Traveling for work as a breastfeeding mom can be stressful – there is so much to think about when it comes to traveling with your breastmilk, pumping on the plane, and managing your milk stash at your destination. Here is a complete guide to how to travel for work when breastfeeding!
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Here’s everything you need to know about traveling for work when you’re a breastfeeding mom.
What Do You Need to Pack?
Everyone will have a different packing list, but here are some things that come in handy for many people:
- Your breast pump and power cord
- An external battery pack if your pump does not have a rechargeable battery
- At least one, and preferably two or three, sets of breast pump parts (extra sets are helpful when you aren’t able to wash your gear and in the event of lost parts)
- Medela Quick-Clean Wipes
- Plastic zip-top bags to store dirty parts
- A travel-sized container of dish soap
- A wet/dry bag to store your pump parts in
- A nursing cover for pumping on the plane or in public, if you’d like to use one
- A travel Boon rack for washing and drying your pump parts
- A breast milk cooler (a larger one will work better in most cases)
- Extra bottles and milk bags
Here’s an awesome video of what one exclusive pumper includes in her pump bag when she travels for work, and how she packs it all up:
(Video Description: Woman wearing a blue shirt sitting in front of a red curtain sits next to a suitcase and carry on bag. One by one, she takes items out of the carry on and suitcase to show the viewer what she has packed to pump breast milk for her baby on her work trip.)
Packing Up Your Breast Pump Gear for a Work Trip
The last thing that you want to do when you travel for work is forget something crucial, like a breast shield or a valve. When you’re packing, you want to make absolutely sure that you have everything that you need.
Because different things work for different people, it’s a good idea to figure out what will work best for you when you’re packing to make sure you don’t forget anything. Some suggestions:
- Make a checklist of everything you need, and then make a fresh copy of it for each trip. Check off stuff as you pack it.
- Lay everything you need out so you can see it before you start to put things in the bag.
- If you have anything that you can’t pack until the last minute, put it near your bag or put a sticky note on your suitcase to remind yourself.
The TSA and Flying with a Breast Pump and Breastmilk
Here’s how to manage going through security on your flights to your work location and back home.
On the Flight Out
Your breast pump is a medical device and in most cases will not count as a separate carry-on item. However, it’s a good idea to print out your airline’s breastfeeding policy (here’s an example) and bring it with you in case there is any confusion with the gate agent.
Unless there is (for whatever reason) no other option, do not check your pump – if you have a long delay, you’ll need it, and it will be a huge hassle if it gets lost.
On your first flight, you probably won’t have any milk with you, so the process should be straightforward. You should be able to send your breast pump through the conveyor belt when going through security screening without issue.
If you’re bringing an ice pack on the plane to keep the breastmilk you pump en route cold, make sure that it’s frozen solid.
On the Return Flight Home
When you’re on your return flight, you’ll have breastmilk with you that will need to be checked by TSA agents. In most cases, each bottle will be opened and checked. Some suggestions for making this process as smooth as possible:
- Print out the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk and bring them with you.
- Tell the TSA staffer at the front of the conveyor belt that your bag contains breastmilk and send the cooler bag through the conveyor belt on its own.
- When the cooler bag gets pulled aside, claim it and tell the TSA agent that it’s breastmilk so they know what process they need to do.
- The TSA staffer will then test each bottle. The fewer bottles you have, the faster it will be (so it might make sense to invest in bottles that hold a larger quantity for travel).
Make sure to give yourself a cushion in terms of time, in case there’s a delay.
Pumping on the Plane and in the Airport
Depending on the length of your flight and how frequently you pump, you might be able to get away with just pumping in the airport before you take off, or you might need to pump on the plane.
Where to pump in the airport? Many airports now have mother’s rooms or Mamava pods that you can pump in. If that’s not an option, you may be able to use a family restroom (you can bring a Pumping in Progress sign to slide under the door if necessary), or I’ve also found an empty gate with an outlet and pumped there.
If you plan to pump on the plane and you have a choice of a window or an aisle seat, a window seat might work best for additional privacy. Also, this way, you don’t need to stop pumping if your seat mate needs to use the restroom.
Storing Breast Milk When You’re Staying at a Hotel
When you book your hotel, ask for a mini-fridge to use in your room. Make sure to tell them what it’s for, and it’s possible they won’t charge you since breastmilk is considered a “medical liquid.”
If you can’t get a room with a fridge, you can ask at the front desk if it’s possible to store milk in a hotel fridge. Put your milk in a single zip-top bag and make sure to label it carefully with your name and room number.
You may want to label your bottles with a sticker or a dry erase marker so you know the day it was pumped.
Getting Your Milk for Home
There are two ways you can get your milk home – bring it on the plane with you, or ship it.
Bringing Milk on the Plane
In most cases, with short trips, the best way to pack up the milk from your trip is in a breast milk cooler. Since each bottle will need to be checked by security, travel with as few bottles as you can (as noted above, that might mean using larger bottles for travel).
Some women prefer travel with milk in breastmilk storage bags because that takes up less room.
If you’re able to freeze an ice pack in the hotel you’re staying in, that’s ideal. Otherwise, you can keep the cooler cool with ice from the hotel, airport, and flight attendants on the plane. (Just bring a small plastic bag with you to put the ice in.)
Shipping Your Milk
Some employers contract with Milk Stork to ship their employees’ breast milk home for them. It may be worth checking to see if your company offers this benefit; if not, you can work with them directly.
Mindset: Making Travel for Work While Breastfeeding Less Stressful
Melora, who is featured in the video above, recommended a few mindset shifts in the way you think about traveling and pumping to help manage the stress.
First, be prepared to lose all of the milk you pumped while you are away. This is unlikely, and if it happens, it would be awful – but remember the most important thing about pumping while you are away is maintaining your supply. When you think about it this way, all of the milk that you bring home is a bonsu.
Second, remember that nobody cares all that much about what you’re doing. Everyone is on their own trip, and while they might look at you out of curiosity, for the most part, other people don’t care what you do. Let it go and go with the flow.
She also suggests that you look at the first few trips as learning trips that are going to have some trial and error while you figure out the best system for you. Try and laugh off things that go wrong – in most cases, you’ll at least have a good story to tell.
Share your tips for how to travel for work while breastfeeding below!
Nervous about pumping at work? Want help building your freezer stash, creating a packing checklist, and putting together a pumping schedule? Check out my Ultimate Pumping at Work Workbook here! Use EPUMP30 for 30% off.