A Squared: Traveling While Pumping: Planning & Tips

Friday, October 7, 2016

Traveling While Pumping: Planning & Tips

I'm back today with a follow up to Tuesday's post about what to pack when you're a pumping mom on the road. I hope you found my packing list helpful! As I mentioned then, if you're not into reading about breast pumps and nursing then feel free to bypass this week's posts. I will be back to posting about food again next week.

Business travel (specifically the overnighters) has been one of the most difficult parts of returning to work post-baby. It's hard enough to spend that much time away from a new baby, but if you're still a nursing mom there is an additional layer of stress. With that in mind, today I want to focus on the logistics of traveling while pumping. I know firsthand how stressful it can be, but have found that much of the stress of this situation lies in the unknown. I have never had to use a breast pump before, let alone figure out how to travel with one so I was feeling an especially high level of anxiety on my first trip. So here are some tips that I picked up from my own experience and from other moms to make your travel just a little less stressful:

Before Your Trip:

Call the hotel - As a nursing mom, the hotel should be able to provide you with a mini fridge in your room (if there isn't already one there) or if nothing else, a refrigerator elsewhere to store your milk. Be sure to call them ahead of time and/or include a special request in your online reservation for a fridge in your room. I have stayed in 3 different hotels since having Hannah and while they all say they can't guarantee it, all were able to provide me with a refrigerator for my room when I checked in, no questions asked.
Do your homework - Many airports provide special areas or rooms for nursing moms. They are few and far between, but you may luck out and find one near your gate or in your terminal, at least. Many airports will list these amenities on their websites and the website Moms Pump Here can be a good guide for locating mother's rooms, though it relies on user feedback so it isn't always super up to date. It listed a mother's room at Boston Logan Airport, for example, but after a very rude phone call with someone at Logan's information desk while I was there I found out that no such room existed. On the other hand, I did have a great experience in the Mamava nursing pod at Austin Bergstrom. It was SO nice to be able to pump comfortably and in private.
Freeze your ice packs - Make sure your ice packs are frozen or as close to it when you pack them in your thermal bag and head out the door to the airport. While you probably won't be bringing any milk with you at this point, you'll want frozen ice packs to cool whatever you pump between the time you leave home and arrive at your final destination. They're technically liquid, so don't forget to let TSA know about them -- and that you are carrying them on because you're a nursing mom!
Charge your pump - Don't forgot to pack your charger, but also do yourself a favor and pack your pump fully juiced so you don't have to scramble for an outlet when you're looking for a place in the airport (or on the plane) to pump.
Plan your travel ensemble well - When deciding what to wear on your trip, make sure you account for the fact that you may be pumping in a public or semi-public location. A dress may pose a big challenge for pumping discreetly or comfortably. I prefer the combo of nursing bra, nursing tank, and a loose blouse or sweater or one that buttons/zips. This combination is the easiest to maneuver under a nursing cover when you're putting on your pumping bra and attempting not to flash the whole world.
Give yourself plenty of time - Traffic and TSA lines can be unpredictable, so plan in some buffer time to ensure you're not running through the airport to catch your flight if you also need to pump beforehand. I try to make sure I have a good 90 minutes at the airport and that would include time for checking in, security, buying food and drinks, pumping, using the restroom, and boarding.
Pump or feed baby as close to leaving your home as possible - As I mentioned above, there are several variables that could potentially make you late for your flight. Pumping or nursing as close to your departure from home as possible buys you a little more time.

At the Airport: 
Let TSA know you're traveling with a breast pump - Sometimes they will question the extra bag, but you're allowed to carry on an extra personal item if it's your pump and equipment. You'll also need to let then know that you have ice packs (since they are filled with liquid) and possibly breast milk (if you pumped beforehand) as well.
Scope out the terminal - Locate a place to pump. I would discourage pumping in the bathroom, but totally understand wanting to pump discreetly... I won't judge other moms who pump or nurse publicly, but I'm uncomfortable doing so myself. If you did your homework before and couldn't find a mother's room conveniently located near your gate then don't go running to use it. Instead, find a gate that isn't currently in use or that has a long time until the next flight boards. Those gates are usually empty or close to it, so you can typically find a seat away from the crowds (maybe even facing the windows instead of the terminal), so that you can pump peacefully. Even on busy Monday mornings and Thursday evenings I have been able to find quieter places to pump.
If you have to pump on the plane... Thankfully, I haven't found myself in this position. Yet. If you end up having to pump in flight, I might recommend using your manual pump in this instance. Airplanes are not known for being roomy, which makes putting on your pumping bra and getting yourself set up to pump really difficult. Another option if you're a frequent traveler and have early boarding privileges is to pump while everyone else is boarding. Boarding takes a long time and if you can sit down and get yourself set up before you're seatbelted in and elbowing your neighbor that's a nice option too. 

