Congratulations! You're a new mom who chooses to breastfeed your baby, thereby providing your child with nature's most wholesome food. You've mastered the routine of pumping breast milk while at the office but now your first business trip is looming and you're not sure if you can manage to continue pumping while you travel. You can do it! I pumped for over one year with each of my two children whilst logging dozens of plane trips ranging from single-day hops to more extended overseas jaunts to Asia and Europe. Here are my top tips for airline travel with breast milk.
The Basics of Pumping Breastmilk on a Business Trip
1. Get the best breast milk pump for you. If you're already pumping breast milk at work, chances are you already have a good electric pump. If not, consider making the investment. It's worth it. This is no time to skimp on an underpowered manual pump. You need power and efficiency so that you can quickly pump in an airport restroom, during a lunch break or whenever you can squeeze it in, so to speak. I used a Medela Pump-in-Style double electric pump that came in a rectangular case for both pregnancies. It was sturdy and reliable. Newer models come in more portable shoulder bag formats that are both lightweight and discreet.
2. Have the right accessories. Batteries are essential for those times when you don't have access to an outlet (although see my tips for finding outlets in airports). Be sure yours are charged and consider carrying a backup set as well. Bring along the A/C adapter and, if relevant to your trip, the car adapter. Store your expressed milk in milk storage bags and keep the bottles clean for the next session. A package of no-rinse sterilizing wipes is indispensable for those times when you don't have access to a sink. Bring two ice packs: one to use during the day and one to keep in the freezer at your hotel. Stash a few empty resealable freezer bags in case you have to use good old-fashioned ice cubes to keep your milk cold during transit.
3. Stick to your schedule. As much as possible, pump as frequently during your trip as you do at home. That includes waking up during the night to express if you normally feed your baby at night while at home. Continue whatever rituals you may be accustomed to performing while pumping, such as looking at a picture of your baby, listening to relaxing music, etc.
4. Become familiar with breast milk storage recommendations. You may be surprised at how stable breast milk is. Still, get to know the recommended times that breast milk can stay at room temperature, refrigerator temps and freezer temps.
Pumping Breast Milk at the Airport and on the Airplane
5. Pump before you get on the airplane. You never know when your plane will get delayed so it's best to step onto the aircraft without needing to pump for at least 3-4 hours. If you time it right you won't have to pump while on the plane for most domestic flights. Don't hesitate to duck into the airport bathroom upon arrival to express before continuing on to your final destination if needed. Given how long it takes to get through security you should plan to arrive at the airport with enough time to express your breast milk before boarding the plane. That means you mustâ€¦
6. Resign yourself to pumping at the airport. In order of desirability your options are: Dedicated family room or nursery (often only in the largest airports); family room in an airport lounge (you must be a paying member); special public restrooms labeled for families or handicapped people (little oases of privacy, often equipped with electric outlets); the stall of an all-access restroom. If you do have a lounge membership ask the nice people behind the desk if there is somewhere you can get a little privacy. They may have an available conference room you can use.
7. Use the outlet whenever possible. My Medela ran much better when plugged into an outlet than on batteries, saving me time and yielding more breast milk. Plus you save money by not blowing through a bunch of expensive batteries. Your fellow passengers might be annoyed if you occupy one of the only two bathrooms in coach on a smaller plane but this isn't an issue on larger planes, such as the ones that make overseas flights. Many long-haul aircraft have bathrooms equipped with standard A/C outlets. These bathrooms tend to be roomier, too. But always have charged batteries on hand for when an outlets is not available.
8. Pull your breast milk cooler pack out when going through airport security. If you're carrying your luggage on (I always did) put the breast milk cooler pack in a bin to be sent through the scanner. Send your pump through first so that they see it before the liquids. Expect that your pump or milk storage container (but not the bags themselves!) will be opened and that you will be asked about it. Many airport security personnel have seen breast pumps and don't get too worked up about it. But be prepared for the odd TSA agent to ask you why you're carrying breast milk around when your baby isn't with you. (Duh! Would I really lug around this pump if my baby was with me?) Try not to look at him as if he's a complete idiot.
Caution: TSA security policies are subject to change so be sure to check for the latest rules. You may have to check your luggage if you're bringing home a larger quantity of breast milk.
Storage of Breast Milk on the Ground
9. Use the hotel to your advantage. Try to stay in hotels that offer mini-fridges in the room. (In a pinch you can use the refrigerated section of the mini-bar, though these are not kept very cold.) If the room doesn't come with a fridge, ask in advance if you can have one put in your room. Hotels will often provide this free of charge. Turn the fridge to the coldest setting and store your ice pack in the small freezer compartment overnight to keep it as cold as possible. If no mini-fridges are available, ask if the hotel can store your liquid gold in their freezer. They frequently field these kinds of requests for medicines that require refrigeration so don't be shy.
10. Resign yourself to the dreaded pump-and-dump on longer trips. If you're going to be gone for several days or are going somewhere without access to refrigeration, the breast milk may not survive the trip back. Continue pumping breast milk according to your schedule but don't try to bring it back home. If you can get some ice cubes in a resealable baggie then you may be able to keep the last day's breast milk cold enough to carry back.
With some forethought, preparation and an unapologetic attitude, you can successfully balance breastfeeding your baby with air travel for work.
- Important Information on Traveling with Formula, Breast Milk, and Juice (TSA): http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/children/formula.shtm
- Safely Storing Breast Milk: http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/feeding/breastfeed_storing.html