By Olivia Rogers
My husband and I started having kids on the older side of the spectrum which means I was well established in my career – I am a client relationship and account manager - my work doesn't allow the flexibility to NOT travel.
Equally since I travel so much for work, I have felt that providing breastmilk to my children as infants is my connection to them when I am away. With my first son, I was away overnight for over 50 nights for work. With my second son, I am at 34 overnights away and counting at 7 months old.
I have learned how to navigate traveling and pumping as I have toted my pump and milk on every trip in their first year of life. Here are some key tips to stress-free travel:
1) Just say it.
When putting your cooler on the TSA security belt say: “that is a cooler of breastmilk.”
When you have a 3rd bag getting on a plane and you are questioned why you exceed the carry-on allowance say : “this is a breastpump”.
When looking for a place to pump say: “I need a place to pump breastmilk.”
Our society is so much better about breastfeeding and breastmilk. If you say the words “breast” and anything else out loud, people will help you. Only once in two years was I not properly accommodated and left to a bathroom pump. That’s pretty good.
I’ve also been asked silly questions. My favorite is when I am getting all my milk in the cooler from 4 days at check-out “Where’s the baby?” Well, the baby is at home and I’m here and that's why I have expressed all this milk to take home!
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2) Cooler choice.
Short day trip / One-night away. I have a small insulated lunch box cooler that holds 20-40 ounces of milk in bottles or storage bags. I like the Up & Up Target brand breastmilk storage bags as I’ve never had a leak. LL Bean makes a nice lunch box that I use for my daily commute – lunch there, milk home as well as one night trips through the airport. It’s also our cooler for days away from home with the boys.
Up to 3 days away. I use a 6-pack cooler for this. I have an old soft-side cooler that I use. Easy to stuff in my carry-on and holds up to 120 ounces in storage bags.
3) How to transport your breastmilk.
Within the USA, TSA allows as much breastmilk as you want or need to carry-on with or without a baby. I’ve had a full 4 days on me. It’s much easier if frozen, but just fine if it’s not. The TSA agents will just test it in one way or another and get you on your way.
If you are international, you must check the breastmilk. You can only carry-on breastmilk if you have the baby with you which begs the question why would you have breastmilk if you are with the baby to nurse?
4) Keep your ice frozen solid.
Outbound, I have 2-3 icepacks and no milk. I grab the ice packs right before I leave for the airport so they are frozen solid. TSA does not even need to inspect them as long as you put them in a separate container. My favorite Icepacks are the Igloo Maxcold Ice – I have the small, medium and large for each of my cooler needs. Their shape is flat and easy to pack around your breastmilk efficiently and they stay frozen for at least 24 hours.
Traveling home, I ensure as much breastmilk is frozen as possible but especially the icepacks. When I check into my hotel room, I give the front desk or bellhop my ice packs in a plastic bag and ask for them to put in the back of the freezer and state ‘so they are frozen solid for airport security’. If you don’t, I’ve received something left in the front door of the employee freezer and half frozen.
5) Freezing your breastmilk on long trips.
If your milk is frozen solid and you carry-on, TSA does not have to inspect each bag. They only inspect the fresh milk. The inspection is easy – they either wave a stick over the bottle to catch the fumes or they place each and every bottle in a little machine that sends a safe light through the milk to confirm it is indeed just milk. Sometimes they just do a swab on the outside of the cooler to test for residue.
I bring one gallon freezer bags per day of travel if the trip is 3 days or more. At the end of day one, I put all the small breastmilk bags into the gallon and have the front desk or bellhop add to my icepack stash. Same on day 2 and so on. I like to check and make sure it’s freezing as the bags in the middle don’t always freeze through in a 24-hour period. It’s ok to be semi-frozen travelling home, but rotation helps freeze it through for long trips. Normally hotel staff just walk you to the back office/employee break room where the freezer is so you can check on your liquid gold. **I have just taken over the whole employee freezer before as my milk was the only thing in there and I just laid it all out flat.
If you are lucky, you will get a new fridge in your room that you can turn all the way up and make a freezer and avoid all of the above coordination, but that happens once every 10 trips for me.
6) Where to pump.A lot of airports have added places to pump that are convenient and nice. Moms Pump Here has a website and app that lists most of these.
