WARNING: This is a post about breastfeeding! In this post I will discuss – in great detail! – how I managed to express breastmilk while traveling without my baby. There will be numerous references to pumping, breastmilk, and just making it work. If this offends you in any way please skip this post. You have been warned.
Update: Due to the overwhelming response in the comments, I’ve added time between pumps. Please note that even though I went into “unnecessary detail” with this post (I love detail!), I still only glazed over the whole process. While traveling I generally went 4-5 hrs between pump sessions.
Well, I did it. I survived my first trip away from Annalynn and I’m happy to report that she nursed the day I left and the day I returned without missing a beat. It was tough, a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Not only was I missing my baby like crazy, but keeping up with a decent pumping schedule and dealing the logistics of getting all of the milk back home were enough to make a person go insane. I definitely learned a lot through the whole experience and will apply that knowledge to the next three work trips (oy!) I have coming up before Annalynn’s first birthday.
When we first started planning the trip to Oregon, I immediately reached out to my contact and let her know I would be pumping while traveling and need access to a fridge/freezer to store breastmilk. I also sent a follow-up email about a week in advance just to confirm we were all set. She was more than accommodating, confirming I would have access to the fridge/freezer at the house.
Annalynn is in the process of dropping from 4 bottles to 3 bottles at daycare, so in the week leading up to my trip I was actually able to build a mini ready-to-go stash in the fridge thanks to some undrunk bottles. Instead of freezing the extra milk, like I normally would, I just kept everything in the fridge and ready for Derek. I then re-arranged our deep freezer and put the oldest milk on the very top shelf so Derek knew what to grab when I was gone. I set aside about twice of what I thought he would need just in case.
The idea of getting my milk through TSA was probably what gave me the most anxiety before the trip. I’d read personal accounts that ranged anywhere from super-easy to a complete nightmare. I had no idea what to expect, so I printed out a copy of the TSA guidelines of traveling with breastmilk and made sure I was aware of all of my rights.
I knew organization was going to be key, so I narrowed down everything pumping-related to two bags and packed the night before.
For the first bag I had my Medela Pump In Style Advanced and backpack with:
- The main pump and all of the connecting parts (stored in a plastic ziploc bag)
- My Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump (also stored in a ziploc bag)
- Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes (since I knew washing my parts would be tricky while traveling)
- Medela Cooler Set with four 5oz bottles and a freezer pack
- An extra Medela 2.5 oz bottle
- Battery Power Pack
- Extra AA batteries (the battery pack takes 8!)
The second bag was a cooler (aka insulated lunch bag) with:
- Extra quart-size ziplocs
- Breastmilk storage bags (I use Target’s Up & Up brand)
- Sharpie (only the sharpie never made it to Oregon, but the idea was there)
Since I didn’t need the larger cooler/lunchbox for the way out, I packed it in my suitcase with the extra ziplocs and storage baggies. And since the TSA rules are a little fuzzy concerning freezer packs with empty bottles, I took the advice of a comment left on a previous post and filled one of the bottles in my pump bag with a tiny bit of old breast milk.
I had a 5:00am flight, which meant leaving my house at 3:00am (it was as brutal as it sounds!). Since it was still technically nighttime to my body, I opted to wait and pump until I reached Atlanta at 7:00am, when Annalynn would normally nurse in the morning.
Getting through TSA in Tampa was a breeze. I told the agent I had a breast pump and opened my bag to show him. I also pulled out the cooler and showed him the freezer pack and four bottles. He checked to make sure there was milk and then told me to send everything through the xray machine. Since I didn’t care about the old milk, I had no problem sending it through. I walked through the body scanner and collected my bag without any issues. They didn’t even give my bag a second look after the scanner.
I went to the restroom to pour out the old milk and washed the bottle. My first flight to Atlanta was short (just over an hour) and I slept the entire way.
Right after we landed in Atlanta I checked Google to see if there was anywhere private to pump in the airport and discovered there was a Mamava portable suite on the other side of the concourse. It was a little out of the way from where I needed to go for my next flight, but I knew it would be worth the extra walk. I’d seen photos of the Mamavas pop up in a few of the mom groups I belong to and was pretty excited to try one myself.
[7:00 am EST: First pump of the day. 12 hrs since last feeding.]
Quite simply, the Mamava was amazing. It had a comfortable bench, a little table for the pump, an outlet, and a mirror. I could lock the door from the inside and was very comfortable for the 20 minutes I utilized the space. I really can’t rave about the Mamava enough. There’s an app you can download and get a list of all of their current locations (or this list online). This one was located by gate B5 in the Atlanta Airport, but I know other moms have found them in stadiums, convention centers, government buildings, etc. all over the country! I hope they continue to grow and spread because it really is an amazing thing for moms who need to pump on the go!
I finished pumping, wiped everything down with the Medela wipes, then went to board my 5 hour flight to Portland. Due to the length of the flight, I knew I would need to pump again before we landed. After researching the best ways to pump on a plane, I discovered there was really only two ways to go: pumping discreetly at your seat or in the tiny plane bathroom. I’d made it 9 months without pumping in a bathroom and really didn’t want to start now so I opted for the former.
My goal was to grab a window seat, per the recommendation of other traveling moms, but that didn’t work out. Instead I was given an aisle seat and placed next to two larger guys that made me a little nervous. Not one to be shy, I took a risk and asked the lady in the aisle seat next to me if she minded switching seats. I explained to her that I was planning to pump and wasn’t comfortable doing it sitting next to the men. Turns out she was a pediatric nurse and was more than happy to switch, she also complimented my commitment to breastfeeding and raved about all the benefits of breastmilk.
Then, just as I was telling my new friend the story of how I had tried to nab a window seat and failed, the person sitting in the window seat of my new row offered me her window seat. Awesome. We switched and I settled comfortably into the space.
