Tips for Pumping While Traveling

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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Hello CNC Readers! My name is Athena, from Rochester, NY.  I blog over at FitLifeBalance.com where I ramble about my multisport lifestyle, work (and occasional play) travel adventures, and reasons you should vote for me for Parent of the Year award.

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Tina has given me the opportunity to share some tips about a topic I struggled to find information about when I started.  A quick bio: I had a cute and hungry baby boy back in May of 2013. I breastfeed, but my job requires frequent travel. So I have to be on the road for 3-4 days at a time, 2-3 times a month. For those of you who are in a similar boat (or plane) as I am, and ever have to travel without your little one, I wanted to share my ever expanding list of Tips and Tricks for pumping while traveling.

I was lucky enough to exclusively breast feed my little porker, and am still doing a night feeding now that he’s 14 months.  However, this means that I have to keep it up on the road. I have to do this not only to maintain my supply, but before he was about 10 months that kid drank a ridiculous amount of milk. There was no way I wasn’t bringing home every last drop.

I’ve collected a "kit" of essentials that I’d like to share with you, that will hopefully help anyone who is wondering "how the heck am I going to do this?!"

Take it from someone who travels A LOT. It can be done. As inconvenient and miserable as it sometimes can be.

Number One – Your Must Haves

1. Pump.  I travel with both a Medela Pump n Style (PnS), and the Symphony. The reason I take both is more personal (the PnS doesn’t work as well for me so I have it for emergency, no-outlet, situations. I need the Symphony for adequate pumping.), but many don’t have the same problem as me. Even better if you only need a small pump.  For anyone not familiar, the Symphony is the hospital grade pump and it is not small. The PnS, however, is small when you rip it out of the black bag it comes in (velcro).  I wrap the Symphony in bubble wrap and put it in a hard-side carryon suitcase (I don’t take the case they rent it in), and pack the PnS in my backpack. Always tell TSA you have them and ask if they should be taken out.  Some airports don’t take a second look at them and some act as if they’ve never seen one before (Rochester!).

2. Your pump parts

3. Your pumping accessories.

Pumping accessories

I keep all my odds and ends in a single bag to help keep track. They are:

A) Pumping bra – I made a pumping bra out of an old sports bra, however the strapless Medela one is far more convenient when I have to be discrete.

B) PnS and Symphony hoses (one cannot be used on the other thanks to the pesky nozzles that attach to the symphony)

C) Milk storage bags. I really like the American Medela bags (yes, the Canadian design is different) because you can use the included adapter and just pump directly into the bag. Take far more than you think you’ll need (hello cancelled flight).

D) Magic marker to date the bags

E) Extra membranes and yellow thingys. The membranes tear easily, and those yellow things are slippery suckers.

F) Tupperware container. I use this for storage and as a wash basin.

G) Dish soap. Need.

H) Pump part wipes and hand wipes.

I) Car adapter for the PnS. Sometimes I have to pump in the parking lot during lunch. And I may or may not have pumped while admiring the Great Salt Lake.

J) PnS battery pack

K) Nursing cover. For when I pump in a not-so-private place.

L) A manual pump, just in case

How do I carry all this crap, you ask?

Well, I begrudgingly had to stop my "no checked bags" policy. I pack my Symphony, pump parts in the tupperware, pump-stuff bag, and cooler in my hard-side carryon. This still leaves room for a change of clothes, shoes, and toiletry essentials. My PnS goes in my backpack, and all the rest of my stuff gets packed in another small suitcase that I check.

When do you pump?

I pump first thing in the morning (which is really early if I want to get in a run), lunch time, after work, and before bed. I usually book a hotel close to the site I’m at so I can run there during lunch, but I’ve also had to pump in the car. 

What about long travel days?

I’ve pumped in airport bathrooms and on the plane. It’s definitely not desirable, but sometimes necessary.  You can either just cozy up in a stall for 20ish minutes, or find a companion bathroom. These often have an outlet too. Some airports have a nursing cove in the bathroom (Charlotte). As for the airplane, yes I’ve even done it there. But only when I have the row to myself (and I use a cover). You may feel comfortable just asking the person next to you if they mind. I know I wouldn’t mind if you were sitting next to me.

How do I bring the milk back?

Cooler and ice packs.

Cooler bags

I have to bring it all home to replenish the supply, so I have to have a way to carry it.  The blue ice pack is from the PnS kit, but you can get a similar one anywhere. I also found this great lunch bag that is made out of coldpack material. I put the milk bags inside this (all in a gallon ziplock bag – learned about leaking milk bags the hard way). I then place the ice pack on top, and then put the whole thing in the red cooler bag (which has an expandable top). I got both bags at Walmart.

A few things you need to know about traveling with ice packs: they must be frozen to go through TSA. If you get a mini fridge in your hotel without the freezer compartment, turn up the cold dial and place the packs on top against the back. They will (usually) stay frozen. However, your milk might freeze too, which you don’t want so keep them lower in the fridge near the front. You don’t want the milk to freeze because if it thaws on the trip home it has to be consumed within 24 hours

TSA has to allow you to bring milk through security so don’t worry. You just have to tell them. Some airports will make you pull it out (and sometimes the pump) and some won’t ("GIIIRL, do you know what nasty things have been in those bins? I won’t make you pull it out!"). Sometimes they’ll stick it in the explosive detector thingy, but I’ve never had it opened. I’ve also heard it’s not good to have it xrayed, so that’s up to you.

