Our friend Emily was disappointed in the resources she could find for business travel after having a baby. She’s sharing some recommendations for how to deal with traveling (and pumping breast milk), after thousands of miles traveled (and thousands of ounces pumped) over the last year.
I am in sales, and I travel to visit clients one or two times per month, and have been doing so since my son was 3 months old. That’s 12 months of pumping on the road, and I have definitely encountered challenges along the way. I have learned many tips and tricks to making pumping as a traveling mom a bit easier. I hope that some of what I’ve learned can help fellow traveling-pumping moms meet their nursing goals, while also honoring their career obligations.
Working, Pumping, and Traveling: A Packing List for Breastfeeding Mothers
- A sturdy pump bag you won’t mind staring at and schlepping around for months on end: You may find that another tote not specifically for pumping works just as well or better than the pricey pump bags you can buy. Make sure it has a couple of zippered pockets and completely zips shut at the top. A waterproof bottom doesn’t hurt; you never know where you might have to set it down, and TSA belts can questionable on the cleanliness/dry factor. I use a square Calvin Klein tote with a pleather bottom and zippered top. I have heard good things from the bags by Petunia Picklebottom and Sarah Wells. Some pumps come built into a bag, too.
- Breast pump, preferably lightweight: When traveling, I like having a lightweight pump. I use the Spectra S2 both at home and on the road, because it is a hospital-grade pump that was affordable enough for me to purchase on my own as an “extra” pump. The Spectra S2 is very lightweight, weighing in at only 4.4lbs. It also gets bonus points for being very quiet, which has allowed me to pump “undercover” on conference calls and in offices with thin walls. I have also struggled with low supply since Graham was born, and pump far more milk with the Spectra than with the Medela Pump in Style I first used. I recommend this pump to all my pregnant and nursing friends. For those unfamiliar, more info on the Spectra, a newer pump the US market, can be found here. And note: Pricing is sometimes cheaper through Amazon or Groupon. The only downside to traveling with a Spectra is that replacement parts are not sold in stores. I once left my Spectra bladders at home, and had to come up with a creative mom hack to make it work. You can buy adapters to use Medela flanges and milk collectors, but those must be ordered online, too. Bottom line: don’t forget your parts, or keep a spare pair in your suitcase, when traveling with a Spectra. Remember that your breast pump is considered a medical device on all commercial airlines and should not count against your carry-on limit. It’s always a good idea to double-check with the airline first if you have a specific concern.
- A 12V pump adapter for the car: I have pumped in the car more times than I can remember, and this little gadget that plugs into the lighter socket in the rental car has been a life saver. When I can’t find a place at my client site to pump or my schedule is packed and I have to pump to or from the airport, I depend on my adapter to convert the rental car into a makeshift pumping suite. I purchased mine from Amazon for about $12. Be sure to check your pump to determine the proper voltage.
- A nursing cover or bib: This comes especially in handy if you do find yourself pumping in the car, but I have also unfortunately had to pump in public bathrooms and was so thankful for my pumping cover. I use an infinity nursing scarf. There are many brands and colors to choose from at many retailers (Buy Buy Baby, Target, Babies R Us), and on Amazon.
- 1 set of well-fitting flanges: It’s really important that you find flanges that fit you properly for optimum milk output and comfort. The “standard” size of flange is 24MM. There are smaller and larger sizes available. You may find that you need a different size on each side. A lactation consultant can help you with this, and many sizes of flanges can be purchased on Amazon.
- 2 sets of valves (1 to use, 1 for backup): I like the duckbill valves instead of the traditional yellow, two-piece valves because I find they are easier to clean and harder to break, especially when they are beat around on the road in transit. Make sure you have a set for backup on the road in case they break or you leave them drying in a hotel room (not that I would know from personal experience…).
