I’m back from my first business trip as a nursing mom and I’m sharing my tips, tricks, and lessons learned about traveling with breastmilk!
I hope you and your family had an amazing Thanksgiving! I am still full and slowly recovering from a food coma. I regret nothing. Anyway, as I shared a couple of weeks ago, I just went on my first business trip for work since I had Isaac. When I found out I had to go on this trip, I was beyond stressed. Not only did I need to build up my freezer stash fast for while I was away (see my post on how I did it here, but I was so worried about traveling with my pump and breastmilk. I had heard SO many horror stories of women being forced to dump breastmilk due to uninformed (read: stupid) TSA agents.
Fortunately, I got some really great advice on one of my favorite breastfeeding support groups on Facebook, Fancy Pumpers (can y’all tell that I love Facebook groups?). I wanted to share some of the great tips I received, as well as a few tips, tricks, and lessons I learned along the way. I hope these tips will help you relax and enjoy your time without feeling too much #momguilt. I seriously was so sad to leave my baby behind, but everything turned out just fine and I made it back with all of the liquid gold for my little one. So mamas, it can be done with just a little determination and perseverance!
1. Make a packing list to keep track of everything you’ll need while you’re gone
I needed to take so many accessories for pumping that I HAD to make a list of everything I would need while I was gone. I made this easy for you. Here is a list for you to use, you can print it out and go!
2. Take tons of breastmilk storage bags
You’re going to need way more bags than you think. You’ll be pumping your entire supply for however long you’re gone. For me, this was 30 oz a day. I like to bag my milk in 3 oz bags. I was gone for 3 days. Therefore, I needed about 30 bags. I packed 60 bags just to be safe! Just make sure you do the math and ensure you have bags for all of your precious liquid gold! My favorite storage bags are the Up & Up brand from Target. They have not leaked once (knock on wood).
3. Make arrangements for a place to pump before the trip (if possible)
If you’re able to, check with whoever is organizing the event/conference/trip and see if they can arrange for you a private place to pump while you’re there. I think making arrangements beforehand makes everything a lot less stressful for everyone! I know this isn’t always possible (it wasn’t in my case, as we were on customer interviews for three days) but if it is, do it! Don’t be afraid to ask!
4. Confirm (and confirm again) that your hotel room has a mini fridge for you to use to store your breastmilk
I confirmed THREE times with my hotel that I was going to need a refrigerator in my room for medical purposes (be sure to tell them it is for medical purposes). Unfortunately for me, they STILL did not have a refrigerator ready for me. I had to speak to a manager and luckily they were able to get me a fridge. DO NOT agree to let them store it in a hotel refrigerator in the kitchen, breakroom, etc. The hotel I was staying at tried to get me to use a refrigerator in the hotel’s restaurant. HELL NO. If they can’t make arrangements for you to have your own fridge in your room, change hotels.
5. It’s going to get awkward
I’m going to warn you now, pumping on a business trip is awkward as hell. There’s just no way around it. You’ll have to pump in some pretty weird places most likely and it won’t always be pleasant. People will look at you like you’re crazy. People will judge you. You may end up pumping in a public restroom. It’s gross. Just keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the BEST thing possible for your little one and you are the most DEDICATED, selfless human.
6. Be sure to take a soft cooler + make homemade ice packs
On the trip back, you’ll want a soft cooler to store all of your milk in bags + two homemade ice packs (gallon Ziplocs filled with ice). When you leave your hotel to head to the airport, fill the gallon bags with ice. When you get to the airport before going through security, dump the ice but keep the gallon bags. Once you finally get through security, go straight to a restaurant or bar and ask them to please fill the gallon bags with ice. It helps if you’re eating or getting a drink there. They will probably still look at you like you’re crazy. As far as a soft cooler, I just used a cheap one from Target and it did not leak. Make sure you test the cooler before your trip and make sure it doesn’t leak!
7. Take a bottle brush and travel-sized dish detergent
I wash and scrubbed my parts each night with hot water to keep everything sanitary. You can also take a Medela Quick Clean Steam Bag if you will have a microwave in your room.
