Recently I traveled to Palm Springs, CA for 6 days! I am sure you are saying "what's the big deal about that?". This use to be a "no big deal" type of trip, back before I was a Mom. But now I have a 6-month-old and I am still nursing and breastfeeding! Making deciding to travel WITHOUT my baby a little more difficult.
You see, If I wanted to continue to breastfeed/nurse my child and also travel; I had to figure out a way to do both. So this meant using all the new pumping technology and resources I had around me to MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Here is a guide to my individual experience. What worked for me, and my thoughts/feelings around traveling, flying, pumping, and packing/freezing breastmilk.
I hope this post helps Moms take the leap to travel while breastfeeding WITHOUT BABY. I hope this also helps start to NORMALIZE pumping in public. No, I don't mean sitting in your car or a lactation room or bathroom stall; covering and hiding away to pump for 20 to 30 minutes, 6 to 7 times per day. I mean pumping while walking around, at restaurants, playing golf, hiking, etc.
A huge part of breastfeeding is pumping. Normalizing pumping in public is just as important as normalizing nursing in public.
Get a Lactation Consultant
Speak with a professional about your desire to travel while breastfeeding and come up with a plan together.
I was fortunate to have the worlds best lactation consultant Katie Madden by my side through this journey. Katie owns Balanced Breastfeeding and understands the importance of each individual's different needs and desires.
We discussed several things before making my decision to travel. Some questions you may want to ask your Consultant:
- How many times should you pump each day to keep your supply up?
- When are the best times to pump for your body and supply level?
- What are the TSA and Airline policies for breastmilk, coolers, pumping devices, etc.?
Pumping in Public
I reached a 4-month goal and decided to treat myself to the closed system Freemie Cups and a Bellababy pocket portable breast pump. This set up cost me around $145. which is way less than the $500 Willow Portable pump and it got me up and moving while pumping! Which was my ultimate goal.
My philosophy with pumping has always been the same as Nursing. I WILL DO IT ANYWHERE. #normalizepumping
Having this mindset when I started my trip helped tremendously! I was able to pump while walking around the airport, on the planes, checking into our villa, In the car, in restaurants, by the pool, playing golf, drinking coffee on the porch, on hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. You name it, and I probably pumped there! And why the hell not! I had limited time away and hell if I was going to sit in a room, by myself, pumping for 30 minutes 6 to 7 times a day! That's over 3.5 hours per day wasted pumping. UMMMM NOPE!
This set up worked perfect and if you want to feel free while you pump. I recommend you splurge! Buy the portable pump NOW. Do not wait. You will not regret it!
Airport Lactation Rooms
Ok, so I spotted a few of these "lactation rooms" in the airports. My thoughts on these rooms are as follows:
One lactation room was at Philadelphia International Airport and it looked like a nicer version of a porta-potty. I looked inside this tin box to find a decent room if privacy is what you are looking for. But why are they asking mothers to nurse and pump in private? No thanks. I think I will just sit in an open area or walk around while I pump in the airport. I may even grab something to eat or a drink at one of the airport restaurants and pump there. Because my time is precious.
Thanks for the option to close me in a metal box for 30 minutes Philly (insert roll-eye emoji here). Super generous of you.
Another lactation room was in Palm Springs, CA Airport. If you have never been to this airport, you should go. It is a beautiful outdoor, open-air airport with gardens and benches. There is even a playground for kids and grass to walk your dog on! I am sure you are thinking "well, they have a beautiful lactation area for nursing and pumping mothers."...
...Um nope! Right next to the woman's bathroom was a lactation room. I walked from the beautiful, sunny, 70-degree weather; into a tiled lactation room that resembled the bathrooms next door. It was cold dark and uncomfortable. It had one tile bench built into the wall with a plug. That was it!
Why would I decide to pump in a cold dark room, when I could sit on a bench in the sun looking at the beautiful flowers and breathing the fresh air? Are the people that create these rooms mad?
Image: Palm Springs, CA Airport
I will scream it from the rooftop again! "Breastfeeding, nursing, and pumping are not like using the bathroom!!!!"
My conclusion on airport lactation rooms; "Um thanks, but actually no thanks!" I will pump and/or nurse wherever I want. If someone is uncomfortable with that. Then I suggest they go sit in the damn lactation rooms.
Packing and Traveling with Breast Milk
Pumping for a week straight produces A LOT of milk! I froze over 175 oz of breast milk by the time I was ready to leave CA. In my mind, I was super worried about it defrosting and losing it all on the flight home. So I did what everyone does when looking for an answer to a question, I went straight to google.
Do I ship it home? I researched shipping it over dry ice. but things I read said dry ice can change the taste of your milk and who knows what could happen in transit etc.
Do I check it? Should I pay to check it in a cooler? I had a layover in AZ and what if it got lost or my flight was delayed? I couldn't chance not being able to get to my luggage.
Do I carry it on? All my research was pointing to carrying it on. If I froze it, packed the cooler tight enough, It would have the best chance at staying frozen (Plus I could always find ice in a desperate situation). I learned as long as the breast milk is still slushy you can refreeze it and it is still good.
So I carried it on! All 175oz of breastmilk.
Caring on Breast Milk; TSA and Airport Experience
The day before leaving we went to Walmart and purchases a soft cooler that would fit all the frozen milk. I made sure it was a super isolated cooler and easy to carry.
The morning before we left, I packed all the frozen milk tight in a few ziplock bags. I placed ice packs on the bottom and top of the cooler. Even stuffing some towels in there to make sure the cooler had no open-air space.
After we packed the car, we were off to the airport to see how TSA would respond to my carry-on milk stash!
Drew and I both have TSA pre-check. Which is a really good thing to have when you are caring on that much breastmilk. With TSA pre they have already vetted you as a "safe traveler" and more lax going through the checkpoint.
I informed the TSA agents at every point that I was caring on breastmilk and medical device equipment for pumping.
TSA pulled my two coolers aside after they went through the x-ray scanner.
- One cooler was packed with all the frozen milk that I would not open for 9 hours till we arrived home.
- The 2nd cooler was for all my freshly pumped milk and pump parts during my flights. This cooler would be opened and closed.
TSA was extremely nice and happy to help me get through the checkpoint quickly. They informed me that frozen milk is ideal when caring-on. It is the unfrozen milk that causes more issues and takes more time to check.
Thank goodness I froze most of the milk before leaving!
Conclusion & Recap:
- See a lactation consultant to understand your pump schedule and routine. My suggestion is joining the community at Balancedbreastfeeding.com with Katie Madden.
- Get a portable pump. My recommendation is the closed system Freemie Cups and a Bellababy pocket portable breast pump. It costs around $145 in total.
- Fuck lactation rooms, pump wherever you want. Do not spend your valuable vacation time alone in a room pumping. Walking around, on the airplane, at the pool, out at restaurants, on the golf course, WHEREVER! #normalizepumping
- Get TSA Pre-Check, Freeze your milk, and carry it on. The TSA manager informed me that frozen breastmilk is a much faster process for them then unfrozen milk. so my recommendation is to freeze everything and pack it in a separate cooler that stays closed for the entire trip! let them know exactly what you have in your coolers and tell them to use clean gloves and work quickly while checking your coolers. If you are kind to them they are super happy to oblige!
- Last but not least and probably the most important; enjoy, relax and have fun! Make your pumping experience a game; and ask yourself, "where else can I pump?"!
Image: Joshua Tree National Park. Pumping and Hiking.