I prefer to pump in my seat on the plane. Yes, in my seat. I’ve only been caught once in about 50 pumps on a plane and it was by a woman so impressed with how far pumps have come – I have the Naya Pump now but have also pumped in seat with my Medela Pump in Style and battery pack. It’s convenient because you can’t go anywhere else, plane bathrooms stink, and once you land or connect you are on the move. Rarely do you have a fully 20-30 minutes once you land to take care of your pumping straight away. I sometimes go ‘suit up’ in the bathroom, but I normally wear a pumping / nursing all-in-one bra traveling (Ollie Gray is my go-to now ), put on a cape or poncho, put my pump on the tray table and look under the cape to ensure I’m all aligned to pump away.
When I’m in the airport and cannot find a nice little mother’s room, I go to a niche with fewer people and pump in the corner. I do not like pumping in airport bathrooms – it’s stinky. I have been really brazen on the never ending delayed flight and just pumped right up front and center while waiting. Everyone is too busy staring at their phones and computers to notice or care what you are doing under that little cape. And if they notice, there is a 99.9% chance you will never see them again. They will be more embarrassed than you I promise.
If you are traveling by train, Amtrak will let you use their meeting rooms in the club to pump. I’ve also just pumped in my train seat.
Car pumping is fairly easy. I like to wear a blazer or jacket when pumping in the car for the side glance shield.
Client office pumping. Most of my clients have a designated nursing mother’s room. If it’s a small business, they will be able to tell you where is private enough. I have even pumped in the office of a female client while chatting with her and the door closed.
Don’t be too concerned about 100% privacy. If you are discreet, no one is going to see your breasts.
7) What to pack.
A sharpie to label the breastmilk bags (include time, date, volume), the gallon bags to the freezer and the ice pack bags.
Gallon freezer bags if you are handing off your breastmilk to the hotel to freeze.
Small ziplocs to get ice on the plane from the flight attendants if you need to keep fresh milk cold (this happens when I’ve checked my large cooler and just have the travel expressed milk on me.)
Spare plastic grocery bags to throw icepacks, etc into for the hotel freezers.
A scarf or poncho to pump under.
Pumping bra, pump, spare parts, breastmilk storage bags, cleaning soap (less than 3 ounce container), a few spare bottles.
A spare burp cloth. I put this on my lap in case of a drip while pumping.
A hand-pump for just in case. I use it if I feel full during taxi and take-off and can’t get out the electric pump. I have a Medela Harmony that works quite well. I have pumped off 5 ounces during taxi easily.
Have lots of pictures and videos on your phone of your baby. It helps with letdown if you need it.
8) How to pack.
I pack my clothes/shoes as light as possible. All of my clothes for each trip are typically coordinated so 1-2 pair of shoes match everything and it’s a mix and match style.
I pack my cooler into my roller bag or with my computer/purse in a large tote.
I carry my breast pump in a backpack on its own (remember the pump does not count towards your carry-on allowance as it is a medically required item. Your cooler does however.)
I prefer to carry-on my milk as much as possible so it’s worth going light on the clothes.
9) Plan each day.
I look at my travel and meeting schedule and sketch out when I will pump. I shoot for 6 am, 9 am, noon, 4pm, and 7 pm. I am flexible around these times of about 30-90 minutes. If I have a dinner, I will pump at 5:30 pm, go to dinner and then pump when I’m back in my hotel room. **Note, do not pump too much if you get back to your room super late. My infant goes to sleep at 7 pm. If I pump more than 10 minutes at 9 or 10 pm, my breasts get ‘confused’ and start producing more milk and I get ‘lumpy breasts’. My body is responding to a trigger for more milk.
On the note of lumpy breasts, be aware of any lumps in your breasts when traveling and exclusively pumping. I have found that I have to massage more when pumping while I travel with no nursing morning and night to ensure I do not get clogged milk ducts.
Back to the ‘just say it’ concept, I will just tell a confidant that I’m ducking out of the meeting to pump. It’s never been an issue.
Roll with the punches. If you get delayed, it's just another pump on the way to your baby. Power through it like a marathon. One more step. One more pump.
10) How much Inventory needed at home while you are away.
The metric I’ve read is 1.5 ounces multiplied by the max number of hours away from your baby multiplied by 3. So for 72 hours away, that’s 324 ounces. I personally shoot for 40 ounces times days away. For 3 days that’s 120 ounces.
Start building your inventory when your baby is 2-4 weeks old by adding a pump a day right after a morning nursing session. See tips here.
Thanks to our expert working and pumping mom Olivia! xoxo, Teat & Cosset