I used to travel ALL the time, and now that I’m a mom who is still breastfeeding, when I set out on a trip without my little one, packing takes on a whole new level. I was just on my second trip away from my girl (insert ugly Kim K cry here) and I always fear I’m going to forget something. Worries about my milk supply arise and I have multiple checklists to ensure I’m not forgetting anything so that I can pump, store and bring my precious liquid gold back home with me. So I thought I would share a few tips for other mom’s out there who might need to travel sans their adorable cargo with them and have to pump on the road.
Before the trip
I have the ugly Medela pump bag so I use that as one of my carry-ons with everything I need for the trip, but you could put all this stuff in any bag all together. I always carry it on because if, for any reason, you check it and your luggage gets lost, that would be a nightmare! So carry all your pump supplies on with you (and legally it doesn’t “count” as a carry-on because it’s technically a “medical device”).
Here is my packlist for all things pumping:
- Power cord (& a car charger if you have one and think you might need it)
- Hands-free pump bra
- Milk storage bags (quantity would depend on how long your trip is and how much you’ll pump)
- (2) sets of pump parts (4 shields, 4 valves, 4 membranes)
- Extra set of membranes (or a couple extra sets, these tiny little suckers always seem to get lost or sneak down the drain too quickly)
- (4) Medela bottles
- (4) Medela bottle caps
- (4) Gallon size plastic bags (For storing, carrying pump parts and for ice on the way home)
- Handful of extra zip lock bags (In case you have a breastmilk storage bag leak, you can just put that bag inside a ziplock bag so you don’t lose the milk)
- Medela wipes or soap (or both)
- Medela quick clean steam bag (optional if you’ll have access to a microwave)
- Insulated bag of some kind or cooler bag
- Sharpie (for labeling your milk storage bags)
On the trip
While you are on the trip, it’s important to set aside enough time to pump. This will vary depending on where you are in your breastfeeding journey. Avalon is 17 months old now, so I pump morning and night when I’m away to basically tell my body to keep producing milk (even though she still nurses much more than that when we are home…but that’s a whole other Oprah haha). If you’re little one is younger, you’ll likely need to pump more. I think it just depends on how often your little one is eating, you’ll want to somewhat mirror that.
I noticed that my first pump session away from home took me quite a bit longer to fully empty out both sides – much longer than it takes Avalon. I had originally set aside 15 minutes, but it took closer to 25 minutes of pumping to be done. Babies are much more efficient than pumps most of the time. I just plug in and do my makeup while pumping in the morning, then put the milk and pump parts in the fridge to worry about later.
On this trip, I did feel a clogged duct creeping up on me. I was in pain the last two days I was away and did everything I could to help it – warm washcloths, massage it in a hot shower and additional pump sessions….nothing worked. Literally 5 minutes into being home and having Avalon nurse – she got it out and the pain was completely gone. I normally bring Happy Ducts with me on a trip, but totally forgot it this go-around. But that stuff is seriously a life-saver when you feel a clogged duct coming on.
If you are staying in a hotel that doesn’t have a refrigerator in your room, just call housekeeping to get one delivered. They legally have to provide one free of charge to nursing moms!
You can store your milk in the fridge for the duration of the trip, or if you have access to a freezer, you could also choose to freeze it. I mention this because depending on how you carry your milk back home will determine how TSA security handles you and your milk. More about that in the next section. I only carry 4 Medela bottles so I do empty my milk into storage bags and label them with the date and time, then wash the bottles so I can use them the next day. But if you have a lot of bottles, you could choose to just store your milk in bottles. I just like how the bags are flatter and seem easier to travel with to me.
I bring two sets of pump parts so I don’t have to worry about washing one set in between uses. Especially because I’m usually trying to rush out the door in the morning! I really liked using the Medela wipes, but I gave those to my sister who was traveling recently, so I just brought my Medela soap this time-around. If you have access to a microwave, you could also use the quick clean steam bag. I always bring extra membranes, because if one of those slippery little things goes down the drain and you don’t have extras, your pump literally won’t work! It’s the little things that are so important!
Another little tidbit…If I have all my pump parts laying out to dry, I also put my DND (Do not disturb) sign on my door when I’m gone for the day because I just don’t want anyone to potentially clean, touch or move my pump parts. I can put up with making my own bed and calling down for fresh towels as needed so I typically forgo housekeeping when all my pump stuff is out.
On the way to home sweet home
Depending on your flight time, you may want to call down to the front desk to request a late check-out so that you can keep your breastmilk in the fridge in your room for as long as possible. On my trip home from Nashville recently, I had a late afternoon flight so I called down and the hotel was very accommodating giving me a 2:30 PM checkout. Score! That way I didn’t need to be out of my room by 11 AM or noon to worry about keeping my milk cold for that much longer.
PREP FOR PLANE –
I grab one of those gallon sized zip lock bags and head down the hall in the hotel to fill it with ice. I pack the ice along with all my bags of milk inside the insulated bag (or cooler). I think it’s easier to use a big baggie of ice rather than those ice packs because if it does start to melt a little too much, you can just go to any Starbucks and ask them to fill it with fresh ice again. Super easy!
I again pack all my pump stuff up and then carry my insulated bag of breastmilk to the airport with all my other luggage and bags. When I get to security, I let the TSA agents know that I have breastmilk in storage bags on ice so they know what to do.
I got an extra pat-down coming home from Nashville and I asked the TSA agent for specifics, and she was very nice and explained everything to me.
- If your milk is kept in bottles (NOT bags), they will open and test the milk and you likely will not get an extra pat-down because they can test the milk for explosives.
- If your milk is kept in storage bags, they are not able to open and test it for risk of spilling it, so you’ll get an extra pat down and swipe your hands for extra testing.
- If your milk is frozen, there is nothing extra they need to do but inspect it visually.
There is no limit or max of how much breastmilk you can travel with. But always check the TSA guidelines before you travel. International flights might also have some other guidelines depending on where you’re traveling to, so do your homework first.
I also feel like every airport has differences in how they handle things. In fact, leaving Newark, they didn’t do any extra testing of my milk or pat me down because all of the agents were pre-occupied with something else so they literally just forgot I think.
Now, if you’re NOT a breastfeeding mom and you read all that, aren’t you jealous? haha
And if you ARE a breastfeeding mom getting ready for some travel without your babe in tow, I hope this post has helped you feel more prepared!
Normally if you are traveling without your little one, you have SO much more on your mind than just the pumping thing….you’re also getting lists ready for whomever is watching your baby at home, prepping meals in advance (or bottles and baby food), doing laundry, packing all your other normal stuff for a trip AND potentially getting all your work stuff organized too! A simple 4 day trip turns into a large scale project with tons of logistics, lists and prep work when you’re a mom! So kudos to all the traveling moms out there! Much LOVE!
Kisses from Sarah K