So you’re back at work, figured out your pumping schedule and found a system that works for you and your baby. Then you find out you need to travel for work. Now what?
First, if possible, schedule your travel around your feeding schedule. It’s so much nicer if you can catch your ride to the airport after fitting in that last morning feed. And there’s nothing like returning home just in time for a bedtime nursing session.
Bringing the Right Supplies
Pump: If you’ll be away for more than a few days, consider bringing the pump you use regularly (I take my hospital grade pump along if I’m away for more than 3 days). If you use an electric pump that also runs on batteries be sure to bring extra batteries. A hand-pump can be absolutely key as a backup or as a more discrete way to pump (for example when sitting on the airplane or in a taxi). Be sure to bring extra pump parts (shields, valves, membranes) in case they get lost.
Storage: For a short trip, bottles can be convenient. For a longer trip, pump directly into bags, which pack much more compactly. Bring more bags / bottles than you think you’ll need in case your trip is longer than expected.
Other supplies: Zip loc bags to double bag your milk in case of leaks and use as extra ice packs (ask any fast food place in the airport to fill it with ice once you pass security). Sharpies for labeling bags/bottles. Scotch tape for labeling bottles or for securing the bag on to the pump while pumping. Shawl in case you need to pump in your plane seat or a taxi/car ride. Reusable bag or extra small cooler bag for carrying supplies or splitting up your milk. Small container of dishwashing soap for cleaning (that’s the one I keep forgetting). Paper towel or baby wipes for cleaning up small spills (or just use your shawl). Obviously plan for pumping-friendly clothes (though maybe at this point your entire work wardrobe is pumping-friendly).
When and Where to Pump
Try to follow your pumping/feeding schedule if possible – but recognize that may not be possible.
Some places to pump could include:
- In your hotel room
- In your rental car
- In a pre-arranged space at your office/ hotel/conference center (call ahead and confirm with both the conference organizer and the hotel/conference center manager). Check if the office you’re visiting has a lactation room you can use.
- In your plane seat or in a car ride (longer than 30 minutes) with a hand-held pump and covered by a shawl
- Private spaces at the airport (my favourite is the interfaith chapel/prayer room, I also heard of a new yoga room at O’Hare).
- In an emergency – in the bathroom. Not ideal but sometimes necessary. Try to find a large bathroom with a lounge or a family bathroom that gives you more space.
Cleaning pump parts
Store your pump parts in your cooler bag during the day and wash with dish soap you brought when you arrive at your hotel room. Some people like the Medela wipes – which can be helpful for wiping down the shield. But in my experience they don’t reach all the milk – so refrigerating the horns in your cooler bag and doing a full wash when you can is better.
Call ahead to your hotel and find out if they can provide a fridge in your room (most will do this for medical reasons) or if they have a mini bar fridge you can use. If that’s not possible, ask them to store your milk in their main fridges (bring an extra reusable bag or small cooler so you can split up your supplies). Many offices/conference centers will also have fridges where you can store your milk. If it’s a day trip, your milk should be ok in a cooler bag with ice packs the entire time. You can also ask the hotel to store your ice packs in their freezer and pick it up when you check out. Double check your milk bags and bottles are sealed and double bag your milk bags and bottles in Ziploc bags to avoid accidental messes.
If you’re traveling for more than a few days you may want to look into shipping your milk back with dry ice or freezing your milk and keeping it frozen on your trip back. I don’t have much experience with this – but if anyone does, please include your tips in the comments.
I was always adamant about bringing all my milk back – but depending on the age of your little one, you may want to consider whether you prefer to bring it back or dump it.
Travel and Security
If you’re traveling in the US you’re in luck! In my experience, the TSA has been very supportive about traveling with milk. Allow a little extra time and declare your milk before going through security. They will likely test your milk for explosives (sometimes wiping the bottle, sometimes opening and wafting above it – never touching the milk itself). If you didn’t have a chance to freeze your reusable freezer packs, you can fill a Ziploc bag with ice on the other side of security (ask any fast food place to fill it).
Here is the official TSA policy:
When carrying breast milk through security checkpoints it is treated in the same manner as liquid medication. Parents flying with, and without, their child(ren) are permitted to bring breast milk in quantities greater than three ounces as long as it is presented for inspection at the security checkpoint. Additionally, empty bottles and ice packs are permitted under these conditions.
Frozen items are permitted as long as they are solid and in a “frozen state” when presented for screening. Cooling liquids or gels used to keep medical or infant/child exemptions cold are not bound by 3-1-1 requirements. These items may be presented at the screening checkpoint in a frozen or partially-frozen state. It is important to remember that any item must be properly screened before being allowed into the secure area of the airport.
Although formula, breast milk, and juice is inspected at the checkpoint, you, your infant or toddler will not be asked to test or taste the breast milk, formula, or juice. Our Security Officers may test liquid exemptions (exempt items more than 3 ounces) items for explosives. Officers may also ask you to open the container during the screening process (Source: http://www.tsa.gov/traveling-formula-breast-milk-and-juice)
Traveling internationally is another story. I had a terrible experience at Heathrow where I was told I could not travel with my milk 20 minutes before my international flight. I finally ended up checking my cooler bag at the last possible minute and 5 minutes later realizing I also checked my manual pump horn with it and had no way to pump on my 9 hour flight back to the states. Find out the specific regulations for the country to which you’ll be traveling. Consider that you may need to check your milk and bring a cooler that can be checked. The upside is that the checked baggage stays nice and cold the entire way. The downside is obviously the risk that your milk won’t make it.
More than likely something will go wrong on your trip. Maybe you’ll be forced to check your milk. Or they’ll lose your bag. Or your milk will leak. Or your flight will be delayed and you’ll miss bedtime.
And even if things go perfectly it will be tough. And your supply is likely to take a bit of a dip when you return and will take a few days to build back up
But there’s nothing like that first nursing session back to make you feel like you’re really home and connect back with your little nursling.
Safe travels mamas!
What are your travel and pumping tips and experiences? Feel free to comment below.
Danit Schleman lives in Wicker Park with her husband, dog and 2 daughters (3 and 1) She works in Diversity and Inclusion for a Management Consulting firm and enjoys cooking and yoga in her (limited) spare time.