It’s stressful to travel with your baby. Full stop.
But believe it or not, it can be just as stressful travelling without your baby, especially if you’re a breastfeeding mama. I breastfed my first two littles while having to travel for work about once a month, for three nights/four days at time.
I’m currently exclusively pumping for my six-month-old daughter, and travel for work every other month for two nights away at a time.
The time away doesn’t get any easier for me, especially because this is my last baby (and I don’t want to miss anything!), but I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that may be helpful to you.
10 Tips for Pumping While Traveling for Work
1. Pack your breast pump in your carry-on bag.
I learned this in the most painful way—flight after flight got delayed during a wave of thunderstorms, and my pump was in the checked luggage. Being a first-time mom, I didn’t know about hand expression, and sadly, my supply was never the same.
I currently use a wearable Elvie pump, which is easy to travel with, but if your pump is large, you could pack a manual pump, just in case. And of course, don’t forget an empty bottle for the milk.
2. Gallon-size Zip-Lock bags are your best friend.
I use these to keep my pumping stuff organized in my checked or carry-on luggage: extra pump parts, cords, charger, milk storage bags, etc. They are clear, so you can see exactly what you need, and your stuff stays clean. Also, in a pinch, you can get ice at an airport establishment if you need reinforcement for keeping your milk cool.
3. Don’t forget to wear your nursing pads.
I will never forget the first time I forgot my nursing pads. It was my first work trip as a new mom, and I involuntarily gushed at hearing someone else’s baby cry at the airport. My blouse was soaked, and my other shirts were in my checked luggage. Luckily, I was wearing a blazer, so I had some coverage!
4. Research the airports for nursing rooms.
The thought of pumping in a public restroom is gross to me, and I try to avoid it all costs. Which is why I try to research the airports—where their nursing rooms are and how to access them. In my opinion, it’s easier to do this from a computer at home and jot down terminals, phone numbers, and access codes in my phone versus doing it on the fly, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
5. Check out the Mamava app.
This incredible company—Mamava—invented the movable lactation pod, and the app allows you to find the closest one and access it with your cell phone. I used my first one in the Huntsville, Alabama, airport and loved it! It was clean and private with ample space and plugs.
6. Have the TSA Guidance on Breast Milk handy.
Not all Transportation Security Agency agents are the same, and having this “back up” (either pulled up on my phone, or printed out) when a TSA agent gives me a hard time has been priceless. While the final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether any item is allowed through the checkpoint, I have found that if you are kind and respectful in presenting the guidance, it at least gets through, even if you may have to send it through the x-ray machine or if they have to test the outside of the bottle.
Oh! Save everyone some time (and unnecessary alarm for having more than three ounces) and let the TSA officer know that you have breastmilk before the X-ray machine.
7. Bring a nursing cover.
Just in case you can’t find a private spot or need to pump in your rental car, a nursing cover can help keep you decent. My favorite is the Cocoon by Amma because it can masquerade as a stylish scarf, cape, or poncho if it’s a little chilly. Also remember to bring your car adapter plug or a battery backup for the car.
8. Check your hotel for a refrigerator and freezer combo.
Most hotels have a refrigerator, which is great for keeping the milk cool, but I like having the tiny freezer, too, because I can keep my gel ice packs frozen for my cooler bag and the flight. If they aren’t frozen, TSA can deny them. And yes, I will actually call the hotel’s front desk to confirm and not rely on websites alone.
9. Breast pump wipes are worth buying.
Because you may not always have access to water to wash your pumping stuff, breast pump wipes are amazing. I always have these packed in my carry-on. My favorite are the Quick Clean Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes by Medela, but if you’re a bit crunchier than I am, I have also used plant-based Dapple Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes.
10. The Milk Stork service is everything.
This service may scream privilege, but I’d be a fraud for not sharing it because it is the BEST tip I can share with other work-outside-the-home-moms who have to travel. You can choose between “pump and tote” or “pump and ship”.
I personally use “pump and ship”, where Milk Stork ships a special box to my hotel. At the end of my work trip, I pack the milk from my mini fridge into the box and activate it, seal it, and drop it off at a Fed Ex store to be shipped home. Depending on your hotel, Fed Ex may actually pick it up. The box is guaranteed to keep my milk cold up to 72 hours, and it is overnighted. For me, it is worth the $250, but you could also check to see if your company will cover it.
Hopefully, these tips are helpful.
But more than anything, know that you’ve got this, mama!
And if there are any snafus (and there always will be), give yourself some grace. And as a mom who has breastfed, supplemented with formula, and now exclusively pumped, my personal mantra in this space is “Fed is Best.”