As a nursing mama, the month leading up to our kid-free vacation was basically full of anxiety leading up to three days of respite. It would be our first trip away from our new baby (nearly four months old) and four other kids. I was exclusively breastfeeding and thankfully she took a bottle wonderfully, but I was nervous about pumping while traveling and the planning that was necessary before we left.
When my husband found out about his out-of-state company work Christmas party in November I was excited for an excuse for a mini-vacation, but nervous about the logistics going into it. I don’t get nearly as much milk when I pump versus what she actually eats, so I needed to get to work preparing for the trip! Because we would be gone 3 full days, I would need to have about 100 ounces (at least!) pumped in preparation. The thought of having that much milk ready to go was daunting. And how would I pump on the trip? And with all that effort, I would want to make sure I brought that milk home.
Enter the aforementioned anxiety.
Here’s what worked for me leading up to the trip and how pumping while traveling went off (mostly) without a hitch!
Preparing for your trip
To start, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with proper breastmilk storage guidelines. As a general rule of thumb, breastmilk can sit out without refrigeration for up to four hours, in a refrigerator for up to four days, or frozen for six months.
Breast Pump – Obviously. But a good one can make a difference! I have the Medela Freestyle Flex pump and am very happy with it. The fact that it doesn’t have to plugin is really convenient and makes a difference for when you have to pump in weird places (car, airplane, bathroom… sometimes you don’t have options!).
Haakaa – This lovely tool was an absolute game-changer! You basically suction it to the side the baby isn’t feeding from and it collects extra milk. Using the haakaa, I was able to collect a couple ounces a day without thinking about it!
Introduce another “feeding” – Especially if your baby is sleeping (mostly) through the night, it is easy to pump right before bed. The more you pump, the more your body will be cued to produce!
Pump after feedings – it will teach your body to make more each feeding session.
Take supplements and a fatty diet – anything to help increase your supply will only help when trying to build your milk stash! I take Legendairy Milk.
Now it’s vacation time!
We left early in the morning and hopped right on an airplane. (God bless in-laws for watching the kids!).
To start, TSA does allow breastmilk or formula to travel in a carry-on in reasonable quantities. So there aren’t worries that you can’t take a liquid on board. But, you do need to think about how you will transport it.
I brought my Yeti Hopper cooler and I was SO glad I did. There was plenty of room in it to have filled milk bottles and a wet pump part bag. This trick SAVED me. Instead of having to wash the pump parts after each pumping session, I put all the used parts in a storage bag and in the Yeti cooler with ice packs. That way they stayed refrigerated and safe to use a few times before I had to wash them at the hotel or airport. I just needed it to be cold enough until I could get them to the hotel to be refrigerated. And since we were only gone three days, I didn’t need to freeze anything which made it a lot easier since hotels don’t generally have freezers! (see guidelines here).
I kept as close as I could to the same schedule Piper would keep at home. So every time she would be feeding, I would be pumping. But that also meant pumping around boarding, getting rental cars, checking into hotels, so I had to plan ahead and pump before or after those times when it would be a little tricky!
Here’s a list of items that will be helpful on your trip:
- breast pump
- breast pump bottles
- extra pump parts
- pumping bra
- breast milk storage bags
- permanent marker (to write on bags)
- gallon storage bags
- small TSA compliant size dish soap
- small sponge/pump brush (and bag for it when wet)
- paper towels
- nursing cover
- antibacterial wipes
- ice packs
A nursing cover came in handy for the airport or places I had to pump in public. Look up your airport too- a lot of them offer private nursing suites too!
To keep on your baby’s feeding schedule, you could set reminders on your phone so you don’t lose your supply! Pumping while traveling takes intentionality, but can be successful.
It is also helpful to look at pictures of your baby or even bring something that smells like them to help your milk come in. I noticed a significant difference when I would be pumping distracted and when I would pump while looking at Piper’s picture!
Also, note the dish soap I bought was not a TSA-approved size. We bought this when we landed in Florida and used it until we went through security on our return flight. But it would be helpful to have something that is a TSA-approved size so you can have it in case you need it! And having back up worst-case-scenario sanitizing wipes would be great too. I wish I had a bag for the sponge I bought, so a lot of advice is from my experience of what worked, and what I wish I had. Learn from my mistakes!
I pumped into the same bottles (APA says it’s ok now so that was helpful when combining milk from different sessions). I would then pour the milk from the bottles into the bags, and wash all the parts when I got back to the hotel, or in the airport if I had to.
Pumping while traveling in the car or airport was a little awkward when I didn’t have access to a sink. To help make things easier, I put the “wet bag” of pump parts on top and add more ice packs. The system worked great! The paper towels came in handy for spills because I promise, it will happen.
Also, pro-tip, don’t lose your hands-free pumping bra. I left mine in the rental car and had to hold the flanges and ended up spilling a bottle. Cue all the tears. But, it did give me a reason to buy a new one and I realized how much they have improved in the eight years since I got the original one!
Are you planning on being without your baby and you are exclusively breastfeeding?
I hope this was helpful in preparing you for success with pumping while traveling. You can do it, your baby will be fine, and you won’t lose your supply! Just plan as much as you can, stay on top of pumping while away, and RELAX. Enjoy your baby-free time! You will return refreshed and a better mom.