About three hours into the flight I pulled my big shawl over my chest and proceeded to pump. Thankfully the person to my right was fast asleep and none-the-wiser to what was happening. The white-noise of the plane canceled out the swoosh-swoosh of the pump and my Dairy Fairy bra meant I could comfortably hook up to the pump without having to mess with multiple bras. I also used my battery pack so there was no need to hook it up to an outlet. Really, the hardest part was combining the bottles of milk without spilling them, and discreetly wiping everything down at the end. It was really nice to be able to just pump without leaving my chair.
[11:00am EST: Second pump of the day. 4 hours since last session.]
Once our flight landed, we headed to baggage claim to wait for the rest of our party. I asked the information desk if there was a mother’s room and he was only aware of the family restrooms on the other side of security. Not wanting to leave my group, we found some empty chairs in a quiet corner and I pulled out my big shawl to pump. It was actually really nice to sit out in the open and catch-up with my friends and not have to hide in a bathroom. Half of them didn’t even realize I was pumping until I started packing up.
[2:00 pm EST/ 11:00 am PST: Third Pump of the day. 3 hrs since last pump session.]
I was hoping to make it to Eugene without pumping again, but we were delayed leaving the airport by an hour. At this point I was out of bottles and had to combine and max out all of my bottles so I could be spared an empty one. I also nabbed the seat in the back of the shuttle and was able to quietly pump during the last stretch of our 3 hour drive to Eugene. Again, the white noise of the shuttle cancelled out the loud pump and I doubt anyone even noticed what I was doing.
[6:00 pm EST/ 3:00 pm PST: Fourth pump of the day. 4 hrs since last pump session.]
Once we finally made it to the house, one of our gracious hosts showed me where the fridge/freezer were in the house. I transferred the milk to the storage bags, put everything in the lunch bag in the fridge, placed the freezer pack in the freezer, and washed all of the parts in the frat’s kitchen sink. Once everything was washed, I placed it all on towel in my room to dry between uses.
Since our rooms were so close to all of the activities for the weekend, I was able to leave my pump in the room and would just excuse myself and head back to the house whenever I needed to. It was actually a pretty flawless process. I would pump, bag, wash and join back up with everyone before they even realized I was gone.
The biggest issue I ran into was running out of bags. I had been portioning out the bags as I would at home – in 4 or 5 oz increments – when, really, I should have been maxing out the bags. Thankfully I realized my error early on and was able to ration the last two bags and maxed them out with 10oz each. Next time I would max every bag at 10oz.
When it was time to pack up for my flights back home, I filled a ziploc full of ice for my cooler bag of milk. I should have brought a second freezer pack, but honestly, the bag of ice was fine. I had my main carry-on, pump bag, and my cooler/lunch bag that could easily fit into my main carry-on if I was told to consolidate (I never was).
[6:00 am PST: First pump of the day. 7 hours since last pump session.]
I pumped before we left the house, so I was good until we made it to Portland. That morning Emily had texted me a photo of a nursing room she had discovered at PDX across from the Stumptown Coffee.
Unfortunately it was on the other side of security and, since we had time to kill, our group decided to eat breakfast before security. At this point I was completely comfortable with just pumping anywhere and asked (for the millionth time :)) if anyone minded if I pumped at the table. They were all okay with it, so I pulled out my shawl and pumped while we were ordering. I also ordered a cup of ice to refill the ice bag in my cooler.
[11:00 am PST: Second pump of the day. 5 hours since last pump session.]
When we did eventually make it through security, I did just as I did the first time and told the TSA I had a pump and breastmilk. Only this time I also requested not to have the milk go through the xray machine. At this point I was told to wait for a female TSA agent. They needed to go through all of my bags, perform a pat down, and test my milk. I thought it would be as simple as them testing my milk for explosive residue, but instead, she shined a light through every bag of milk to make sure there was nothing in it. She did change her gloves before hand, but one-by-one she pulled each bag out and laid it on the table. It was kind of tough to watch my liquid gold manhandled. She told me if it was frozen she wouldn’t have had to go through the bags so thoroughly, but I’m not sure I could have kept all of the milk frozen through 12+ hrs of travel.
The process took a while, but I ended up getting all of my milk back without having any of the bags actually opened and it was a fairly effortless process.
We still had about an hour or so before our flight, so I waited until the last possible minute to get another cup of ice for my cooler, and then just crossed my fingers it would last the entire 4+ hour flight. Every time I asked a bartender for a cup of ice, they were very accommodating and never asked any questions.
I ended up with another aisle seat on my long flight to Atlanta, but scored big time with an empty seat next to me. It was nice to have the extra seat to spread out. When it was time to pump I was able to place my pump on the middle seat, which made it a little easier to navigate. By this point I was a pro at pumping under the shawl and didn’t have any issues. When I was done I wiped everything down with the wipes and put it back under the seat.
[3:00 pm PST/ 6:00pm EST: Third Pump of the day. 4 hours since last pump session.]
We landed in the T-concourse in Atlanta, and I really lucked out by running into another Mamava suite almost as soon as I stepped off of the plane near T-7. Once again, I took advantage of the comfortable, private space and pumped between flights. Since it was my last time pumping for the trip, I didn’t bother wiping any of the parts and just saved them in the ziploc for when I returned home.
[6:00pm PST/ 9:00 pm EST: Fourth Pump of the day. 3 hours since last pump session.]
And that was the end of my pumping adventures for the weekend. I was home in time to nurse Annalynn during her 4:00am wake-up and enjoyed the extra baby snuggles. I missed my girl!
I learned a lot from the trip, and will probably continue to learn over my next three trips. Stay tuned!