Balancing work and family is a tough job and it can often be made even tougher if you are traveling for work. For families that choose to breastfeed, traveling gets even more complicated. Questions often come up in TAPS groups about the best ways to travel with your breastpump, transport expressed milk, and generally make it all work.
One TAPS mom recently shared her experience and tips with me and gave me permission to share it all with you! Julie works a full time job and travels frequently for work - these are tips that worked well for her. We're so grateful that she's sharing her experience today on the blog and hope that these ideas help some of you figure out how to make your work travel schedules work with your choice to breastfeed.
Thanks for all of your thoughts and ideas Julie!
I have SO MANY thoughts on this topic, I could probably host a whole TAPS session on it. :) Below are a few of the key ones.
1. Buy this book: Work. Pump. Repeat. by Jessica Shortall. Buy it on Kindle so you always have it with you (on your phone, iPad, Kindle, etc). I referred to it countless times.
2. Buy the battery pack for your pump and carry extra batteries. The battery pack isn't as strong as the power cord, so you'll have to turn it up higher on batteries.
3. Bring lots of breastmilk storage bags, several gallon-size ziplock bags, and a Sharpie to write the dates on your milk (it's easy to forget how old they are when you're traveling).
4. If you bag your milk, put the bags in a large gallon-size freezer ziplock in case they leak.
5. Bring 4 bottles for pumping: after each session, combine the milk into one of the bottles you pumped in. Place your parts and the now-empty 2nd bottle in a gallon-size ziplock bag and put in the fridge in between pumpings (you don't have to clean them out every time - i usually did it once a day, at night, when I was travelling). Next pump session, use your 3rd bottle. Combine the milk into one of those bottles. Next pump session, use your 4th bottle. You can often get through a day without having to wash any bottles.
6. Buy the water-less pump part wipes. I used them on long-haul flights to clean my parts. (Also bring an unused bottle of water into the airplane bathroom with you to rinse out your parts after pumping. The baby changing shelf on airplanes is a good place to set up your pump if you need to pump on the plane. I only did this on international trips where there were multiple bathrooms - if there's only one bathroom people tend to freak out when someone's in the bathroom for 20+ minutes!)
7. Buy the big-sized bottles (8 oz) for travel. When I was first pumping, I would get 6+ oz from each side in the morning. The 6-oz bottles weren't big enough for a single pump, so I started using the bigger bottles for my morning pump. (The 8-oz bottles are also good for traveling because you can store more in them. The problem is they don't always fit in the small cooler that you can buy from Medela.)
8. If you are going to be bringing back a lot of milk, buy a soft-sided cooler for your travel. You can flatten it in your suitcase on your outbound trip.
9. I was able to use the soft-sided cooler for international travel too. The UK doesn't allow you to bring more than 3 oz of milk on the plane, so I had to put it in my checked luggage. Here's what I would do when I had to put my milk in checked luggage:
- Put the milk in breast milk storage bags (no more than 4-5 oz in each. More volume keeps it colder but too much volume can break the bag, and then you'll be sad). Then put the storage bags in a gallon-size ziplock (4 storage bags in each).
- Then put each gallon-size ziplock in an insulated cold bag (I saved the insulated/thermal bubble wrap mailers from my home produce delivery) with a flattened ice pack (again saved from my home produce delivery) in the bag.
- Then I put the cold bags in the cooler, along with more ice packs.
I did multiple trips from London this way. It's best if you can leave them cold but not frozen. One time I was there for longer than 5 days so I had to freeze some of my bags, and when I got home they were mostly thawed. (see #10)
10. If you have frozen your milk and it arrives thawed, either use it the next day (within 24 hours of defrosting), OR I would pour off the defrosted part and use it right away, then put the frozen part back in the freezer. If you are worried about giving it to your baby, mark the bag "DO NOT USE" and stick it back in the freezer. Use it later on to apply to the diaper area after bad diaper rashes. (I did this a couple of times)
11. Most airports have nursing rooms or family bathrooms - pump in those (RDU has family restrooms). If you are a member of an airline lounge, you can pump in the bathroom of those fairly privately. I've definitely pumped at a sink in a lounge bathroom (with a coverup) - because that was where the electrical outlet was. You stop caring who can see you after a while. :)
12. I never had any problems getting milk through TSA (except in London). But sometimes they take longer to test it. Every TSA officer is different, even within the same airport. I've heard stories about women getting hassled about it, but I never was (in US airports).
13. You are going to lose some milk when traveling. Either you'll have to pump and dump, or the bag will break, or your frozen milk will be thawed and you won't want to use it. The best advice is from the book I recommended (#1): just repeat to yourself: "This is a renewable resource."
14. Pumping on the road SUCKS. If you need to give your baby formula to supplement, I promise it will be fine!!"