Tips for traveling without your baby (if you’re a nursing mom)

Have pump, will travel


I have managed to avoid overnight separations from Baby M during her first year. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with leaving an infant overnight. It’s just that I am a homebody by nature & will shamelessly gladly use my children as an excuse to not go on a trip that is not baby- or child-friendly.

But, I had a work trip recently that involved only one overnight—hardly long enough to make taking the baby (& the rest of the family or a grandparent to care for baby) a reasonable option. Also, the trip was an important opportunity for networking with colleagues, some of whom I had never met in person, and I knew some of that networking would take place after work hours. So, I decided to brave it alone. I might have looked forward to some solitude, except that I knew I’d have a constant companion: My breast pump.

See, while Baby M is one year old, eats a ton of food & loves drinking water, she also still nurses just as much as she ever has. … And as a result … I’m still pumping at work.

When I left my son for the first time (when he was just around a year old) I was no longer pumping & I traveled by train. I pumped (I think) twice & barely produced a drop (even though my son nursed until he was over four years old).

Baby girl is a completely different story. For whatever reason, I’m still producing a fair amount of milk for the pump, so she’s still drinking mama milk when we’re apart. I also recently had a run-in with a very painful plugged duct. So, pumping would be a necessity.

Can I just say, even though I was prepared for pumping in just about any scenario (including  toting a lightweight blanket in case I had to pump on the plane or in a car), it was a marathon! I don’t think I could take another day!

I was constantly looking at the clock & the meeting schedule to time the least inopportune time to disappear. I usually didn’t have enough time to fully empty my breasts (… or, if I’m honest, my one “good” breast…) & I often had to choose between peeing & pumping (& my fear of another plugged duct means I almost always chose pumping).

That said, I was extremely lucky. Both airports I flew through had nursing/pumping rooms. The TSA Officers I encountered were nothing but professional. The office I was visiting had a pumping room. My hotel installed a fridge for me that was already cold upon my arrival. (And they gave me a spacious room that was far nicer than what I had actually booked.) And my colleagues were patient & understanding. 

Despite the damage to my bladder (hopefully not permanent), I’d say the trip was a success. (Plus, no middle of the night phone calls from my partner & supposedly no tears from baby. I did have to get up to pump at around 3:30 after realizing ol’ righty was over-full … but I expected that.)

Cute wall hanging at one of DFW’s three mother’s rooms!

Here are my tips for traveling with a pump but without your baby:

