Pumping on a Business Trip

Traveling for work as a new mom sucks. Not only are you away from your kiddo, you have to figure out how to pump in strange places and bring your milk home, all while doing the usual waking up early and going to meetings all day.

The first time I had to pump while on a business trip was during my second week at my new job. My son was only 3 months old at the time, and it was super hard to leave him. I also wasn’t prepared for the complex logistics of pumping on the road and had to figure things out on my own at the last minute, which was incredibly difficult and stressful. Having now been on several business trips, including an international trip(!), I want to share some tips that I’ve learned, as well as tips from the Moms in Tech Facebook community.

Art by Chelsea Larsson

Essential pack list:

  • Extra milk storage bags
  • Battery pack for pump (in case you can’t find an outlet)
  • If you’re traveling overseas, make sure you have the right adaptors!!
  • Medela also makes wipes to clean your pump that are super useful while traveling

Step 1: Flying to your destination

Pumping and flying is one of the hardest things you’ll have to do. You can pump at the airport, pump in the airplane bathroom, pump in your seat, or not pump and have your boobs explode.

Pumping at the airport

If you’re able to, you can try pumping at the airport immediately before and after your flight. There are great mom pods called Mamavas that are located at over 20 major airports across the US. You can also use the family bathroom at the airport. The changing table makes for a pretty decent table for your pump and it’s roomier and more private than a regular bathroom stall.

Pumping in the airplane bathroom

Wait until the bathrooms are not too busy. You’re going to be in there for awhile, so you don’t want people banging on your door demanding to be let in. Optionally, ask a friendly flight attendant to help you. Let them know you need time to pump and don’t want to be bothered. Wash your hands and wipe down the counter, set up your pump on the counter, try to imagine yourself somewhere else, and go for it!

Pumping in your seat

It’s easier than you think! First, book a window seat for a little more privacy and comfort. (Pro tip for hand pumps: if you’re right-handed sit on the right side of the plane, if you’re left-handed sit on the left). Take a peek at your neighbor and decide how comfortable you are pumping next to them. Trust me, they’ll know you’re up to something! If you want, let them know that you need to pump and ask if they’re okay with you pumping in your seat — you may be surprised that most people are totally cool with it. Bring a nursing cover or blanket with you if case you want to cover up.

Letting your boobs explode

Don’t do this.

My personal preference is pumping in my seat with a hand pump. I find that it’s more comfortable than hanging out in the bathroom and can also be very discreet because the hand pump doesn’t require as much gear as an electric pump. I usually just put on my headphones, hunch toward the window, and watch a movie while I pump away!

By the way, even if it’s a short flight and you don’t expect to have to pump on the plane, put your pumps in your carry-on. You never know if your flight will be delayed.

Step 2: Storing your milk

First of all, I want to call out that it’s totally okay to choose not to store your milk. Sometimes you just don’t want to go through the trouble or it’s impossible to store. You’ll make more, so don’t sweat it! Not stressing about storing and transporting milk can be a huge relief.

Storing milk in a cooler bag

If you’re transporting milk from the plane to your hotel, I suggest using a cooler bag like this one or this one. You can keep milk cold using a frozen ice pack (check out Techni ice) or with ice from the flight attendant. I also store my pump parts in the cold insulated bag and wait to wash them when I get to my hotel.

Storing milk in a refrigerator

If you’re storing milk in your hotel room, you can use the fridge in your hotel room to keep your milk cold. Most hotels in the United States have a mini-fridge in every room. But if you’re traveling internationally this may not be the case. Be sure to call or email ahead to request a room with a fridge. If there’s an extra fee, they may waive it if you explain why you need the fridge. Also, if you don’t want to tell them it’s for breastmilk you can say it’s for medical reasons (totally true!).

Storing milk in a freezer

Some moms prefer to freeze their milk if their trip is longer than a few days. Unfortunately, most hotel fridges will not include a freezer. To ensure you will have access to a freezer, it works best to book an Airbnb or one of those hotels that comes with a kitchenette like a Residence Inn. Otherwise, if you’re staying in a traditional hotel, often you can store your milk in the employee fridge. When you check in, ask to speak to the manager. Let him or her know that you have food for your child, say that it needs to be frozen, and ask if you can use their fridge. Label an insulated bag with your name, phone number, and room number. Write “BREAST MILK KEEP FROZEN” in all caps. Make sure they know to put it in the freezer and that you know how to describe where it is located. When you go to retrieve later it you’ll most likely be speaking to a different employee who has no idea what you’re talking about.

