It’s never easy to travel away from the little ones, and last week I found myself away from my darling kiddos for 3 days and 3 nights. It was the first trip I would take away from my youngest who is still breastfeeding. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it often, but traveling away from a nursing baby presents a number of challenges, the first of which is making sure she has enough milk while I’m away.
For over a month in advance of the trip, I prepared by adding an extra pumping session in the evenings in an effort to accumulate extra milk and freeze it for the time that I’d be away. Ideally, morning is the best time to add an extra pumping session as your supply is stronger then, but my daughter wakes early and usually sneaks in a feeding at 5:30 am and 7 am before going off to daycare so that wasn’t really an option for me.
After accumulating all the milk I thought she could possibly need and then some just in case, the next challenge became figuring out what to do while I was away. Ideally, I wanted to be able to pump while I was away, freeze my milk, and return home with it. I didn’t want to wait to freeze it until I got home because I wanted to preserve it at its best. However, I would be attending a 3-day seminar with workshops running from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm with the typical 10-15 minute morning and afternoon breaks and a hotel room a mile away from meeting rooms with no freezer. Aargh. When would I pump? Where would I pump? How would I freeze my milk? Would I have to pump and dump, or would I be able to return home with my precious liquid gold?
When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the front desk what accommodations they could make for me. They offered to store my milk in the freezer at bell services and suggested that I talk to the conference organizers when I registered the next morning. There were no mother’s rooms available in the conference center, so the organizers would have to assist me in finding a private space. I dreaded the potentially awkward conversation should I have to address a man, but thank goodness the organizer was a woman…and she must have been a mother too because she was all over my request. I had approached her confidently and kindly and indicated that, because there were no mother’s rooms in the center, I would need a private space to pump milk for my infant at home, and she immediately insisted that I see her whenever I needed a space and she would make a room available for me. Phew!
What a godsend – each time the sessions broke and at lunch, I sought her or her assistant out, and they immediately cleared the speaker-ready room for me and stood guard at the door (no locks!) for me. As an extra precaution, I’d find the outlet furthest from the door, turn my back to it, and pray no one would walk in on me.
I kept a soft-sided cooler in the freezer at bell services. Each morning, I’d pick up the freezer gel packs that I had left there overnight in order to keep my expressed milk cold during the day. At lunch time and in the evenings, I’d stop in and drop off my milk to be frozen. I came to know the folks at bell services very well. By the end of my trip, I’d managed to pump at least 5 times a day, including mornings and evenings in my room. When it came time to leave, my next challenge was figuring out how to get home with my precious frozen milk.
I had to leave the hotel around 3 p.m. for a flight at 6 p.m. that wouldn’t get me home until nearly 10 p.m. – 7 hours I had to keep my milk frozen. Yikes! During my trip, I’d transferred my milk to Lansinoh milk storage bags and laid them flat in the soft-sided cooler for freezing. I then bagged them all together in large ziploc bags squeezing out as much air as possible, placed them back in the cooler with a freezer gel pack, and stuffed clothing in the extra space within the cooler to eliminate any remaining air pockets. The soft-sided cooler then went into my checked luggage (the cargo space is cooler than the main cabin), and when I arrived home it was still frozen solid. Success!!!!
In addition to my frozen breastmilk, I did also travel with about 12 oz of expressed breastmilk that I was not able to freeze before traveling home. I carried it on the plane with me in the Medela carry case with a frozen gel pack, and it also made it home cold!
More importantly, though, I was back home with my little girls.
If you’re going to be traveling away from your nursing child, here are a few tips for maintaining your supply and returning home with your precious milk:
1) Call ahead and find out what accommodations are available. Ensure that a refrigerator will be available in your room at a minimum, and find out about options for a freezer if you plan to freeze your milk. If you will be attending a seminar, contact the conference organizer to ensure available space if necessary.
Don’t be shy. Be upfront with people about your needs in order to provide milk for your baby. People will be quite helpful if you explain. There is a freezer somewhere in the hotel – don’t be afraid about asking to use it. I read online of one mom who had her milk stored in a meat locker once! The sooner you can get your milk into a freezer, the better. Dr. Lawrence at breastfeeding.com suggests that you limit refrigerator time before freezing to 6 hours max. Refrigeration slows down enzyme activity, but doesn’t halt it.
2) Bring along your breastpump and battery pack, milk storage bags, freezer gel packs, and a soft-sided cooler. Milk storage bags can be laid flat for freezing allowing you to conserve space and eliminate air pockets which can contribute to thawing. I prefer Lansinoh bags because they are thicker than some others, and they have a double zipper seal. Gel packs will keep your milk colder than ice. A soft-sided cooler will allow you to more easily fit it into your luggage.
3) Pump often to maintain supply and prevent clogged ducts. Stay hydrated as well. It’s easy to get dehydrated while traveling which can affect your supply. I bought an extra water bottle before boarding each plane and made sure to drink lots of water and avoid carbonated beverages while at my conference since I wouldn’t be able to pump quite as often as my daughter would have nursed.
4) Check frozen items in your luggage, and insulate them well. Check with the airline in advance, but most airlines should allow you to check frozen items and gel packs without restriction. You can always declare it at check-in just as a precaution. Make sure it’s labeled as well in the event your luggage gets inspected. The nice thing about Lansinoh storage bags – they’re labeled “My Mommy’s Milk”. As I mentioned earlier, insulating well eliminates air pockets which would otherwise contribute to thawing of your milk. You can carry on frozen items, but the cargo area of the plain will be colder than the passenger cabin.
5) Breastmilk is allowed through security in reasonable quantities. You are allowed an exception to the 3-1-1 rule for breastmilk, however the TSA website isn’t specific as to when you are traveling without your child. The CDC says breastmilk is exempted regardless, though, and recommends that you travel with a printed copy of this webpage to prevent any problems. I have never had a problem getting through security with breastmilk, freezer gel packs, or my breastpump when traveling alone, but be prepared to possibly have your breastmilk tested at security.
6) Look for family bathrooms at the airport should you need to pump while traveling. Unfortunately, I was not able to find one at my terminal, but I’d pumped just before I left for the airport and was able to manage until I returned home.
If you have any other tips or experiences traveling away from your nursing child or transporting your breastmilk while traveling, please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear it.
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