When my son was born 3 years ago, I spent so much time researching this and was really disappointed how few women share their experiences of pumping while traveling for work. Let’s be honest that women work some pretty badass careers and many of those involve traveling. Men, I encourage you to read this as well because as our society looks to enable women to excel to their potential, it’s important for us all to understand the challenges, and resources avaliable to support women who help grow our businesses.
What are some helpful things to invest in?
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- A Battery Powered Breast Pump that you can use anywhere. Being near an outlet is great, but sometimes you need to stand in the middle of a random room with a blanket over your head and freedom can be a fantastic thing. When you travel, you have no idea where you will be, and worrying about access to an outlet when you’re borrowing someone’s office isn’t something worth messing with. Even when in the office, I had times where all the stalls will occupied and the freedom to pump without access to an outlet or excessive cords is fantastic. Personally, I used the Spectra 9 Plus Breast Pump throughout my pregnancy and didn’t experience any loss in milk production.
- Freemie Breastmilk Cups that can fit straight into your shirt. Another traveling mom passed this advice my way and it was a lifesaver. Coupled with a battery powered pump, you can slip these into your bra without stripping half naked. I used these while driving to and from my MBA classes from work, sitting in the back seat of a vehicle mid road trip, or even just unloading my dishwasher at home. They are spendy but I personally found them worth it to pump while staying covered up. My coworker used hers to pump in the back of an SUV at a remote minesite when getting back to the main building wasn’t an option.
- A Cooler to store your milk/pump to keep milk cold. You can purchase the one from the pump supplier, but I found this one to work perfect, and saved my butt a couple times when I had a full weeks worth of milk to carry with me and had to move my pump to a different bag. It works well with the Ice Packs below.
- Ice Packs (unless traveling on a plane). I found these to work well because they were thin and fit well between my milk cooler pack and my actual cooler. That extra layer of insolation helped keep everything cooler longer. Note if you’re traveling on a plane, you may want to consider the Ice Blocks below.
- ReFreeze Ice Blocks that won’t thaw out. I found these a lifesaver when I was traveling through airports because I could pack these babies around my frozen or cold milk, and I never had to worry about the ice packs thawing out and being confiscated at security because they were more liquid vs. solid. Note that you can bring ice through security, but not if it has been thawed out. More tips on that below and how to keep milk cold for a drive to the airport and getting through security.
Tips and Advice for Traveling in General:
- Call ahead to your hotel or destination. You are allowed to request a fridge with your hotel room for medical reasons and have no worries in explaining why. They will not charge you extra and need to provide this service. It can also help to call ahead to any convention center you may be at. I had the opportunity to attend a conference at Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas, and the staff were super helpful about making sure a conference room and fridge were avaliable for me for the full week I attended.
- Bring plenty of gallon size zip lock bags. I used them at hotels to fill up with ice before leaving for a drive (especially if my provided fridge didn’t have a freezer). I also used them to beg someone at the airport McDonald’s to fill a couple with ice for me after security confiscated my ice packs. The airport let me keep my breastmilk but without the ice packs, however it would slowly come to room temperature over a 4 hour flight without my icepacks (Thanks jerk).
- Consider a service like MilkStork and ask your Employer to pay for it. I only did this for one trip because it was a long one and I was nervous about having room for all of my milk on the return trip. Otherwise I usually like the piece of mind that my milk was with me and not lost in the mail somewhere. My employer supported no questions asked and it was a great service. I was a hot mess until my husband assured me the package showed up at home safe and sound, and would absolutely feel confident using it again. If you don’t have the ability to freeze your milk where you are staying, this may also be helpful to ensure your milk can get back to your baby in time to be used.
- Give your coworkers a heads up. I know this is awkward, but I always found it helpful. I did a trip where we were driving through some pretty back country roads, and it was important to ensure I had a place to stop at somepoint on our journey, or for them to be prepared to go enjoy a coffee while I hid out in the vehicle. I worked in a male dominated career at the time and only traveled with men during this time, so it can be helpful to be very obvious about your requirements (time, location, etc)
- Research the airport you’ll have a layover in. Some may have dedicated booths for new moms to use for nursing or pumping around the airport, otherwise you will want to be familiar with the closest mothers room for your gate. It may be a hike, and you’ll want to be prepared, especially if you need to wait for it to be avaliable. In this instance, I found my freemies and electric pump to be handy, because I have gone into the restroom to throw in the cups, then cover myself with a jacket and walk to my next gate if needed. Unless coworkers were traveling with me, most didn’t pick up on my magic boob job from the trip to the restroom. If uneasy about explaining to coworkers, I would tell them to go ahead without me and I’d catch them at the gate for the next flight.
- Consider freezing your milk. I tried both freezing and keeping milk room temperature. Generally if the milk is frozen, it can help insulate the other non-frozen milk in the cooler pack. This can also extend the life of your milk if you are away for a week or longer and can’t use it within a few days.
- Bring plenty of milk storeage bags. Bottles are great, but if you are bringing back 20-30 oz per day for a week trip, I found that the milk storeage bags were easy to store in my cooler pack without filling it up.