“I’m a Nursing Mom”: Pumping and Traveling

Breastfeeding has been an incredible part of being a mom, and I feel very lucky that Finley and I have had no issues along the way. I never imagined I would enjoy it like I do, and I hope to continue breastfeeding for a while.

This fall and winter, I had plans that pulled me away from Finley for days at a time: in October, I went on a girls’ weekend in Lake Geneva; the first weekend in December was my SIL’s bachelorette party in New York City; and the last weekend in December was her wedding in Maryland.

Because the breastfeeding relationship I have with Finley is so important to me, I did my best to not compromise it. Here’s what I learned and what worked for me.

1. I knew these weekends were coming up way in advance, so I began building a supply of milk in the freezer early on. I would typically sneak in a pumping session in the morning during Finley’s first nap. Your prolactin levels are the highest from 3am – 10am, so you will likely get the most milk during this time. Sometimes I’d get 5-6 ounces, and other times I’d only get 1.5 ounces. However, it all adds up. I recorded the date and amount of milk on each bag right away. When the milk freezes, it expands and can make it seem like there’s more milk than there really is.

2. Calculate how much milk you’ll need. This is difficult if you’re EBF because you have no idea. I assumed Finley was drinking about 30 ounces a day. When Brody and I left for the wedding and would be gone from Thursday 10am to Sunday 4pm, I had about 140 ounces saved up for my mom to give Finley. She actually ended up drinking 35.5 ounces a day! No wonder she’s a monster. If possible, then, try to have an extra day’s worth just in case.

So your baby is set. Now you’re off alone…weird.

3. Do your best to pump when you would typically nurse. I feed Fin about every three hours during the day, but when I’m pumping, I can go four or five (but I prefer not to go beyond four as I was worried it could affect my supply).

4. At night, I would become engorged super quickly. This was an odd and annoying surprise because I dream feed at 9pm and then only nurse her once at night, normally between 1-3am. While apart from Fin, though, I’d pump (approximately) at 9pm, again at 12am, again at 4am, and again at 8am. I would get tons of milk each time, too. Here I thought I’d get to sleep more away from Finley but the opposite was true. This happened on all three of my weekends away.

5. Keep your pump supplies in a gallon Ziplock bag. This makes changing pumping locations easy.

6. Buy a travel size container of dish soap and keep on hand a small towel. I washed my pump parts a few times a day, and I could do it (almost) no matter where I was. I kept both of these items in that gallon Ziplock.

7. You don’t have to wash your pump parts after every session! As long as you put it in the fridge, bacteria will not grow. This was especially helpful when I was pumping so often during the night. The bottles I pump into hold about six to seven ounces which meant I could pump into them twice.

8. Sometimes I had to pump somewhere that had no sanitary place to clean the parts. In this situation, I put everything back in the Ziplock bag and washed it all really well the first chance I got (and of course before pumping again).

9. Speaking of sanitary, remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before each session. I kept a travel size hand sanitizer in the gallon Ziplock bag.

10. If you’re staying at a hotel, call ahead to see if there’s a mini-fridge in the room. When I was in New York and Maryland, they were able to bring one to our room. If this is not possible, you can keep a cooler with ice or ice packs in your room or ask your milk to be stored in the hotel’s fridge.

11. Keep your milk cold, not frozen. Once your milk freezes, if it thaws, you can’t use it. Refrigerated milk is good for five to seven days, so I was able to bring back all of my milk and freeze it once I got home. This was necessary because I only had four weeks between the bachelorette party and the wedding, and I needed to replenish my supply.

12. Remember that if you’ve been drinking and are not safe to drive, you shouldn’t keep your milk. If I’d have a glass of wine or two and pumped, I kept my milk but mixed it with a clean batch from earlier in the day. Otherwise, I dumped it.

13. Take the motor out of the pumping bag. My Medela Pump in Style is velcroed in and came out easily. It fits in my purse which meant I could bring it with me (and not have to carry a second bag) if I was concerned about being gone for too long. I was also able to fit the Ziplock bag of pump parts, towel, hand sanitizer, and towel in my purse.

14. Bring along your nursing cover so you can pump in front of friends and not feel self conscious. On the girls’ weekend in Lake Geneva, my friend Jena and I would pump around everyone and not miss out on the fun.

15. A friend showed me how to cut slits in an old sports bra instead of buying a pumping bra. If I knew I’d be out and about and would need to pump, I would wear this sports bra underneath my nursing tank for quick and easy access. I also wore the sports bra and nursing tank while sleeping; this way, I could roll out of bed, unsnap the nursing tank, and easily hook up to pump.

For the New York and Maryland trips, I had to fly. This brought on a whole new set of challenges.