The last time I traveled for work, I was in Stockholm. The hotel staff spoke some English but not a lot, and it certainly was a challenge explaining that I needed them to store my breastmilk in their freezer!

Step 3: Pumping at meetings

You’re going to be in unknown territory so make sure to call or email ahead to find out if your meeting location will have a room for you to pump. If they have lactation rooms already, you’re in luck! If not, explain to your host that you’re going to need a room with a locking door and covered windows, and access to a refrigerator.

Look at the meeting schedule and make sure you’ll have time in the agenda to pump during the day. If not, try to get the schedule adjusted. If there is a pumping room schedule, ask your host to block some times for you.

Often when traveling you end up pumping fewer times than you normally would. I suggest being flexible about frequency and timing. A few days of a different schedule won’t dramatically affect your milk supply. Just make sure you’re pumping often enough that you’re not engorged and don’t get plugged ducts (yikes!). Bringing some lecithin to take that can thin your milk to minimize plugged ducts may bring peace of mind.

The most awkward place I had to pump was at a conference. The organizers didn’t have a mother’s room and so I ended up using a dressing room attached to the main stage where the presenters were speaking. The doors didn’t lock and people could just walk in and out. I pumped as quickly as I could and got out fast!

Step 4: Getting milk home

Now that you’ve made it this far and have a pile of lovely bags of milk, how the f@*k are you going to get them home?

Many moms try to ensure that their frozen milk stays frozen for the journey home. If this is important you, one way to keep your milk frozen is to use dry ice. See if you can find a dry ice vendor that is easy to get to or that will deliver to your hotel. Additionally, some grocery store chains in the US carry dry ice. 12 pounds of ice should cost about $25. If you are planning to carry-on the dry ice, be aware that you can only carry-on 5 lbs of dry ice according to current regulations. (Note: be careful when handling dry ice! Don’t touch dry ice directly with your hands.)

To get the milk home, you can carry-on your milk, check your milk, or ship your milk.

Carrying-on your milk

Carrying-on is best if you’re doing a short trip and have just a little milk to carry back with you. If you put your milk in your carry-on luggage, let the TSA agent at security know that you are traveling with breastmilk. According to TSA, you are allowed to travel with as much breastmilk as you want in the US, even if you are traveling without a child. Different countries may have different rules, however, so make sure to look it up beforehand! If you’re not sure about the country’s rules, it may be better to check your milk instead.

Checking your milk

Checking your milk is best if you’re traveling internationally or have a large-ish amount of milk to take home. If it’s a short flight, you can pack your container with ice packs or regular ice as it’s generally pretty cold in the hold. Rather than buying a bag of ice, one trick is freezing Ziploc bags of water and squeezing the air out so the pressure doesn’t cause them to pop in the air. However, if it’s a long international flight, there’s a layover, or if you’re anal like me, you might want to consider dry ice instead. You can purchase a styrofoam cooler with a cardboard box from your dry ice vendor (this will cost about $25). Label it with your name and write “DRY ICE” on the side. I suggest using about 10–12 lbs of dry ice. It is likely more than you’ll need but you’ll rest easy knowing that even if something goes horribly wrong and your box doesn’t make it onto your plane, your milk will stay solidly frozen for a day or so.

Shipping your milk

Instead of taking your frozen milk on the plane with you, you can ship it home. Package up your milk in a styrofoam cooler with dry ice and take the box to the nearest FedEx location for overnight shipping. Some moms recommend using a service like Milk Stork which delivers a cooler to your hotel with a freezer system that you can activate. I haven’t used it yet but have heard great things about it and plan to try it the next time I travel. If you’re interested in using Milk Stork, some companies will reimburse for it, so it’s worth asking your HR! (One downside is that Milk Stork does not provide service internationally.)

When you get home, give yourself a high-five. Congratulations, badass mama. YOU’RE A ROCKSTAR!

What tricks have worked for you while traveling? Please share in the comments!

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