Traveling without your baby while still breastfeeding

I think I've said it before: I'm a working mother and sometimes I travel for my job.  By sometimes, I mean probably 40 nights or so a year (which excludes the requisite weekend and evening work in the office).  It is hard.  But I do it because I am NOT cut out to be a stay at home mother, and I love my job (I just wish I didn't have to put in QUITE so many hours).

Anyways - recently a friend of mine who has a 7 month old asked me about how to handle a trip away from the baby while breastfeeding (she's also a full-time working mom who pumps in the office, but hasn't had to do a trip away yet).

It brought me back to when I was first preparing for a trip away from Graham.  I started with a bang on the CTCL tour: a multi-day, multi-city, multi-airplane whirlwind of a first trip.  I quickly ran to my two working mother role models (Jess and Suz) and asked, "How the hell do I do this?!"

I'm sharing with you a combination of their very practical and very supportive pieces of advice, plus some things that I figured out along the way.

Things to bring
  • pump and two sets of bottles
  • car adapter and/or battery pack for your pump (if you will not always be in buildings wherever you are going)
  • medela wipes (in case you need to pump when you're not near a sink)
  • nursing cover
  •  milk storage bags - lots of them (I liked Nuk brand the best - they hold a lot of milk and don't leak)
  • permanent marker
  • large ziplock bags (gallon size) - bring around 5 of them to be safe
  • soft-sided cooler. I have one that is larger than a small lunch bag, but smaller than a picnic basket, and it looks kind of like a purse!
 Pumping and storing
  • Always be scouting out locations of outlets in private (or semiprivate) settings.  But be aware that the concept of a "private" location may be a public bathroom. This is where the nursing cover comes in handy.  Yep, it's awkward and sometimes gross, but it's just how it is.
  • Some places have family bathrooms, which sounds ideal.  Unless you're in O'Hare airport and the family bathrooms do NOT have outlets.  WTF?  You will then spend lots of time going from family bathroom to family bathroom in search of an outlet only to wind up in the public bathroom by the changing table trying not to cry as you're feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.  
  • Pump into bottles then pour your milk into the little bags (labeled by date and ounces). Put the little bags into a big bag, then cover with an ice pack or another ziplock filled with ice, and store in your soft-sided cooler.
  • Milk stays good in a cooler all day.  When you're back in your hotel in the evening, put your milk into the fridge.  If you forget this step, you will hate yourself for wasting the precious milk that you've so painstakingly pumped (I speak from experience).
  • Do NOT freeze the milk.  Freshly expressed milk stays good for 5-7 days in the fridge.  Once it's been frozen and thawed, it's good for 24 hours. 
Traveling with milk
  • If you're traveling for more than a day or two, check your luggage.  Then you can use your pump and your cooler as your carry-on items.  It's amazing how much you can fit in one of those pump bags: pump, all four bottles, nursing cover, book, wallet, cell phone, snacks...I used it as my purse and it was great. 
  • Tell the first TSA agent you see that you have breastmilk to declare.  Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, nobody batted an eye (male or female) about this.  They will probably pull you aside, pull out your big ziploc bag of milk bags, and swipe a little cloth in there (not in the milk, but around the cooler - it checks for hazardous chemicals). Then they'll send you on your merry way.
  • Feel free to ask bartenders to fill your bag with ice if you've got a long day of traveling and the mini-fridge at the hotel you just left didn't have a functional freezer to freeze your ice packs and now you're carrying a ziplock full of water.  They may look at you funny, but you gotta keep that milk cold-ish.
  • Sometimes condensation will form in your cooler, so that's another reason to carry it separately and not try to pack it in your bag. 
Random thoughts about pumping while traveling
  • Don't forget that if you're still feeding in the middle of the night, you need to be pumping in the middle of the night.  The silver lining, or so you think, about being away from home is glorious, uninterrupted sleep.  And then you realize, oh crap, my kid normally eats at 2am and will be expecting to eat at 2am once I return.  So, you will have to set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to pump.  (Be sure that if such is the case and you happen to log on to the computer to keep yourself awake that you don't log into Skype, because your boss who is traveling in Asia may see you suddenly pop online not realizing what time it actually is and attempt to Skype with you.  Awkward!)
  • If, like me, you have a traveling job where you spend a lot of time in the car, just come to grips with the fact that you may be pumping in the car.  If, like me, you travel to places where there are kids present, you may want to find another location to pump other than the visitors parking spot at the front of a school.  A better location might be the far corner of a store parking lot where there are lots of empty spaces (where you can then curse the random car that decides they also need to park in the random empty section RIGHT next to you and you've suddenly been stripped of your privacy).
  • Go to the mall and find yourself a Macy's or a Nordstrom and set up camp in their posh bathroom lounge.  Or find a Babies R' Us that has an actual NURSING LOUNGE!  
  • MAKE TIME TO PUMP!!!  Do not, I repeat, do not think that you can carry on your travel schedule as you used to do.  Sometimes you can't help it.  But sometimes you can.  Be nice to yourself and add 15 minutes to your schedule every few hours. Otherwise you'll wind up with a clogged duct and people who are angry with you for being late to your appointment.
  • If you get a clogged duct, and you can not lay in bed and nurse your baby all day (which is seriously what EVERY website tells you to do to remedy the situation), nor can you stop your schedule so that you can put warm, wet compresses on your breast all day, I have found a solution: go to the grocery/drug store and buy those muscle relaxer stick-on compresses.  Not the medicated kind (you don't want Icy Hot on your boob), but the warms on contact with no tingling stuff kind.  They are small, inexpensive and fairly discreet.  Stick those on your chest for a day and pump, pump, pump.  It's a little slower process, but it works. 
Most importantly remember that you are AWESOME!!!


  1. Thanks, friend! I am totally printing this out! :)

  2. Wow. Kudos to you for doing this! For me, breastfeeding was easy. I pumped on occasion, but it was only for trips to the store or so Brian could help feed every once in awhile. That is a TON of work!

  3. Hi Hillary! I'm commenting after just finding your blog through MODG...I swear I did not stalk your life when I named my blog According to Lara and my son G (it's my husband's middle name!). I just had to leave a comment because clearly great minds think alike ;) Great pumping tips.


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