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Milk 2 Go: Tips For Traveling & Pumping

posted by LaToya on December 10, 2014

Skill Level Required: Intermediate

Attitude Required: Positive about Pumping

Tools Required: Pump, Flanges, Bottles, Cleaning Wipes, Lanolin (aka Boob Lube), Breastpads, Milk storage bags, Ziploc freezer bags, ice pack/cooler

Recently I begrudgingly traveled to DC for work. It was only two days but in my mind that sounded and felt like two weeks. Wait. More like two years. I had literally returned to work from four months of maternity leave just 3 1/2wks prior so I just wasn’t mentally ready. My son was only 5months. I had never been more than a 30min drive away from him. Now I would be traveling out of state and overnight…by myself. GASP!!! **Kudos to moms that travel often and military moms that are away from little ones. You rock! I myself am a wimp. I will accept that.

As you can imagine my list of things-to-worry about was growing exponentially by the second. Although I knew the kiddies would be safe with dad this is simply commonplace for mama bears. One of my biggest REAL worries was keeping up my milk supply while I was away. You see my son is exclusively breastfed. On an every three hour feeding schedule I might add. For those of you who aren’t familiar that means my boobs are expertly trained to runneth over pretty much like clockwork. I would need to…(cue the scary instrumental) PUMP!

I.LOATHE.PUMPING!!! It’s just unnatural. I should know (and am entitled to my opinion) because I exclusively pumped for my daughter for nearly NINE months. My mood can go from happy to sad just at the mere sound of the pump. And it’s a sound one never forgets. That wheezing rhythmic melody is permanently ingrained in one’s mind. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully recognize the importance and need for the breast pump. It’s just that hooking myself up ever so carefully (to avoid injury yet maximize suction) to plastic funnels (called flanges) and tubing for 20min at a time (if I’m lucky) for nearly eight to twelve times a day is just not my definition of a beautiful experience. But alas, it would be a necessary evil if I was going to survive this trip and continue breastfeeding my son. I would have to pump in order to prevent accidental leakage (which would surely be inappropriate in a team meeting), prevent engorged and sore boobs and prevent my supply from dropping (milk production works on supply and demand).

Once I accepted that the trip was inevitable and I would have to pump I began to strategize on just HOW I would make it all happen. I knew it would be a bit challenging. While breastfeeding is once again popular, workplaces and public places like airports are moving at a snail’s pace to support and accommodate moms in this area. I was determined to be as prepared as possible to avoid an adult-sized meltdown. I made it through without any major embarrassing moments and no drop in supply so I wanted to share with you a few nuggets of wisdom I gained along the way.

Layover or Direct Flight: Try to avoid a layover. You can survive a four hour flight if you pump before your leave home (or other origin). Slap in some breast pads and hand express to relieve discomfort or fullness if necessary. That is the BEST case scenario. However, if you can’t avoid a layover (as in my situation) at least leave yourself enough time to pump between flights. Be strategic.

I had 40min to an hour on both trips. The 40min layover ended in a sprint to the gate. The time flew by after finding the family restroom, setting up, pumping and cleaning up. I used Medela quick clean wipes to disinfect everything until I could get to a sink and soap.

Know Before You Go: Research your airport beforehand. Do they have lactation rooms, family restrooms or other designated space for pumping?

Fortunately, my layover was at Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, GA. They offer family restrooms with outlets for pumping on several of the terminals. My departure flight was early in the AM so I had my pick of family restrooms and they were all super clean. That doesn’t mean I didn’t line the counter with several heaps of paper towels but I certainly felt a little better about germs. The only drawback is the family restrooms do not have chairs. WOMP WOMP! I had to pump standing up. On my return flight, I really felt like an act from Cirque du Soleil. I managed to answer the door while pumping, without exposing myself, to tell the person who had knocked probably 15times that I wouldn’t be finished any time soon. The Washington Reagan (DCA) airport was less than favorable. They had NOTHING to offer. If push came to shove I knew I would have to sit somewhere with a nursing cover and pump while praying that no sketch balls sat near me. THE HORROR. I pumped at work right before leaving because I knew this information in advance. I hoped that there would be no flight cancellations or delays. **If possible, choose the location to pump that is nearest your gate. My chest was burning and I nearly passed out after that sprint to my gate.

Understand TSA Rules: In general, the regulations state that you can travel with formula and breastmilk in excess of the 3fl oz rule with no issues through security with or without your baby. You should of course tell the TSA agent beforehand. Your cooler/icepacks should also go through without problems. You should not have to open your milk for additional screenings. Check the TSA website and your specific airport for regulations before you fly to be certain.

I prepared for the worst on my trip. I just knew I would have to endure a pat down and CT-scan. But to my surprise, once I was instructed to separate my milk (mostly frozen) from my other belongings and placed it in its own bin I didn’t receive any questions or a pat down.

Where to Stay: Select hotel accommodations that offer a fridge in the room. If this is not possible, you can also inquire if your hotel will allow you to store your milk in their fridge. Last but not least you could always pack a cooler and fill with ice. You will have to replenish every so often but it works.

