Breastfeeding: Sweet. Intimate. Close connection between mother and baby. It’s a lovely soft-focused kind of image, right?
Unless you have to be separated from your baby for work or school. Then it’s all business. Maintaining milk production. Tallying the ounces in the freezer. Strategizing about how to get one more pumping session in every day. Stressing if you have low output at lunch or if someone schedules a meeting during the time you’re supposed to be pumping.
And what if you need to be away from your baby for more than one day? What if you need to travel for your job sans baby? What if you need to be on an airplane for more than a few hours? Is it possible to pump on a plane, maintain your milk production, save your milk AND bring it home for your baby?
The answer to all the above questions is yes!
Before we launch into how it can be done, a few questions:
Is it possible to re-schedule your trip for a later date? The older your baby, the easier it is to maintain your supply. Also, if baby is sleeping most of the night, that eliminates the need for overnight pumping!
Can a co-worker go in your place?
Are you SURE you can’t take your baby with you? Some moms find it’s worth the additional expense to bring a helper and baby along.
If you have determined that the travel is imperative and baby will need to stay home with the rest of the family, you’re ready to plan your trip.
The following suggestions and helpful hints were contributed by some savvy moms who’ve been there. I’ve nursed my babies on many planes.. but never had the joy of pumping at 30,000 feet.
Make sure your pump is in good working order and you know how to use it. Practice pumping discreetly (if that’s important to you) before your trip. Bring spare filters, tubing, etc. just in case. And, please, bring a backup hand pump! Actually, it’s a good idea to invest in a good hand pump and leave it at work because, unfortunately, no pump is 100% reliable. Pumps break, parts get lost, and power goes out.
You will need a pump that can run with a battery if any of the legs of your trip involve more than 3-4 hours in airports or planes. In the U.S,. it’s not easy to find a quiet, private place to pump. Outlets on planes? Pretty much nonexistent. Even if you plan on the flight and wait time being short, delays happen!
If you need to pump in an airport, know that outlets are scarce, except at the gates. Also, airports in the U.S. do not have designated pumping rooms. A corner in an unused gate is likely the best option for a private pumping session. If you’re traveling outside the United States, you may be able to find a room designated for nursing/pumping.
Some moms feel most comfortable pumping in public if they have some kind of cover up. Don’t count on a blanket on the plane! They are not always available. A scarf can work—no need to pack one more thing specifically for pumping. Think double-duty as much as possible! You can also wear a button up shirt when traveling. It’s easy to open and covers you nicely when pumping. A tank top underneath makes it even more discreet.
Should you plan on using a hands-free bra when pumping on a plane? It might be more trouble unless you really need to multi-task when pumping. One experienced traveling pumper says she usually finds it easier to pump one side at a time while on the plane. You can be more discreet and it’s easier because of limited space.
“Remember that the only people that will see you on a plane are the people seated right next to you. Planes are so loud that even the people across the aisle will have no idea what’s going on. ” -Emily
“I pumped on the plane! I think the only person who noticed was the lady sitting next to me and the flight attendant. I was able to do everything under the cover. It was awkward, but worked. ” -Janna
As for traveling with your milk, it’s legal in the U.S. for you to take all the milk you want, even without a baby, through security. Some airports and airlines may count your milk cooler as one of your two allowed carry-on items. Here’s what one experienced traveling mom says:
“I traveled by plane a total of 5 times while nursing. After the first time, I really had a system down. I had good luck carrying my milk in a small hard-sided cooler. You need something in the cooler to keep your milk cold. Don’t use the blue freezer packs, because when they melt they are a liquid. Ditto with ice, plus it’s messy. I used frozen veggies because they are a solid when thawed, and won’t freak out TSA. Take your cooler to the grocery store and see what fits. You want a layer on the bottom of your cooler and another one on top of your milk. Put your expressed milk in milk storage bags and put all the bags into one large zip lock baggie to keep them all together. When I was traveling, I even put my horns and bottles into the cooler to keep them cold so I wouldn’t have to wash them in the airplane restroom.”-Emily
It might be a good idea to bring an extra large purse when you are traveling with milk.
“The gate check guy did give me a hard time about my soft cooler/lunch bag because it’s a personal item. I had to shove it in my purse. ” -Janna
Is your flight longer than expected? Are you nervous about your frozen peas thawing and your milk getting too warm? Ask the flight attendant for some ice for your cooler!
Needless to say, your destination needs to have a refrigerator for your milk. A freezer is useful too, but you can always swing by a grocery store or mini mart before you leave if you need new frozen veggies. If your room fridge does not have a freezer, ask at the front desk if you can borrow some of their freezer space. If you’re going to be away for more than 5 days, a freezer is imperative, so be sure to ask when you book your room reservation. Put a note on your door or a reminder on your phone to pick up your milk before you leave the hotel!
If you don’t want to bring the milk back on the plane, or if you just have too much to do so easily, consider shipping it back to your home. Many moms have done so using Federal Express. You can pack your frozen milk with dry ice (available in many grocery stores) and it will likely stay completely frozen.
So take it from the amazing pumping mamas who have been there. With a little planning, it’s possible to continue breastfeeding and pumping for your baby even when traveling. Happy travels!
Do you have a traveling and pumping story? We’d love to hear it!