The Working, Traveling, Pumping, Nursing Mother

Considering only 6% of Hoosier women are exclusively feeding their child breast milk at the age of 6 months, I suspect a much smaller percentage are working moms.  I can’t even begin to think what percentage is the traveling working mother. I know a few and the general consensus is that it is not easy.  We might even fit under the “borderline crazy” category.

If you’re a mom who is about to leave her baby for the first time, let me prepare you for a few realities:

  • You may pump in public, on a counter in front of everyone, in an airport restroom/rest stop.
  • You will likely have to tell a male coworker that “I need to stop in a family restroom…because I a mom…who doesn’t feed my child formula…”
  • You will likely wait 15 minutes for a family restroom and the person who exists is a huge man who was pooping (in these moments, pumping in public is easier).
  • You might not be able to find a plug and will ask a LOT of people if you can use their office/private restroom. Only a quarter of them will let you.
  • You make new decisions. “Do I have time to eat or pump?” Rarely both.
  • You have to answer really awkward questions. “What took you so long to get here?” “Why did you duck out of this meeting?”
  • You will cry. Often.

Was I insane for doing this for the first year of my child’s life? Yes. Did I consider quitting many times? Yes. My child is currently 13 months old and we’re nursing one time a day. I already look back and have no idea how I survived being a working, traveling, pumping, nursing mom, but I wasn’t willing to give up. I believe that you need to do whatever makes YOU the best mom you can be. I guess this was my path.

Update after Baby #2 is One Year Old:

I couldn’t believe how much easier and less emotional my experience was the second time around. I don’t know if it was because I was older, didn’t have the energy to care or I already had so much experience under my belt. I looked forward to the end, but I didn’t agonize over it like the first time around.

I ended up nursing until about 10.5 months and weaned at 11 months. I then used the pump to wean my body from 30 oz a day to nothing over the course of four weeks. The decision was made because of the relationship I had with Abbott. He want nobody but MAMA. Not only did he only want me, he only wanted to nurse and he cried when he didn’t get it. He wasn’t eating food and his need for me was very disruptive to our family life. Not to mention I was on the road and carrying my pump around was KILLING ME! We are all happier now that we’re on the other side.

Here is what I’ve learned while traveling & pumping.

Booking Flights & Hotels:

  • Just like traveling with a child, traveling and pumping is time consuming. Prepare for it.
  • Try has hard as you can to keep on your normal pumping schedule. This will reduce the risk for engorgement / mastitis / loss of supply.
  • Things to consider: Do you pump before you leave for the airport? Before you get on the plane? During the lay over? On the plane? Can you wait until you get to your hotel?
  • I have a friend who only does day trips. I found this very difficult and realized staying the night allowed me to be less sleep deprived, gave me a chance to make sure I ate balanced meals and made sure I had enough time to work, pump and relax. Figure out what works best for you.
  • Consider how long you can last between pumping sessions when flying across the country. I made sure my layover was in Denver when flying to California because I knew I couldn’t go 5 hours between sessions.
  • Consider the worst scenario. What if your plane sits in the tarmac for 5 hours? Bring a hand pump with you just in case you are forced to pump in your seat or the lavatory.
  • Call the hotel and request a refrigerator. Make sure you ask for them to put it in your room BEFORE you arrive. They tend to keep refrigerators unplugged and it will be warm if it hasn’t been sitting in your room for a couple hours.
  • Ask for a mother’s room at your meeting space. This is awkward; I’m not going to lie. If you are like me and work with mostly males, pick the one that has a lot of kids. Or just call the receptionist and explain your situation. I’ve failed to do this and literally pulled women to the side when they are walking down the halls. You will find people are willing to help. Be confident!

Packing:

  • Check your overnight bag; carry on your pump and computer bag.
  • Bring a pashmina, cardigan or hooter hider just in case you need to pump in a public place.

How to Pack Everything into Two Bags:

I didn’t carry on with my first. I always checked my bag. I gave that method up with #2.

  • You laptop back pack will include only three items: Pump, pump cooler and laptop.
  • Your luggage will still have the same things mentioned above – your larger cooler to bring home the milk and everything else you need to travel. This means you are packing very little and wearing your only pair of shoes.
  • Wear a tiny purse that you can easily hide if you get busted trying to get on with three items.

Pump Bag:

  • Hand Pump: This is your insurance policy! If all else fails, you have an easy way to pump.
  • 4 Bottles: I found that I didn’t need more than 4 bottles, no matter how long the trip. If you bring bags, all the milk will likely go in there.
  • Clorox Disinfecting To Go Wipes: Freaked out by the public restroom? Give the counter a wipe and then put paper towels down before you set your bag on the counter.
  • Small Wet Bag: After a few trips, I found that keeping my pump parts in a bag felt more sanitary. This is a better option than a plastic bag. I washed it after every trip.
  • A photo of your nursling! Remember why you are going through this hassle.