I personally have a thing about entrusting my liquid gold to perfect strangers so handing it off to the concierge to place in the freezer did not work for me. I ended up using a combination approach. I had all of my milk in an insulated bag with an ice pack plus ice and then shoved it all into my room fridge. I figured it wasn’t overkill given those mini fridges never seem to get cold enough.

Snacks & Such: Pack plenty of snacks and pics/video of the baby. A pumping mommy burns just as many calories as when she breastfeeds. You never know if flights will be delayed (on the tarmac) or if a meeting will run over so high caloric/protein snacks will delay hunger and help you continue to produce milk. Pictures or video of the baby so that you can achieve that positive attitude while pumping is essential. It will also be important as you attempt to ignore all the external stimuli around you and the thought that someone could barge through the office/conference door at any moment.

I had pics on my phone. I even played soothing music to drown out that repeat announcement of “keeping an eye out for unattended bags” over the PA in the airport. Once I got to work this also helped me relax and ignore the copier machine, ringing phone and coworker chatter next door. It’s pretty distracting to hear Bob discuss the Cowboys losing streak and his wife’s Christmas spending while pumping. A large part of pumping is mental. You’ve got to work hard at ignoring your robot companion and feeling like a cow as well as all this other fun stuff.  This is partly why it takes longer to pump than if my baby were feeding. I splashed milk on my blouse trying to hurriedly disconnect from the pump and get to a meeting. Breastmilk doesn’t dry clear like water so I looked a little like I went hard at lunch with splashes of something on my right side. Whatever. Screw your judgment lady in the orange!

Shipping: Both FedEx and UPS offer this service. If for a very cruel reason you must be away from your baby for more than 2-3 days and have to ship your breast milk be prepared to purchase a cooler and dry ice. This will ensure that your milk stays frozen until it reaches home. Overnight shipping is the best option. The recommendation is to place your breastmilk storage bags or bottles inside a Ziploc freezer bag, wrap in newspaper and then place inside the cooler with dry ice. Apparently, this extra barrier prevents storage bags/bottles from breaking due to the extreme temperature of dry ice. This is a costly option but us moms have to do what we gotta do.

One final note: Remember to pack your pump and supplies in your carry-on luggage and BE EARLY. My trip only required an overnight bag so this wasn’t a big deal…or so I thought. Remember that sprint to the gate I mentioned earlier? Well I arrived after most of my zone had boarded the plane. I got to the gate just as the gate agent begins that spill about the plane being full and needing to check luggage to passenger’s final destination. Are there any volunteers?…blah blah blah. Ugh!  I knew there was no way I could be separated from my luggage because I needed that pump and all the crap with it. Thankfully, I managed to miss the cut-off.  Whew!

I hope you never have to travel without your baby. I also know this may be unrealistic. If you do, I hope that these tips and my experience will help. For those of you who have also taken trips while nursing without your baby I would love to get your feedback. How did you survive? What life hacks helped? Leave a comment.


  • Carmen

    Great job! I never had to pump at an airport, but I am all too familiar with traveling with a cooler full of breastmilk. TSA was hilarious (especially the guys) back then. They’d ask what was in the bag/cooler, I’d reply “my breast pump and breastmilk,” and they would almost push me through the line so they wouldn’t have to think about it lol

    • LaToya

      Carmen that is hilarious! I notice that if I am nursing in public (with a cover) men tend to stand at least 5ft away from me. Hahahhaa!

  • Nechi

    I would add that any ice packs need to be frozen solid to go through security. (Plus, for moms bringing on juice for older ones, this is a trick that works!). I brought my pump ok the plane and had the lighter attachment as well as a battery attachment. I pumped, both hand pump and machine, in transit at a window seat with no problem. One time I even had down random dude next to me and he didn’t even flinch. It’s so hard to hear the pump over the engine anyway, and I used a cover and wore the pump bra on the plane. Medela pumps are generally ok’d in flight. I would at least being a hand pump (I had the Medela Harmony) on the plane just in case you end up delayed or stuck on the Tarmac for some time before or after takeoff–the most well planned trip can be derailed by weather, or a plane at your gate or whatever. You can’t get up to hand express and you are stuck!! I have read some horror stories. Thanks for the great post–this will help LOTS of women!

    • LaToya

      Nechi those were some awesome tips! I think I may invest in a hand pump like you suggested because these days you never know with airline delays. And you ROCK for pumping on the plane!!! Thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback.

  • deanna

    awesome article! rena shared it with me as i’m about to go on a cross-country trip for work with similar circumstances – just after a month back after maternity. thanks for sharing these tips! 🙂

    • LaToya

      Thanks for stopping by Deanna! I hope that your cross country trip is a success! I hate that you have to leave so soon after returning from maternity leave BUT YOU GOT THIS!!!! Stop back by and let us know how it went!

  • Kiersten

    I was hoping I would never have to travel without my baby but I work for the Govt. so that’s never an option. But I’m so grateful for this post. I will be prepared and ready for whatever! Wish me luck!

    • LaToya

      Hi Kiersten!
      Thanks for stopping by. I was the same way. And I also work for the govt. You will do fine. I hope the trip flies by and you are back home in no time!

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