Breast pumping sucks: how to make it work with work travel

The first time every new Mom travels overnight without her child is gut-wrenching. No matter how thoroughly you prep your partner, recounting ounces of thawed milk multiple times and over-explaining nighttime routines they already know, you feel amazingly helpless and a bit scared. Especially if you are breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding wasn’t a walk in the park early on, but I grew to love it. And it was so much better than pumping, especially when I went back to work.

I am fortunate that I was able to avoid traveling for work until my daughter was nearly 8-months-old and had recently begun to wean, knowing this was the first of many work trips on the horizon.

By the time I headed out of the house with my breast pump and battery backup, two coolers, flanges, backup bottles, plastic storage bags and hands-free pumping bra, I was down to only pumping twice in a work day. But that still meant I was going to have to find a way to pump at least 4 times every 24-hours, in airports and while trekking through Walt Disney World on a 14-hour work day.

The reality of not being able to pump when your body needs it most is both stressful and painful. Ironically, the day before my trip, I forgot some of my pump parts at home for the first time since I had gone back to work nearly 4 months before. As panic set in and I madly texted anyone in the office who might have spare parts, I managed to hand express enough for relief (which is both messy and painful), while I scrambled to get replacement parts delivered to my office via Amazon now.

With that memory fresh in brain, I read up the TSA’s rules on transporting breastmilk, studied the airport maps, and pumped one last time before I headed out the door after giving my daughter one last snugglesaurus-sized goodbye. Like anything in parenting, you plan what you can and just roll with the rest.

Plan-ahead pumping tips before you hit the road

  1. Always bring your battery pack as outlets are often limited on the road.
  2. Bring a mini cooler that fits in your carry-on and more Ziploc bags than you think you need so you can double- or triple-bag your ice and milk in transit. And don’t buy the cheap plastic bags, the freezer ones are the way to go. I speak from experience that the only thing worse than leaking ice, is leaking breastmilk.
  3. TSA can be picky about frozen gel and ice packs, requesting they are still frozen solid which can be tricky unless you are coming straight from a freezer. If you don’t want to risk them being thrown away, fill Ziploc bags with ice and dump it before security. Then head to a food vendor to fill up your bags again once you are through security.
  4. Allow for extra time in security. Thanks to the 3 oz. liquid rule, even though any quantity of breastmilk is allowed to be transported in your carry-on, you must notify the TSA agents ahead of time and they will then pull your bag or cooler for extra screening. Plan to wait an extra 10 to 15 minutes for this fun, yes even if you have TSA pre-check.
  5. Call ahead and make sure your hotel room has a mini fridge and freezer. You can make do without one for a day or two, but you will have to get creative storing breastmilk in ice buckets or other creative hacks.

Where to pump

Mother’s Room: Thankfully more and more airports are creating dedicated spaces for Moms to pump or breastfeed, like the one at my home airport of O’hare. Located between terminal 2 and 3 in the Rotunda, this room offered privacy, electrical outlets and a sink. I was disappointed no one thought to install an ice maker to keep your breastmilk cold after pumping, but I guess that’s what Starbucks is for.

Mamava Pods: The terminal I landed in Orlando did not have a Mother’s Room, but they did have a few of these amazing portable Mamava pods. I downloaded the app (a little buggy, but I eventually got it to work) and located a Mamava pod in my terminal. Inside I found privacy, outlets, a mirror and paper towels. Nothing fancy, but absolutely genius. Follow Mamava on facebook and twitter and please spread the word about these amazing facilities—let’s get them in parks, office building lobbies, and every airport in the country!

 Companion bathrooms: Another conducive place for breast pumping or breastfeeding is family or companion bathrooms. Most doors lock and have outlets so you won’t be perched over the community sink in a regular women’s bathroom, with your girls hooked up to the milk machine.

Walt Disney World: A big part of my job is working directly with Walt Disney World, so I was happy to learn each of the four major Theme Parks in Orlando all have Baby Care Centers. There are private rooms for nursing or pumping, changing tables, highchairs and even an on-site shop selling baby formula, baby food, diapers, wipes and some over-the-counter meds.

But even with all my planning, pumping on the road was a huge hassle. After just two nights away, I have decided to wean my daughter down to nursing just twice a day, morning and night, before my next trip without her. I know there are many women who somehow manage to travel weekly while still pumping multiple times a day, but I just don’t have it in me.

So whether you decide to breastfeed a week, until you go back to work, or pump on the road until your little turns two—plan what you can and roll with the rest!




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