My daughter was just 8 weeks old when I returned to work. Having already been through the transition from maternity leave to day care with my 3-year-old son, I knew what to expect. What I was much less prepared for was business travel as a nursing mom.
One of the first things to fall into my lap when I returned to work was the account of a Florida-based client, and when my daughter was 10 weeks old I flew round trip to Tampa (same day) for a crucial meeting. I was a wreck preparing for it.
While I traveled quite a bit for holidays and leisure when my son was very young, traveling without the baby was a new challenge. Not only was I intimidated by the new professional challenge ahead of me, fuel was added to the fire of my anxiety with the prospect of pumping during the trip.
So, for the nursing mom who travels solo on business, I offer a little advice based on my experience.
The night before: Prepping for your trip
I must have packed and re-packed my bags a million times. In the end, I think I did well — the way I packed made it comfortable for me to travel.
- Plan your outfit for ease of pumping. I wore a comfortable pumping bra on the plane, which meant I could go hands free as I juggled all my stuff and checked my phone compulsively to be sure I didn’t miss boarding.
- I put my pumps and a cooler lunch box for storing milk in a large, open-topped tote bag. This made it easy and fast to access the pumps and bottles. If you’re traveling on a longer overnight trip, I suggest keeping your pumping supplies separate from the items in your suitcase. You don’t want to have to rearrange all your stuff to access your pumping supplies or drag your suitcase wherever you need to pump.
- I considered leaving my double electric Medela Pump-in-Style behind because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find an outlet. I’m so happy I packed it, because electrical outlets are available in most family/assisted care restrooms, and the double electric gets the job done way faster than my single, battery-operated Medela Swing.
- On the other side of that, I packed the battery-operated pump “just in case,” and I’m glad I did — I needed to pump on the plane (no outlet in the lavatory). Moral of the story: If you have both, pack both.
- If you’re traveling overnight, make sure your hotel has a working mini-fridge for you to store your milk.
- You may want to pack extra batteries or bottles. Being over prepared in this case is best.
The departure leg
- Get to the airport early, so you have time to find a private place to pump before you board. While I would have preferred a nursing mothers room, I found a private family restroom by my gate that was sufficient. I had to stand over the sink in heels, milking myself, but whatever. We do what we have to, right mamas?
- Print and carry with you the TSA guidelines on pump and breastmilk policies. I wasn’t hassled about the pumps (though they probably looked suspiciously bomb-like on the scanner) and breezed through security, but it gave me peace of mind to know that I had some hard evidence of my rights in case they were challenged.
- Be prepared to pump in-flight with a battery or hand pump. I was a little shocked when I realized I needed to pump on the plane. I didn’t take into account an early boarding time, so my three-hour flight turned into a four-hour one, and adding on taxiing upon arrival and deplaning, I knew I had to do a session in the air. I took my tote bag of supplies into the lavatory and used the battery-operated pump to take care of things. It was far from ideal, but it’s possible. I did get one aggressive, “Hurry up!” knock, to which I replied, “Just a moment” (a total lie — I was in there for another 10 minutes because my battery pump is a single and I had to do both breasts).
The return leg
Going through security on the return leg was the most stressful part for me. I was so worried they would take my milk. But I’m happy to report that I came home with all 18 ounces of liquid gold.
- Easy access to the milk is key. I made the flight by the skin of my teeth because my meeting ran long, so when TSA wanted to scan the milk, I was thankful to have it accessible to present it and re-pack it quickly.
- People just don’t get it sometimes, so be prepared to explain the situation. I was actually asked, “Do you have the baby with you?” by the 23-year-old male TSA agent, as he looked around nervously for a superior to consult. This is another time I was glad to have printed off official TSA guidelines on breastmilk.
- I learned my lesson from the departure leg and was able to squeeze in a pumping session just before boarding to avoid lavatory pumping. I found another family/assisted care restroom, again equipped with an electrical outlet so I could use the double pump.
- Carry pictures or videos of your baby. I notice that the longer I’m away from my baby, the harder it is to get a let-down, so I carry photos and videos of my little one to look at while I pump to help speed things along.
Good luck and bon voyage! Are you a nursing or pumping mom who travels for work? What have you learned to make trips easier?