We’re entering field and meeting season, and, for parents with nurslings, this presents some extra challenges. I am regularly asked for advice on practical aspects of traveling while pumping, and figured I might as well write up a post on it. I’ve been fortunate in having colleagues that I could ask about this, but I realize that not everyone is that lucky. Hopefully this will help. But, first, the very obvious disclaimer that this is just what I do – I am certainly not a breastmilk storage expert, and this is obviously not medical advice. I was also going to include a disclaimer that many (most?) of our readers might want to tune out (thinking only nursing moms would be interested in this), but tweets from Terry McGlynn and Joshua King have made me realize that’s not the case. Many thanks to them for that feedback! I am also adding a bonus section at the end for people who might be hosting a visitor (e.g., seminar speaker) who is pumping.
Okay, first, two general pumping tips:
1. Get a hands free pumping bra. It really is worth it, in my opinion. It will let you work on your computer (or, you know, read your favorite ecology blog) while pumping.
2. When pumping at work, I put all the pump parts in a Tupperware in the fridge in between pumping sessions. This saves a LOT of washing of pump parts. Washing pump parts is incredibly annoying, so this is a very good thing.
Okay, here’s what I do while traveling:
1. First, I have a good travel cooler that I use. It’s nothing fancy – mine is from Target. Edit 3/3/16: I used to link to a cooler here, but the link is broken. So, instead, here is a picture of my cooler:
2. Call ahead to the hotel to ask them to put a mini fridge in the room. Sometimes there’s a charge for this. And sometimes I need to ask again when I get there, but usually they’re on top of it.
3. Fly there with my regular pump, as well as my cooler with a giant ice pack in it. I tell the TSA people I have an ice pack in a cooler so I can bring breastmilk back with me. They’ve never cared. Sometimes, I wonder if the screener person even noticed.
4. Hope I don’t have to pump in the airport. If I do have to, I go to a handicapped bathroom. I’ve tried asking for other places, and there are supposed to be some airports with rooms for pumping, but I’ve never been lucky enough to find one. Ideally, have backup battery power for your pump, because the outlets in the handicapped bathroom don’t always work. (And yes, I know you’re never ever ever supposed to pump in a bathroom, but I do what I have to do sometimes.) I originally brought along a hand pump as a back up, but I really hate the hand pump, and ended up hand expressing in a bathroom stall instead the one time I was desperate. Fun times.
5. Once there, give the hotel my big giant ice pack to put in their freezer. If I need it during the day (b/c I won’t be back at the hotel to pump), I get it back from them in the morning. Otherwise, they just store it for the whole time I’m there.
6. I first traveled when my daughter was ~6 months old, I think I pumped ~5 times during the day (when I woke up, before bed, and three other times.)
7. I store all the baggies of milk in the fridge in my room, then load them all up in the cooler with the ice pack for the way home. They then all get used up ASAP when I get home. I do NOT freeze the milk while I’m there, because then I would have to worry about it thawing on the way home.
8. When going through security on the way home, I tell them I have a cooler of breastmilk (and put the cooler separately on the belt). It’s never been an issue. There was once when they made me take the breastpump out of my bag to inspect that separately, but that’s only happened once and was at a very small airport.
I think those are the big things. This was definitely something I was anxious about before I traveled the first time, but, fortunately, it’s never been an issue. The main annoying thing is that the pump + cooler take up a lot of space (and several days worth of breastmilk weighs a lot!), and I like to travel light.
On a related note: I was still pumping when I traveled here to Michigan to interview. I was a bit nervous about bringing up the need to pump during the day. Fortunately, I felt more comfortable because the chair of the search committee was a woman, and I knew she had a child. In the end, it wasn’t a big deal at all. Another faculty member was kind enough to clear out of her office so I could pump there, and it was actually nice to have a little down time in the middle of the day.
Bonus tips for people who might be hosting a visitor who is pumping:
A few tips spring to mind that might be useful to someone who is hosting a seminar speaker or other visitor who is pumping. Some are probably obvious, but others might not be:
1. Access to a fridge during the day would be great, as would be a place to leave a cooler and the pump.
2. Access to a clean, quiet, LOCKED space where the mom can pump would also be great. This should NOT be a bathroom. As I said above, I’ve done it, but it’s definitely not ideal. Pumping in a bathroom is essentially preparing your child’s food in the bathroom — not something most of us would prefer to do.
3. Ask the speaker when she would like the pump breaks.
4. Put it on the schedule that you will be meeting with the speaker during the pump breaks. If people see “free time” or “break” or something like that on the schedule, they are likely to view it as not a big deal if they cut into that time.
And now a question for our readers: Do you have other tips, either for the traveler or the host? I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, and that there are tips I’m not aware of yet!
UPDATE: There’s been great discussion in the comments, including these tips from Margaret Kosmala related to the Minneapolis-St Paul airport, which many of our readers will travel through for this year’s ESA meeting:
FYI: the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport that many of you will be passing through for ESA this year *does* have nursing mother’s rooms; here are the locations: http://www.mspairport.com/passenger-services/families.aspx#nursing And other family-friendly amenities: http://www.mspairport.com/passenger-services/families.aspx
I wanted to put that up here in the main post, knowing that many people don’t read the comments. Thanks for the info, Margaret!