- Milk collectors, any applicable adapters, and milk bags: I usually use a Kiinde bag on one side with a Spectra-kiinde adapter, and a Spectra collector on the other, then combine the milk into the Kiinde bag. It is much easier to transport milk in breast milk bags than in bottles: they lay flat in your cooler and TSA agents at the airport tend to give bags less scrutiny than full bottles. Personally, I like the Kiinde bags because of the screw-top lid and thicker plastic. I find they are less likely than the traditional bags to leak in transit on the way home.
- A Sharpie for labeling the bags with pump date
- Travel-sized dish soap: My travel-sized dish soap has been one of the single best things I pack. It is so nice to have real dish soap to wash my pump parts in the hotel room instead of using the tiny bar of travel soap the hotel provides. (You can find travel-sized dish soap in the travel section of most drug stores or Target.) I zip the soap into a quart-sized Ziploc to prevent leaking. I’ve never had any issue carrying this through TSA.
- Gallon-sized Ziploc bags: I carry my pump parts in one gallon Ziploc bag and my milk bags in another. I always travel with extras so I can toss one if I am in a jam and can’t wash my parts after pumping.
- The Mamava app on your smartphone: Mamava makes suites or “pods” for nursing and pumping moms on the go. The Mamava App tells you if there is a pod close to your location. I have found this to be most useful in airports on my layover or before my flight. Mamava pods are clean and comfortable, and I wish there were more across the country.
- A cooler and ice pack: I prefer a small, soft-sided cooler. I use a hard-sided ice pack on bottom and a gel ice pack on top. If the packs are frozen, TSA generally won’t even swab them, but if they have started to melt, TSA will likely swab them along with your bags of milk.
Things to Remember
- When traveling with your pumped milk through TSA at the airport, a few small things may make the encounter with TSA a bit smoother. Place your cooler with milk on the belt and let the agents know you are a nursing mom traveling with pumped breast milk. The agent will likely visually examine the milk and swab the bags. You may request that they change their gloves before handling the milk. In the U.S., there is no limit to the amount of breast milk you may carry through TSA, with or without baby; breast milk is an exception to the general rule that liquid must under 3 ounces in carry-on luggage. However, several countries have limits to the amount of breast milk that can be hand-carried, so be sure to check your departing airport website when traveling internationally for their rules.When traveling with baby, this also applies to filtered water for formula bottles, breast milk bottles, or any other liquids or gel-like foods for baby (i.e. purees, puree pouches, liquid medicines, etc.). Despite the horror stories that seem to permeate the news, I have never had a negative experience traveling with pumped milk through TSA – and I have carried pumped milk through the airport over a dozen times.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your clients or hosts if there is a mother’s room or lactation suite at their site. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your client directly, I have found that security guards or front desk personnel are in the know and extremely accommodating. I once had a security leader personally clear out an area of the employee gym so I could pump – his wife had just had a baby, and he was so kind. I am lucky to have a client who does have several nice mother’s rooms that can be reserved in advance.
- When you check into your hotel, ask them to put your ice packs in the restaurant freezer in the back with your name on them, then retrieve them when you check out.
- If your hotel room doesn’t have a mini-fridge, you can request one to be sent up from the front desk, or call the hotel in advance. Explain that you are a nursing mom and you need a mini-fridge. When you check into your room, make sure the mini fridge is ON. Most hotels have an energy-saving setting on the mini-fridge that shut it off periodically; I found this out the hard way one trip!
- Make sure you have plenty of photos and videos of your little one on your smartphone! When I am pumping in the car in a gas-station parking lot or pumping in a public bathroom getting lots of stares from other women, flipping through photos of Graham reminds me that it’s all worth it.
Emily McClimon is an account executive for an IT consulting firm, an aspiring cook, restless academic, dog-lover, lapsed journalist, avid reader, and traveling-working mom of a 1-year-old son. Follow her on Twitter.
Editor’s note from Suzanne: Emily shared some recommended items from specific brands, but this post is not sponsored in any way. These are just products she knows and appreciates. All photos by Emily.