Breastfeeding, Postpartum

Traveling for Work While Breastfeeding a.k.a. Guess what? You have a bunch more crap to lug around in the airport

A few weeks ago I took my first work trip to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon. I was excited and then instantly anxious. Why? I’m still breastfeeding so I need to pump around every 3 hours when I’m away from my son. PLUS, this would be the first time I would be away from Finn overnight so…anxiety. (Now, of course, he would be with my husband so obviously he would be fine and happy to get solo dad time but it was still weird to think about!) This post is focusing on the logistics of pumping while traveling but we’re writing one addressing being away from baby overnight for the first time later!

Leading up to my trip I hit the internet for tips and tricks on how to best travel with my pump and how to bring my expressed milk back through the dreaded TSA checkpoint when coming home. A friend who travels a lot for work and has breastfed multiple kids at this point had some great advice for me, so between her and what I found online, I came up with my plan.  I would bring a few freezer bags with me and fill one with ice from the hotel when I was headed home. Stick that in my cooler to keep my milk cold in-transit, then dump the ice before going through security. Once through, I’d refill the bag with ice from a restaurant (I ended up asking a Starbucks if they would fill it and they were happy to help) and be good to go!

I armed myself with a backpack big enough to carry my pump, a cooler, a few pumping essentials, and my wallet. Everything else lived in the carry-on roller bag I was bringing. What exactly was in my backpack you ask? Well, here you go:

    • My Spectra S1 and pump parts
    • A wet bag for my pump parts
    • My hands-free pumping bra
    • A cooler which I estimated would hold at least 15 bags of milk
    • Cleaning wipes for my pump parts (this was crucial since I ended up needing to pump on the plane and in the airport)
    • Milk storage bags
    • A nursing cover-up (basically a huge infinity scarf)
    • 3 gallon freezer bags

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I would highly recommend hopping online and figuring out if the airports you will be using have a lactation/nursing/mother’s room (especially if you don’t feel comfortable pumping on the plane). Both Minneapolis and Portland did, but I only ended up using the one in Minneapolis…in Portland, it was occupied for a long time so I ended up pumping in an empty gate area. Not ideal, but whatever, everyone else can deal with it. I actually also pumped on the plane once – I was next to an older guy who didn’t say anything but was clearly confused about what was happening at first. (I also prepped myself by having my pumping bra before take-off and using my big cover-up) The worst part about pumping on the plane was having to deal with the milk after I was done. It was a lot of shuffling and hoping I wouldn’t spill!

Another very smart suggestion I got was to call my hotel ahead of time and ask for a refrigerator in my room since most rooms don’t have fridges anymore. I did that a few weeks in advance and was informed that I “could not be guaranteed” a fridge since they don’t have a lot of them. I stressed that I would need one for my milk and they said I should be able to get one. Fast-forward to getting to the hotel and guess what? No fridge. I was told I would be put on a wait-list and in the meantime, I could keep my milk in their restaurant walk-in. Now, I appreciated that there was some sort of workaround, but I would not have access to this restaurant at all times, meaning I would need to hang on to my milk and not have it cooled for at least a few hours at a time. So…I made a makeshift solution instead. I filled up one of my empty gallon bags with ice from the ice machine and kept all my milk in my cooler the whole time, refreshing the ice bag 2-3 times a day. It worked great, but it absolutely would have been better to have a fridge.

Okay, so let’s talk about getting your milk through security. When you get to the belt where you put all your stuff let the TSA agent know you have breast milk in your cooler. If you can somehow keep it frozen solid then you can just send it through the x-ray, they’ll make sure it’s frozen, and send you on your way. Since that is next to impossible many times, they’ll likely need to test a bag of your milk. The tip I got was if they insist on opening one to test it make sure they pour the sample into another container – otherwise they may stick a test strip in your storage bag directly and then the whole bag isn’t sterile anymore…meaning you can’t feed it to your baby. I was at the Portland airport ready to self-advocate for keeping as much as my milk as possible and then the TSA person just asked, “is this stuff all frozen?” I said no, he took one of the bags, put it in a box and pressed a button to I’m sure zap it with something, put it back, and sent me on my way. SO much easier than I thought and zero hassle! YAY! I hope all your travels are that easy too!

Whew, this post was longer than I thought it would be! But you know, thinking back on it, it wasn’t that bad to need to pump while traveling, but it is pretty annoying. If you have any other tips for traveling while needing to pump, let us know in the comments!

~ Kristin

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