When I began planning for my trip to Austin I did some extensive research on the best way to pump while traveling. There were many great resources available about what is “allowed” as far as breast milk goes but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and I was a little overwhelmed. In an effort to help other mamas out there who will need/want to travel without their little one while continuing to pump, I thought I would share my experience and tips.
Before I jump in and start giving my tips, I’ll share a little info about my traveling schedule and normal pumping routine. My flight out involved an early departure with one layover that was a little under an hour. My flight was scheduled to arrive in Austin around 9:40am. While there, each day would start around 7-7:30am and continue until around 7pm with meetings on and off throughout the day. My flight back was around 5pm, again with one layover approximately an hour and arriving home around 11:30pm. My normal schedule involves breastfeeding at 5am, 5-7pm and on demand during the night. I normally pump around 8:30am, 12pm and 3pm while at work and breastfeed on demand on the weekends. Now that you have a bit of background on my routine, I can get into the purpose of this post. I will share my exact experience with you (unedited) and then provide a list of my top tips for easy access later.
Be Flexible and Have a Sense of Humor
First and foremost, my number one tip is to be flexible. This is hard for me because I am extremely organized and have a very specific routine I like to stick to. However, when airports are involved, it is best to expect changes in schedule. Fortunately, all my flights were on time but the short layover caused a time constraint with having to pump.
Since my flight was scheduled to arrive in Austin around 9:30am, I breastfed the little one in the car at the airport before checking in. In my carry-on I brought my pump along with my pumping supplies, milk storage bags, 8 freezer bags (4 gallon size and 4 quart size), a manual pump, a Kiinde bag with adapter for my manual pump and my pumping bra. Going through TSA for my first flight was easy because I didn’t have any milk but I did make sure to tell them I had a breast pump. I figured if I fed her right before my flight, I wouldn’t have to pump until I arrived in Austin. Well, sure enough, around 8:30am I started to feel very uncomfortable. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but it had been about 4 hours already since I fed her. By 8:45am I was hurting and I knew I wouldn’t get to the hotel until around 10 or a little after.
Bring a Manual Pump
I made the decision (as much as I hated it) to pump on the plane in the restroom. Before lugging all my supplies back to the restroom, I took a trip back there to scope things out. Despite many people saying that plane bathrooms have plugs, this one did not. So, I went back to my seat and grabbed my manual pump with my Kiinde bage attached and told the flight attendant I was going to be pumping. After pumping I just stuck the filled Kiinde bag back in my carry-on.
Plan Ahead When You Will Pump
At the hotel I set up my pump on the nightstand next to the bed for convenience and comfort. When I wasn’t using it, I would put it in the desk drawer. Since I was there on business, my days involved meetings all day and little free time. I tried to look at my schedule each night for the following day and get a sense for when would be the best opportunity to slip away and pump for 20 minutes. I made sure to pump right before leaving my hotel room every morning and try my best to make it to our lunch break to pump. I kept my manual pump with me just in case but thankfully didn’t have to use it. If I knew I was going to have to miss part of a meeting, I would sit near the door so that when I had to leave I wouldn’t disturb anyone. I also made sure to set an alarm to wake me up at night to pump because I didn’t want my body to think that little girl was sleeping through the night.
Due to the amount I was having to pump, I experienced my first plugged duct. After doing a quick google search on my phone, I decided to hop in the shower that night and turn it as hot as I could handle and let it run over the area I felt was plugged. I gently massaged the area and even expressed a little by hand in the shower. As soon as I got out I immediately pumped while firmly pressing and rubbing the area. I set my pump on much higher than normal but not as high as it can go. I wanted to have a strong suction without excruciating pain. I also let the pump go for about 40 minutes, all the while massaging the duct. After doing this I felt much better and I successfully got rid of the plug.
Flying with Breast Milk
Every time I pumped at the hotel, I made sure to pour my milk into Lansinoh storage bags. They are easily stacked in the refrigerator and allow for more space than bottles.
Right before leaving for my flight I filled one of the gallon and one of the quart sized zip lock bags with ice at the hotel. I double bagged them so they didn’t sweat too bad and then I put everything in my cooler bag.
When I arrived at the airport I emptied the ice and made sure to tell TSA that I had breast milk. At first the man told me I had to take every single bag out and put it into the bin and I was NOT happy. Before doing it I asked a women who told me I could leave everything in the freezer bag. Once I made it through security I went to one of the restaurants and asked them to fill my gallon bag with ice. Everyone was extremely nice and accommodating. I had about an hour before my flight so I knew it would be best if I pumped. I was planning on finding a family restroom when I saw the most amazing thing ever. The mamava!
The mamava is a “modular suite” that “offers nursing mothers a clean and beautifully designed space to pump/nurse.” I had no idea this even existed but I immediately fell in love with it. It was such a great feeling to know I had privacy and a clean area to express what is my baby’s primary source of nutrition.
It was very spacious and calming and I am definitely a fan! I hope more places adopt these beautifully and thoughtfully designed suites.
When I reached my layover I pumped once more in a family restroom where I emptied out my slushy ice. I had my gallon bag filled once more before boarding my final flight home. When I arrived home my husband commented on how the ice was still mostly frozen and that the milk was super cold. I call that a win!
So that was my experience with pumping while traveling. If I left anything out that you might be wondering, please let me know. I’m not an expert but I will say I feel very accomplished with how things went.
Here is a quick recap of my tips:
Be flexible and expect setbacks.
Bring a manual pump.
Bring different size zip lock bags and a freezer bag.
Bring plenty of storage bags.
Use ice to keep milk cold, empty ice before going through security and refill near gate.