One of the biggest challenges working mothers face is traveling away from their babies while they’re still breastfeeding. Pumping while on the road – or in the air – can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and downright unpleasant, but many mothers find that is it worth it so they can continue breastfeeding.
Here are some hints to help you prepare for trips away from your little one. Working mothers going on a business trip or those that stay at home getting away for a weekend can benefit from planning ahead.
Pumping while traveling requires some additional supplies that you may not need when you’re at home:
- Batttery pack & fresh batteries – Make sure your battery pack works BEFORE leaving and load your pack with fresh batteries.
- Extra batteries – Depending on length of your trip, it’s always a good idea to carry an extra set of batteries. Remember to keep batteries with your carry-on luggage to avoid any problems with checked luggage.
- Convertor/adapter – If you are traveling internationally, make sure to pack the appropriate power convertor/adapter plug so that the pump will work at your final destination.
- Milk storage bags/containers – If you plan to bring milk home after the trip, make sure to pack plenty of storage bags. I like the Medical-Grade, Pre-Sterilized Plastic Storage Bags. Freeze them flat so you can stack them up on the return trip.
- Ice or cold packs – Especially for long or multi-segment flights, ice or cold packs will help keep milk frozen on the return trip. Some thawing may occur, so put the milk into the freezer as soon as possible. Use the milk pumped on a trip as soon as possible after you return.
- Cleaning supplies – I LOVE the microwave disinfecting bags. You might not always have access to a place to scrub pump parts while traveling, but most hotel rooms and offices have a microwave. Throw everything into these bags, pop into microwave for 3 minutes, and everything is sterile for their next use.
- Power cord, tubing, membranes, breast shields & pump parts – A breast pump won’t do you any good if you don’t have all of the essential parts with you! Pack a few extra pump membranes, just in case.
- Hand sanitizer – It’s always a good idea to pack a little (3 oz or less) bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on.
If you can fit a pump into your small rollerboard suitcase, great! Otherwise, you’ll need to check your suitcase and keep your computer bag/purse and pump as carry-on items.
Do NOT check a breast pump in a suitcase or as a stand alone item. Travel delays happen all the time; luggage gets damaged or lost. The last thing you need is to end up at your destination without your pump!
Be Security Savvy
In the United States, pumping mothers are permitted to travel with breast pumps and breast milk, regardless of whether or not they are traveling with their children. If a security agent says otherwise, ask to speak to a supervisor.
To make the security process as smooth as possible, you should alert the security officers so they know you are traveling with a pump:
- Pull the pump out of your carry-on bag and place it in a separate bin before it goes through the x-ray machine. Tell the agent that the item is a breast pump.
- If returning from a trip and carrying breastmilk, place the milk in a separate bin and alert the agents that the liquid is breastmilk. Breastmilk is NOT subject to the three-ounce limitation.
- If a security agent asks to test the milk, ask to speak to a supervisor. They may want to swab the outside of the milk bags or containers, but they cannot make you open your milk and test it.
A mother may be asked to go through additional screening. I’ve had my pump searched and swabbed and I’ve also been subjected to a pat down. Be prepared for either scenario.
Pumping en Route
Sometimes it’s necessary to pump before you reach your final destination. Because I fly in and out of a small airport, I always have to make at least one connection, which can make for a long travel day. Most major airports have family bathrooms with electrical outlets and they are a great place to pump. On longer or international flights, you may need to pump in your seat or in the airplane bathroom. Ask the flight attendants if they can suggest a pumping location.
Well Worth the Effort!
Pumping while traveling presents some unique challenges, but it’s ultimately worth the extra effort. With a little planning, preparation and patience, you can maintain your milk production while you’re away from your little one and they will be ready to welcome you home at your breast.
You can find the TSA official guidelines for traveling with breastmilk HERE.
Nicole Goodman is a full-time working mother who successfully nursed both of her daughters through their first 12 months. She had to go on many business trips while she was still nursing and has lots of funny stories about her experiences pumping & (sometimes) dumping. You can learn more on Nicole’s blog, Work in Sweats Mama.