domestic, once through the main scanner, they took out three bags and scanned them individually.  Flying internationally from Canada, they just scanned the cooler with the rest of the stuff, didn’t even have to open the cooler, no additional screening!  Of course all airports are different.  Just be prepared, follow the rules, and know your rights.

8) Keep the Milk Cold

Depending on how long your trip is, the ice packs should last.  If you do need ice, once you’re cleared security, go to a Strarbucks or get from the airline lounge if you have access.

That’s it!  I’ve only flown twice and both were direct flights, so it was easy.  My next trip will have multiple connections and long layovers, so that will certainly be a challenge. I’m thinking I may have to pump and dump on the way there.

We’ll see, I’ll update once I’ve returned!

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2 thoughts on “Traveling and Pumping: Bringing Home the Bacon and the Milk

  1. This is great post! I’m so glad that I didn’t have to do any flying when I still had an infant. I noticed that you brought bottles with you. Was that to pump into? The only time I’ve left my little girl was for a few days and I brought Medela bags that you could pump directly into with adaptors. The bags are pricey, but I found them to be very convenient to use with my Medela Pump In Style. Happy pumping 🙂

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