At the Hotel: 

Reiterate your fridge request at check-in - It's probably not in your room yet, but in my experience they'll get it delivered to you within about 30 minutes of checking in.
Fridge 411 - I have been in 3 different hotels since giving birth to Hannah and have had 3 different mini-fridge scenarios:
  • The first one had one of those tiny freezer compartments that wouldn't accomodate my storage bags, but at least fit my skinny ice packs perfectly. They were totally frozen when I packed everything up when it was time to check out.
  • The second was a more standard fridge (sans freezer) situation so I wasn't able to freeze the ice packs or milk before I left. I was traveling with Hannah that time though, so I was only leaving with a couple of pumped bottles and not several bags of milk. In that situation, I recommend getting a cup of ice and a cap from a restaurant. Nestle it into your thermal bag and you've got a makeshift ice pack. Just don't forget to refresh it when it melts and you're traveling with a full cup of water instead!
  • The third refrigerator I had was also a standard fridge, but I was able to hack it and make it work for me by turning it up as cold as it would possibly go it actually ended up freezing anything that was placed toward the back. So, the ice packs and filled storage bags went right in the back of the fridge, while the bottles that I had not yet transferred stayed up front. It was definitely the most ideal of all 3 scenarios, so give that temperature control hack a try!
Consolidate - Some moms frown upon combining milk from different pumping sessions, but I think travel is an exception. If your storage bags hold a maximum of 6 oz., then I don't think it makes sense to fill them with anything less. So if you pump 4 oz. In your first session and then 3 in the next, I would pour the first 4 into the bag along with 2 more from the second session to get in the maximum 6 oz., label it with the date, and repeat. It's way more efficient (and less wasteful) to travel with as few of those filled bags as possible.
Clean your pump parts - Remember I told you to pack those wipes, dish soap, and the microwave sterilization bag? All of those are excellent options for cleaning your pump parts while away from home. I would save the wipes for when you're at the airport or elsewhere without easy access to a sink and stick with the hot water and dish soap method for cleaning in your hotel room. The sterilization bag is super handy if you've got a microwave in your room (just measure the water in one of your spare storage bottles). Another way to use it if you don't have a microwave is by running water through the coffee maker in your room, pouring it into the bag with your pump parts, and letting it sit for a few minutes before emptying. If it is the kind of coffee maker that has a pot (and not one that brews pods), I would clean it with that dish soap first... just to be safe.
Request a Late Checkout - When I was staying in Austin my flight home wasn't until 6 PM, but checkout was at 11 AM... that's a lot of hours with pumped milk and no fridge. Thankfully, I was able to extend my checkout by a couple of hours and maximize more of my time in possession of that mini-fridge!

Going Home:
Pack wisely - When it comes time to pack up your bagged milk, make sure you think about packing carefully but without wasted space. If your milk is frozen in bags, make sure they are frozen flat and then you can stack them sideways (like in the photo above). If they aren't frozen I recommend packing them flat on top of one another to best avoid spillage or broken bags. I also pack those frozen ice packs under, on top of, and/or around the bagged milk depending on how many I am packing and how much room is left. Pack the milk snugly inside a handled cooler bag and carry that bag separately from the rest of your luggage to make sure it doesn't get bumped around too much.
Give yourself extra time at security - One big thing to note about traveling with breast milk is that you are allowed to carry more than the maximum 3.4 oz. on board with you. When you are going through security notify the TSA officer that you're traveling with breast milk. They will have you put the milk on the conveyor belt with the rest of your luggage and afterward, they'll take the milk aside for additional x-rays. They will take the bottles or bags of milk and run them under an x-ray machine to make sure there's nothing sketchy inside. I've had to wait a while for this extra step to happen, so this is why you need to account for some extra time.
Every TSA experience is different - In NYC, I experienced the most thorough screening of my milk bottles, bags, and the ice packs. It took several minutes to get security clearance there. And then when I was leaving Austin and had mostly frozen bags of milk (the only time I have traveled flown with frozen milk), the TSA agent x-rayed them and then told me "as long as it's frozen, it's good!" I'm pretty sure that is not the case per these TSA guidelines.
Ask the TSA agent to change his/her gloves - They've been wearing them and touching other people's luggage and personal items for likely their entire shift... clean gloves are a good call before handling your baby's food. Thanks to Erin for that tip!

Once you are through security, follow the tips at the top of the post regarding pumping at the airport before your flight. And most importantly, enjoy your few hours of alone time on your flight before you get home and enjoy being a mommy again!


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