Please don’t be discouraged if you have to travel, but are still breastfeeding. While it can be a major pain, I am thankful the technology exists to allow for me to still breastfeed and travel for work. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

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17 Comments

  1. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m taking my first baby-free flight since I started breastfeeding this weekend. Great tips, thank you!

  2. Thanks for this amazing post. I hope to be a breast-feeding mommy very soon and will save this as a reference. I have so many friends and family members who have struggled with breast feeding, some due to the logistics of travel, work, etc. It’s so helpful to hear what has worked for you!

  3. I exclusively breastfeed my 7 month old and I work but I don’t have to travel, thankfully! You are amazing AMAZING for doing this especially with multiple pumps! You are my hero haha

  4. i traveled and pumped for the first time in july.. i have a huge oversupply so in just a few days, i had about 10 bags of 10-12 oz each… there was no need for me to take it back home and i hate wasting precious breastmilk, so i donated it. human milk 4 human babies is fantastic – they have a facebook page and you find the state you are in and post that you have milk to share – i always get immediate responses of mommas in need!

  5. I’m expecting in November and just received my breast pump…I don’t have any clue how to use it yet so all of the parts mentioned above are foreign to me. Some day I will read the user’s manual…just seems so over whelming on top of everything else I need to learn being a first time Mom 🙁 I’m hoping my hospital will show me how to use it after LO is born?

  6. This is a really great post. I have travelled quite a lot without my babies while breastfeeding and learned most of these tricks the hard way 🙂 You take it to the next level, however! I am very impressed by your dedication. One thing I would like to add is that most hotels are great about putting milk bags in their big freezer or fridge if you cannot get a mini-fridge, or if you prefer to freeze milk and the freezer compartment in the mini-fridge isn’t adequate. Also, I have pumped in an airplane bathroom stall, as disgusting as it sounds. The long flights often are on larger planes, which often have one large bathroom with a pull-down diaper changing station. I wipe that thing down, put paper towels all over it, spread my pump stuff out – and give the flight attendants a heads up beforehand. They are used to it! On a plane with 3 bathrooms, it’s fine to take up 1 for 15-20 minutes!

  7. Love this post! I have traveled and had to pump. My biggest advice is, OWN IT. Know your rights about bringing stuff through and be confident. If you act weird and nervous, they start to question you more. I also had to bring injections (needles) through while I was pregnant, and same thing. As long as I stated what I was carrying, the TSA agents were respectful and allowed me to do what I needed. For those of you who are Veterans or Active Duty Military, look for a USO lounge if you need to pump in the airport. Some technically aren’t for veterans, but I have never been turned down when I asked to use their lounge. Plus, you can catch a catnap if you need it too!

  8. Lansinoh storage bags are a thousand times better than those Medela bags because they freeze flat. Trust me, it makes freezer storage so much easier/cleaner. Sure, you have to pump into a storage bottle then dump it into a bag…it adds two seconds onto your routine and makes a world of difference in your freezer. And they come packed in a ziplock Baggie that holds up better than the Medela box.

  9. THANK YOU!! I’m pregnant with my second baby and am now in a job that requires extensive travel. I was totally stressing about how to keep my supply up on the road and bring the breastmilk back. I am so glad to hear how you got it to work! Thank you Athena for your tips, and Tina for the guest spot! 😀

  10. I am traveling this weekend. I was a bit worried on how to do this whole pumping while traveling thing, but your article helped me gain my confidence and I am now ready to pack and go! 🙂 Thanks!

  11. Wow your blog and insight is sooooo helpful!! Thank you for your positive outlook!!

    I’m traveling for work, 5 days and leaving my 6mo baby girl home this time. She is nursing 3 times a day (1 in morning and 2 at night). Her other day time feedings are with a bottle/formula!

    I’ve been very fortunate with milk supply, it just flows a lot! When I’m home the boobs get full but rarely engorged (since I’m able to breastfeed on a normal schedule). I’ve noticed if an evening nursing is missed my boobs get so full and I end up waking up at 3am to pump to relieve the pain.

    Few Questions:
    -Do you pump similar times while traveling as you do when home and nursing?
    -how long to you pump for? Same amount of time baby nurses? More or less?
    -do you pump before boobs get engouged (just when they are full)? Or wait till they are engouged?

    I only pump when our baby girl stays with grandparents for a night or when she is gone with grandparents for the day and we miss the 1 morning and 2 evening feeds. When I do pump my boobs go down but it seems my milk comes in faster and in larger quantities, that’s why I’m unsure how long to pump and at what intensity on the electric pump! I’m always relieved to go back to our nursing schedule, my baby girl knows just how much milk to drink and my boobs stabilize for milk production!

    Any help, insight you have would be most helpful!!

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