16. Because I wanted to bring back my milk, I brought along a soft, collapsible cooler and two small ice packs. The cooler was empty on the way there and fit into my large carry on (I did not check a bag either weekend) and was filled with milk and the ice packs on the way home.

17. Bring another gallon Ziplock bag for all the individual bags of milk. When I went through security, I pulled the Ziplock with the milk bags out of the cooler and put it in its own tray. Coming back from New York, the person inspecting carry ons gave me a funny look after it went through. I said, “It’s breastmilk,” and he nodded his head. They are NOT allowed to open the bags of milk or ask you or your baby (if he/she is along) to taste it. I had read that they can swab or test the outside of the bags, but that’s it. Also, there is no limit to the number of ounces you can travel with, and it doesn’t matter if you have your baby with you. Here’s the TSA’s website with more information.

18. Feel free to tell the TSA people that “I’m a nursing mom” and are traveling with your pump and milk. I didn’t do this but it may avoid questions or a hold up. As Brody said, the pump motor on it’s own kind of looks like a bomb.

19. Get used to the idea that you’ll need to pump in odd locations (just remember hand sanitizer):
-Airplane bathrooms: I made the mistake of not telling the flight attendant on my flight to Maryland that I’d be pumping (i.e. be in the bathroom for at least ten minutes), and when I came out, there was a line of six people giving me the stink eye. There was only one bathroom in the back, and Brody said the flight attendant wasn’t letting people use the one in first class. Lesson learned.
-Backseat of a cab: When I arrived in New York, it had been five hours and I needed to pump. The cab ride was going to be at least forty minutes. I attempted to explain to the cab driver (who I believe was not a native English speaker) that “I’m a nursing mom” and what I was about to do. My tip here is to always have the battery pack (and extra batteries) with you to allow random-location pumping.
-Storage room/closet of a restaurant: In New York for the bachelorette party, Saturday night was the “big” night. Even though I pumped before leaving the hotel, I wanted to get another clean batch of milk before I drank too much. I explained how “I’m a nursing mom” and such, and our waitress brought me back to a private room. I kept this milk in my purse for the next few hours and put it in the mini-fridge when we got back to the hotel at midnight.
-Airport bathrooms: It’s most comfortable to find a family restroom or a mother’s room. Even if there’s not a seat, there’s always an outlet and space to spread out. It’s not always smooth sailing though. In Baltimore’s airport, I had my pump sitting on the edge of the sink and my phone on top of that. I pulled on the tubes by accident and my pump motor and phone fell into the sink with some soapy water in it.

Hopefully these tips can help you and your baby maintain a happy, healthy breastfeeding relationship!

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13 thoughts on ““I’m a Nursing Mom”: Pumping and Traveling

    • It’s definitely strange to be apart from her, and I think it was more difficult this last time because her personality is out. However, I’m much more relaxed with others taking care of her now that she’s not a little baby.
      Hope you’re having a nice weekend!

  1. It does sound like a lot of work! I have not been apart from my 7 month old yet, but I don’t know if I would be as diligent as you are with pumping. It is too bad that you couldn’t get more sleep away from your baby. Maybe someday…

  2. great post angie! the oddest place i’ve had to pump is at a baseball stadium at their first aid area…. Bridget emailed me yesterday to tell me that you all are visiting in April!! Yay!!

    • That is an odd place! A friend of mine who is a high school teacher had to pump on the bus during a field trip. Ha! She was of course all covered up and surrounded by coworkers and not students…but still. You do what you gotta do!
      Yes, we are excited to visit JP and Bridget! Will you be around that weekend? I’d love to meet you and C πŸ™‚

  3. I can’t tell you the number of odd places I’ve had to pump while I’m working (yesterday it was in a hotel in Beloit). The one big suggestion I’d have is that rather than having to carry dish soap around all the time– the Medela Quick Clean Wipes or Munchkin Pacifier wipes (these are cheaper) are the best options in the meantime. You can pump once or twice, clean with those, and then wash all the parts when you get home or somewhere with a good sink.

    It’s also great that you asked someone to help you find a place to pump. I have had friends who just pumped in bathrooms or uncomfortable places because they were afraid to ask someone for a better place– I have asked school secretaries, sausage kitchen employees (yikes…), hotel concierges, and even courthouse staff (that jury room was nice!) for help and nearly everyone is very accommodating when they know what you’re up to. πŸ™‚

    • Great suggestion about the wipes! I haven’t tried those yet but another mom at the bachelorette party used them. They looked super convienent.
      I’m not surprised that you’ve pumped in some crazy places with your job. And I agree about asking – people are accommodating. You just have to get over the fact that you have to tell a stranger you need to pump.

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