8. Put all of your breastmilk storage bags full of milk into larger gallon Ziploc bags
I put all of my individual bags of breastmilk into larger gallon Ziploc bags before going to the airport. This made it super easy when I got to TSA. I just took the gallon bags out and placed them in a tray on their on and sent them through the x-ray machine. This way, the individual bags weren’t touching those disgusting bins. It felt a lot less germy for sure!
9. Bag all of your breastmilk except for one full bottle
This is a great trick that worked for me. Bag up all of your breastmilk but leave one full bottle (5 or 9 oz bottle would work best). When you go through TSA, they will likely only check the bottle because it LOOKS like more liquid. In my case, they just checked the bottle of milk but left the individual bags alone. Less germy hands on my baby’s food!
10. Print a copy of the TSA Guidelines on Breastmilk
Take a copy of the TSA guidelines on breastmilk with you to the airport. Be sure you have it easily accessible. If they give you a hard time, break out the guidelines and immediately ask for a supervisor.
11. Print a copy of the airlines’ guidelines on pumps, breastmilk, etc.
Most (I think all) airlines make an exception to that one carry one and one personal item rule when it comes to nursing mothers/breast pumps. You should be able to take your carry on, personal item, and breast pump on the plane with no problem. So, I flew United on my way back and the woman at the gate apparently was not aware of United’s policy regarding breast pumps and she made me check one of my bags (when I tried to tell her about United’s policy, she yelled at me that it was “NOT NEGOTIABLE”. P.S. I will never fly United again). I would make sure you have a printed copy of the policy to take with you just in case you run into any issues boarding the plane. If you’re checking a bag, this won’t really matter as much as you can just take your pump as your carry on plus your one personal item.
- Here is United’s policy if you dare fly with that god awful airline.
- Delta (very vague policy, I would call ahead or message them on Facebook or Twitter to confirm)
- Southwest (again, very vague, you may want to confirm)
- American doesn’t have much about breast pumps on their website. I would definitely confirm with them before traveling).
12. Find a Mamava pod!
Have you heard of Mamava? I talked about it in my Favorite Baby Apps post here. Mamava provides the cutest little nursing/pumping pods in many major airports as well as other public places. Make sure you download the Mamava app and see if you can find a nursing pod in the airport you’re flying into/out of. I found a Mamava pod in Newark airport and I was SO relieved. It really was such a blessing to have a nice, clean, private place to pump before boarding my flight home. The creators of Mamava are literally angels.
13. Get a window seat (next to an empty seat if you get lucky enough)
I made sure to get a window seat and I also got a seat that had no one else in the row (it was a relatively empty flight) on the way there so I could pump. I literally pumped in my seat and no one knew the difference. I wore a hands-free pumping bra with a nursing tank over that. I also wore a scarf that day. I just hooked my parts up, pulled the nursing tank down, connected to my hands-free bra, and started pumping. The white noise of the plane helps muffle the pump noise so no one could hear (if you have a Spectra, they are also SUPER quiet so that helps).
On the way home, I was sitting next to someone so I didn’t pump. I probably would have if I had to, though. Maybe pretty awkward but gotta do what you gotta do!
14. Dealing with the TSA
I’ve heard a few different ways to go about approaching the TSA. Some suggest just going through like any other day and don’t even mention the breastmilk. Sometimes they might not even check your bag (scary, right?). If they do pull you aside because of all of the liquid you’re carrying, you can then explain one-on-one with a TSA agent that you have breastmilk and they will go about checking it.
However, I did not do this. I’m more a follow-the-rules-exactly type person so I told the TSA agent (I went to the woman ticket checker rather than the man, I thought my chances were better that way) checking my ticket immediately that I had breastmilk. She told me to make sure and let the agent at the x-ray machine know, which I did. I put my milk through the x-ray machine in a seperate tray along with all of my other bags and once it came out of the other side, that is when they pulled me aside. They tested one 5 oz bottle. They should NEVER put anything IN your milk. They will simply test the outside of the bottle for fumes, explosives, gunpowder, other scary stuff, etc. They will also require that you have a full body pat down (and I mean full). Once you get the pat down and your milk comes back clean, you’ll be on your way.
I hope these tips help you out on your next trip away from your little nursling. I know it’s hard but you’ve got this! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if you just want to chat! Have any other pumping and traveling tips for me? I’d love to hear in the comments below or on social media!