Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baby 101: Pumping while Traveling Without Baby

I recently had my first experience traveling without baby and pumping on a recent work trip.  Traveling with a baby is one thing - you can nurse anywhere - but figuring out what to bring, where to pump, etc. was overwhelming for me!  I consulted lots of fellow breastfeeding moms to ask about their travel tips.  Here's a summary of my experience:

Planning Ahead

At multiple points during my trip, I knew there would not be a convenient or obvious place to pump. I did not have my own rental car during the trip, which would have been the easiest solution to pump.  To the extent possible, I tried to plan ahead and was surprised at how accommodating most places were.  I attended a conference at a university, and I was able to find contact information online for the university's women's center.  A quick email later, and they were happy to reserve their lactation room for me, even though I wasn't a student or faculty. 

I also found that Love Field airport has a dedicated nursing room available; I emailed the New Orleans airport to ask about a nursing or lactation room and, although they don't have a dedicated room, they offered to put a chair in a private family restroom to make pumping more convenient.  Overall, my experience has been that public facilities like airports, universities, churches, etc. are very accommodating to nursing or pumping moms!

I also called the hotel and verified that my hotel room had a mini fridge (to store milk) and microwave (for sterilizing) in the room.

Navigating Airport Security


I was nervous about traveling with breastmilk by plane for the first time, but it turned out to be no big deal.  By TSA rules, you can bring an unlimited amount of formula or breastmilk onto a plane, whether your child is traveling with your or not -- the 3-ounce rule for liquids does not apply.  You can also bring cold packs or ice in your cooler to keep the milk cold.  Before going through security, I just had to notify the TSA agent that I was traveling with breastmilk and pointed out my cooler.  After it was x-rayed, another TSA agent took it aside and put the bottles of milk in a tester machine, I presume to verify that it was milk and not explosives or some other prohibited liquid (they did not have to open the bottles, or take a sample, or put anything into the milk to test it).  That was it - piece of cake.

Bringing the Right Gear

This was where tips from friends really helped - I would not have figured out half of this on my own!  Here's what I brought (and used) on my trip:

1.  Pump and power cord

2.  Cooler
I had to use a larger cooler than I normally take with me to work, since I was going to be bringing back multiple days' worth of milk.  The cooler I use for work only holds 4-6 bottles, so I had to find a larger one for my work trip!

3.  Pump parts
(Again, duh.)  I put them in a Ziploc bag and kept them in my cooler.  Since this kept them cold, I didn't have to worry about washing the parts between uses while I was traveling.

4.  Pump vehicle power adapter
On this trip I didn't have my own rental car, so I ended up not pumping in the car; however, I still brought the car power cord just in case I got REALLY desperate and had to borrow someone's car to pump in.  In most cases, I have my own rental car when I travel, so I could use this to pump in the car.

5.  Nursing cover
This is a necessity for pumping in the car, especially during daylight hours.  I also used a nursing cover when pumping in rooms where I wasn't confident that the door locked securely, just in case someone walked in.  In these situations, I usually also put a chair in front of the door and sit facing away from the door. This turned out to be a good idea, because someone walked in on me when I was pumping at the university...I thought I had locked the door but I guess it didn't fully catch.  Luckily, there was a chair in front of the door (so the person coming in felt some resistance), I was facing the other way, and wearing a nursing cover, so the embarrassment factor was minimal.

6.  Pump battery pack
Yes, I brought 3 various power sources for my pump on this trip (normal power cord, vehicle adapter, and battery pack).  I didn't know what the setup would be, so I wanted to ensure I was prepared for any outcome!  I borrowed this from a friend so I didn't have to go out and buy my own, since I doubt I'll need it very often.  The Medela battery pack allows you to pump using 8 AA batteries instead of needing an outlet or a vehicle cigarette lighter (is that still what those things are called?)  I didn't end up using this, but it made me less nervous knowing that, if I got really desperate, I could pump in a bathroom stall somewhere without needing a power outlet nearby.

7.  Dish soap
I brought a mini bottle of Palmolive dish soap with me so that I could wash bottles and pump parts at the hotel each night.  I didn't have a bottle brush, so I just used super hot water and dish soap and did the best I could.  I still had the tiny bottle that they gave me in the hospital when C was born, so I brought that; if not, you could transfer some into a travel-size shampoo bottle.

8.  Pump cleaning wipes
I packed a few of the Medela sterilizing quick-clean wipes, just in case I needed to clean the pump parts mid-day before I was back at the hotel room (since I didn't want to wash them in the sink in a public restroom).  I ended up being able to keep the pump parts cold in my cooler bag, so I didn't worry about cleaning them during the day, but it was nice to have this as a backup.

9.  Microwave sterilizer bag
I don't normally sterilize bottles and pump parts daily, but since I knew I wouldn't be able to get them as clean as I normally do without a bottle brush, I sterilized the bottles and pump parts each night using the Medela sterilizer bags and the microwave in the hotel room.  This worked out great - I would not have thought of this if one of my friends hadn't suggested it!

10.  Hands-free bra
I use my hands-free pumping bra every time I pump, but I felt like it was critical on the trip.  When you're pumping in an unfamiliar place, it is helpful to be able to be when I had to pump while standing up in a private (one-person) bathroom (since there was nowhere to sit other than the toilet)!

11. Bottles and caps
I only brought 3 bottles on the trip, since they take up so much space -- 2 to pump into, and 1 to hold any extra milk that wasn't enough ounces to freeze (for instance, I freeze in 6-ounce quantities, so if I had only 3 or 4 ounces of milk, I'd store it in the 3rd bottle until the next pumping session when I had more milk to total 6 ounces).

12. Breastmilk freezer storage bags
I stored all my pumped milk in breastmilk freezer storage bags, since they take up less space than bottles.  I used the flange from the pump parts as a funnel to pour milk into the bags in 6-ounce quantities, and then kept the bags in the fridge in my hotel room (and then in my cooler in transit).

13.  Ziploc bags in multiple sizes
I brought (and used) multiple sizes of Ziploc bags on this trip.  I used sandwich or quart-sized Ziploc bags to hold ice in my cooler; normally, I use an ice pack, but I didn't have access to a freezer in the hotel so I knew I'd have to rely on hotel ice machine ice.  Putting the ice in Ziploc bags kept my cooler from being a wet mess. 

I brought a gallon-size Ziploc bag for each day of my trip to store my pump parts in after using them (in the cooler) since I only washed them once a day at night.  The bag was kind of gross with milk residue by the end of the day, so after I washed and sterilized the parts at night, I used a fresh bag for each day. 

I also brought a few extra gallon-size Ziplocs to store the freezer storage bags of pumped milk on the flight; I was nervous that the change in air pressure might break the seal on the freezer storage bags and cause a leak, so I put the bags of pumped milk into Ziploc bags as an extra layer of protection (I was not going to lose any precious milk on this trip!!!)


  1. This article is really helpful.thanks for sharing.

  2. What type/brand of cooler did you use & may I link/post/share your post on my jobs list serve as a lot of moms at my job have to travel?

    1. Hi Lizzie! Of course you are welcome to link my post! Thanks for sharing! As far as the cooler, it was a freebie that I got from a vendor at some point, so it was nothing special - I believe it was a "12 can" size, like this one: The removeable hard plastic insert is great in case there are any spills!

    2. Thank you Laura. I know this will be a big help.


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