  • When planning what you will have to pack, consider how much you expect to pump & how you will transport it all. This of course will depend on (a) the length of your trip (e.g. the total number of pumping sessions) & (b) how much you pump in a given session. These factors may be a bit unpredictable, even if you’re a super-pumper. As for (a), you may find that you have to pump more or less often when you’re physically separated from baby. My pump is awesome, but it’s still not quite as efficient as my baby, so I pumped a bit more frequently than I do when I’m just gone for the day to my home office. And as for (b), don’t be surprised if you pump less if you’re having to pump in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places or under the stress of work or being way from baby. In my case, I figured my soft lunch-style cooler would be enough space for such a short trip. If you will have a lot of milk, you should bring a bigger cooler. Or, if you’ll be gone for more than a couple of days, consider shipping your milk. (I met a fellow working-pumping mom in the security line after nervously handing over my little cooler to the TSA Officer & she told me that she had been on a three-day trip & was trying out a service called Milk Stork, which looks pretty nifty! It was so cool to connect with another mom & learn about other options.)
  • Visit the TSA’s website to review what you can & can’t bring through security in U.S. airports. Travel for pumping moms seems to have gotten much easier over the past ten year or so, but horror stories pop up now & then, such as just this June in Denver. Or take a look at this 2016 Vice article for other tales of woe & dumping liquid gold because the TSA messed up. Even with lots of training & at least one legal dispute ending in settlement, it appears that some TSA Officers are not great at dealing with breastfeeding & pumping moms. Like I said, I had a great experience (thank you, Dallas TSA!), as I’m sure most pumping moms do. But it doesn’t hurt to know the rules & know your rights. Print out the TSA policies so you have them, stay calm, & ask to speak to a supervisor if something goes amiss… Though, I don’t know how you stay calm in the nightmare scenarios… 
  • Speaking of the TSA: Pre-Check. Pre-Check! You’ll be dealing with enough if you’re carrying your milk with you through security, why worry about your shoes & other liquids on top of it?
  • Check to see if any airport you’ll be visiting has a nursing or mother’s room. These are surprisingly common now, at least at the bigger airports. I used one of the mother’s rooms at Dallas Fort Worth & was really pleasantly surprised at the quality of the space. It was clearly well-planned & well-appointed, with cute pictures & a log book, full of notes from fellow nursing & pumping moms. How cool!
  • Plan where you’ll pump while at your destination. If you’ll be at a conference, don’t hesitate to contact the organizers to see if there will be a private space for you and/or other mothers who need to pump. Seriously, don’t be shy. Ask for what you need! You may be pleasantly surprised that someone has blazed that trail for you, or you may be setting up the next woman for success. Also, don’t forget to ask about storage options—Will you need to keep ice or ice packs with you at all times or will there be a fridge on site? 
  • Call your hotel & request a cold fridge in your room. Even if your room has a fridge with beverages & snacks, there may not be room for your milk or the fridge might actually not be cold enough to chill (or freeze) your milk.
  • Relax! Make some time for yourself. Download shows or movies to watch while you pump & relax in your hotel room. Visit the hotel spa, or find a yoga class, if you’ll have the time. Say “no” when you need to. (If you’ve already gone out to dinner with clients or colleagues do you really have to go to the hotel bar, too, if you’re feeling worn down?!) I watched Catastrophe & Dr. Who in my hotel room in the evening & I ordered coffee from room service in the morning so I could enjoy a hot cup of coffee in peace… It was amazing! This trip was truly a marathon, so I’m glad I took that time (short as it was) to enjoy my solitude a little bit.

Pumping in comfort before my flight home.


So, what did I bring? 

  • My pump & flanges & other pump parts. Most women recommend bringing extra parts, especially extra valves. That’s not a huge issue with the Spectra pump I use, so I took my chances (plus I stupidly only have one set of pump parts anyway…).
  • Bottles & milk storage bags.
  • Zip-top plastic baggies, both gallon & quart sizes. I use the gallon sized bags to double up on my small milk storage bags & to store my flanges during the day. (I don’t wash them after every pumping session if I can keep them refrigerated.)
  • A hands-free pumping bra. Best thing ever for pumping moms! 
  • Unscented castile soap & a nipple/straw brush for cleaning everything once or twice a day.
  • Unscented baby wipes &/or paper towels for cleaning up drips & keeping everything tidy. Paper towels are also useful for drying your pump parts, laying them out to dry overnight, or placing them on a possibly dirty surface.
  • Hand sanitizer in case you have to handle pump parts without a sink for washing hands. 
  • A bag (or bags) to keep all of the above organized. 
  • Pictures of your baby! No-brainer but consider making an album on your smartphone of your cutest baby pictures.
  • A cooler & quality ice packs. I have a bag with built-in ice packs, but I didn’t want to chance losing that if the TSA didn’t like it. I brought a plain soft-sided cooler (the green one pictured above) & ice packs that I got when I orders some probiotics online a couple years ago (as freebies, I knew I wouldn’t be upset to lose them if they didn’t make it through security. 
  • Healthy snacks & water. 
  • I also brought big Post-It notes & a marker in case I had to create an impromptu “do not enter” sign or label any of my pumping gear. 

With these tips & supplies, your time away from your baby might not be so bad. 

What have I forgotten? How do you cope with pumping on work trip?

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Lawyering, Mothering, Parenting, Working

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