As a mom, I feel like I’m learning something new every day, but as of late, I feel like I am starting to nail this whole flying and pumping thing.
Let me rephrase… I feel like I am in the beginning stages of learning how to pump and travel.
One of the things that I learned quickly through traveling for work was how to travel and pump. I was never going to allow the benefits of nursing Ollie to suffer because I travelled. So I pump on the go wherever I am.
With my work as a learning professional at a consulting firm, pumping sometimes means doing so in a cement parking structure prior to a meeting after a commute into the city. Sometimes it means rushing from one terminal to another in a Chicago airport to pump in the Mother’s Room during a 40 minute layover. Sometimes it means finding an empty corner in a quiet airport restaurant and covering because they don’t have a nursing room. Sometimes it means having an awkward conversation with a tech guy that you just met in a shared workspace in another city why you are using giant Post-It Notes to cover the windows of an office that is not yours.
It is definitely an adventure and I have learned a lot over the past months. I would not trade anything in the world.
Here are my top five tips for pumping while traveling for work ::
Pack the right supplies.
From not having enough storage bags to completely forgetting bottles to attach to my pump, I have missed packing something here or there. Thankfully, I have always spotted the mishap early and there’s never been a Target too far from my hotel. Beyond the standard materials (you can find my packing list here), I always make sure I have a back up Sharpie marker for my pumping bag, extra batteries for my on-to-go battery pack for my Medela, a nursing cover just in case there is no nursing room (here is my favorite), and some wet wipes to wipe down my surroundings. Unfortunately, it is common for housekeeping to not wipe down every surface and you can bet that a Mother’s Room (or worse… a family bathroom) could possibly need sanitized.
Pro tip :: Pack more storage bags than you think you need. I always carry on my milk and pump and cringe at the idea of it being tossed around in security if I would have to check it. Because of that, I try and store each session into 3 ounce increments. Because of this, I fill up bags so much quicker than I ever think I’m going to. Be prepared in this part and always check your bag supply before you leave for your trip.
Make sure your cooler is large enough.
Like I said for myself, I pump far more on the road than I do when I’m home, and I almost always come back with more milk than baby Ollie eats. This is far different than when I’m working from my home office. On a typical day at home, I pump a few ounces short every day… however, on the go, I always come about about 15-25 oz. positive!? Go figure! With that being said, make sure your cooler is large enough to hold your milk and that you pack more storage bags than you think you will need.
According to the work trip and the availability of refrigerators, I sometimes pack a freezer pack… and sometimes I don’t. A freezer pack also takes up room, so if my flight is direct and my milk is going to be straight from the refrigerator to the airport, it is still cold 2-3 hours later when I land. However, if I have a layover or a long wait time from my meetings until flight time, a freezer pack is definitely necessary.
Pro Tip ::Most hotel refrigerators don’t have freezers to make sure the pack is cold enough; however, I have not met a front desk that won’t freeze it for you. Just don’t forget it at check out.
Second Pro Tip :: If you don’t end up taking a freezer bag or you forget (which has happened to me), I have taken storage bags and asked for ice at the airport bar to fill them up. It worked perfect!
TSA is never consistent.
There are rules. They are on the TSA website. I have read them all. And then there is real life. I have yet to meet a TSA attendant that was in line with the previous one. Actually, I have never met one that is consistent with another. Just know the rules and stick your ground. Most of all, give yourself some time. Sometimes it takes an extra 30 seconds. Sometimes going through security takes an extra 30 minutes.
I have had so many different ends of the spectrum. One scanned each 125+ bags individually. One didn’t scan them at all, but patted me down. One said that as long as they were under 3 ounces a bag, nothing needed to be done. One said that the bags were measuring wrong and there was obviously more than 3 ounces in there… I must have bought misprinted bags? One said that he could scan it all at once. One just merely looked inside and waved me on. One swiped everything on me, including my additional baggage that had nothing to do with my pumping bag.
I have had to ask for a supervisor twice for clarification. I have had to wait for a female because male wanted nothing to do with me and my milk. I have had no problems at all. Each time is a new experience.
Pro Tip :: Keep calm, know the basic rules, don’t argue, don’t let them throw away your milk, and ask for a supervisor. It’s honestly not as scary as all of that sounds but those are my baseline rules for TSA.
Know before you go.
The first thing I do anymore before heading out for a flight is jump on over to Mom’s Pump Here website to see if the terminals that I will be visiting have a pumping room or mother’s room. Most mother’s rooms seem to be old family restrooms where the airport has ripped out the toilet and placed a well loved rocker or recliner in its spot. The outlets are not necessarily convenient nor is the bathroom all that updated. Most rooms actually don’t look like they have been touched since the airport has opened.
A few airports, however, have really stepped up their game. If you are lucky enough to visit an airport that has installed a Mamava, you are super lucky. These modular suites offer nursing mothers a clean and beautifully designed space to pump/nurse when they are away from home. My only experience with these pods was in the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and it was so nice to have! I also really enjoy Chicago Midway International Airport’s Mother’s Room! It is one of my favorite and although not the most conveniently located for a Southwest flight, it is truly appreciated! Look how pretty it is!
Pro Tip :: You can pump anywhere, not just in these nursing stations. There is always a family bathroom or something similar that you can find; however, you may find yourself standing and pumping while a family of five is pounding on the door. Just stay calm and be patient with the pumping process and others.
Second Pro Tip :: I have found myself pumping under a nursing cover a few times. Typically I try to find a very low traffic restaurant at one far end of a terminal and ask if I can sit in the corner. There is usually not an outlet so I carried with me a battery pack (along with a car adapter) for different situations.
Invest in a good pumping bag that is right for you.
I was really surprised when I was pregnant the lack of options there are out in the market for breast pump bags. My insurance-provided pump did not supply a bag with it and the Medela bag itself was outrageously priced. Thankfully, they have dropped the price a bit over the past year but it is still higher than I would like to see it, especially since I cannot seem to find a use for this style of bag post-pumping.
So I went on the hunt for a pumping bag that was right for me. I love my pumping bag! It snagged it at Target around spring time and honestly, it has served me well. It is the perfect size to carry onto a plane and holds everything I need. I went with the Mariekko insulated cooler tote and was able to find it on clearance for less than $20!! I love that it helps keep my milk chilled (even though I store it in a separate breastmilk cooler) and that after I am done, I have a cute and stylist cooler for picnics. Additionally, I love that the whole thing is easy to whip down if it gets dirty, it’s durable for flying, and it looks far less like a breast pump bag for my meetings!
You can still find these Mariekko on eBay if you are interested for close to original retail price… or keep your eyes open this spring and I’m sure Target will release something super similar.
Pro Tip :: If you are traveling a lot (more than a few times a month), I would highly suggest investing in a higher quality bag. Although I love my bag, it would not handle every week travel nor will it probably make it through another kid. I would suggest looking at Sarah Wells Bags as they look great. I’ve been eyeing one myself for over a year!