Luggage:

  • Small Cooler: I packed a small cooler to store all my bags of milk. This way I didn’t carry milk through security. Also, I didn’t have the space in my pump bag for more than the list above.
  • Zip Lock Bags (2): You will fill the bags with ice in the hotel to then put in the cooler.
  • A note: I wrote a note to put inside my cooler that said “This is breast milk.” I don’t know why, but I felt that the bag inspection process might be easier if they weren’t digging through my precious liquid gold.
  • Extra bottle or two. I didn’t really need it, but I brought them just in case. I tend to only put 5 oz at a time in milk bags, so if I had an odd amount, I would just put it in the bottle for storage.
  • Extra set of pump parts: I didn’t find this necessary, but if you’re someone who must disinfect everything nightly, this will be the easiest route. You can also bring dish soap and a bottle brush.

Battling the Airport:

  • They will likely ask to check your pump bag, even if it doesn’t have milk in it. Make sure you ask them to change their gloves. They will wipe it and put that wipe under a scanner. This process takes just a few moments.
  • If you have milk, they will want to put it in a scanner. You can ask for an alternative test and it will be the wipe method I mentioned above.
  • Cooling methods need to be frozen. I use the medela ice pack.
  • Find a family restroom to pump in private. Sometimes you have to wait, sometimes it’s stinky (ok, all the time) but this normally the best option.

How to Pump on the Plane:   

  • I somehow managed to not pump on the plane with my first. Now I find it almost easier than trying to find a family restroom in an airport.
  • Make sure you have a battery pack for your pump. If you got an Obama Pump, then it didn’t come with one and you’ll have to buy it separately.
  • Always pack extra batteries!
  • Tell a woman stewardess that you are going to be the restroom for an extended period of time and to knock if there is a concern. Also ask if you can use the lavatory in first class since there is less traffic. I’ve only had one tell me no. If it takes you longer than 10 mins to pump, I’d lie to the stewardess and tell it “it just takes a few minutes” because they don’t want all their precious first classers to get huffy.
  • There is a baby changing table behind the toilet you can pull down and use to set all your stuff. It’s the perfect height for pumping.
  • Pack a baggie with Clorox wipes to wipe down the table. Then I would put paper towels down before I set my stuff on it.
  • I tried to pump at the beginning of the flight because the line for the restroom will back up quickly.

Airports with Ideal Pumping Areas:

  • Indianapolis: There is a mother’s room located pre and post security!
  • Cleveland: There is a children’s waiting room and they’ve let me use their CLEAN restroom!
  • SFO: They have a mother’s room! One slight fail is that you can see through the door.

Pumping while a man leans on the door. Hoping he doesn’t turn around…

– Airports that suck:

  • Atlanta: There is a terminal that doesn’t have a family restroom. If you see one, jump in it because the next place you go might not have one.

Other “Stuff” to Consider:

  • Bring your baby! When Louis was 5ish months old, I had a 3 night work trip that was back to back with another long trip. I HAD to bring him because I didn’t have enough freezer milk stored. We paid airfare for a close friend and I found a 3 bedroom condo that was close to my conference that happened to be cheaper than a hotel. It was hard to do the nights without my husband and then work all day / evening, but it was a sacrifice that had to be made at the time. I consider myself lucky to have a friend that was more than willing to take on the job!
  • How much milk do you need while you’re gone? Babies tend to drink 1-1.25 oz of milk per hour when away from their mama. I found Louis drank 29 – 36 oz in 24 hours of me being away. If you’re committed to not using formula, it’s probably wise to not travel until your stash is ready. When you come home, you’ll have a ton of milk to replace what your baby drank while you were away.
  • Snacks. I mentioned above that sometimes you have to sacrifice eating for pumping. Bring snacks with you – nuts, fruit, etc. Buy water when you have a free moment in preparation for whatever the airlines will throw at you the rest of the trip.
  • REMEMBER – YOU CAN DO IT! It’s hard and it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. When you’ve reached your breastfeeding goal you can look back and realize that you’ve overcome a huge challenge. You are a role model and a hero to your baby!

Other Traveling & Pumping Blog Posts:

My Blog Posts

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3 thoughts on “The Working, Traveling, Pumping, Nursing Mother

    • I’m so glad! I realized that I had all this stored up knowledge that needed to be shared. It’s a tough job, but it CAN be done!

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