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  • Diaries of a Nursing Mama: Traveling with Your Breast Pump

Who is this blog written for?

Are you a nursing mama who travels? Be you traveling for business or pleasure, this blog will help you better understand what to expect, how to prepare, and what you can do to reduce travel woes — so that you can return home safely and with some stored breast milk for your babe. #pumpandsave

Having worked as a traveling sales & marketing executive through two pregnancies and 3+ years of breastfeeding, I’ve earned my stripes and learned a few dozen tricks along the way. I may have spent too many hours “pumping and dumping,” not understanding the few simple tricks that could have saved me a headache — or three — and a lot of worry about whether my baby would have enough milk at home to ensure he could remain exclusively breastfed (EBF). Enjoy this blog, learn from my mistakes, and spread the word.

Traveling with your breast pump

Traveling with your breast pump can be a fairly straightforward task or an irritating adventure. This depends on the airport you are traveling through and how much experience the TSA agents have handling nursing mamas who travel… And it’s easiest if you happen to enjoy TSA Pre status.

Personally, I’ve traveled with my breast pump backpack from coast to coast and even internationally to Canada, Mexico, Australia and Indonesia. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus on standards in the U.S.

Corinna Bellizzi with her two boys

Is a breast pump considered a carry-on? No.

I used to think a breast pump counted as a carry-on, and it would therefore really cramp my carry-on-only style. I sacrificed half of the space in my roll-aboard to my breast pump so that with my purse, I would remain compliant with the 2-bag maximum for carry-on luggage. What I didn’t know is that your breast pump (and the case you carry it in) does not count as a carry-on!

You can bring your roll-aboard, a second smaller item (like a purse, briefcase, or backpack) AND your breast pump — including any needed accessories. This can include your charger, batteries, battery charger, ice-packs (or ice) and breast milk (more on this important liquids exception a little later). Had I known this in the beginning of my nursing mama + professional traveler days, packing for air travel would have been so much easier.

Will I need a battery pack for my breast pump? Maybe.

While most airports now provide nursing and pumping stations, either in the form of a private room or a pod-style cubicle, I have personally noticed that some of the plugs are difficult to comfortably reach with your pump’s provided cord while sitting in the (usually stationary) chair to pump.

I’ve also noticed that some of the plugs provided simply aren’t operational, or require you to literally hold the heavy wall plug in place while pumping. For this reason, I usually travel with my portable battery pack and a few spare batteries. Eco-conscious? Try using rechargeable NiMH batteries to help minimize environmental impact, and to save on long-term costs. For longer trips, I even travel with the battery charger, which I also pack in my breast pump travel bag.

How do I keep my pump parts clean when traveling?

The best way to keep your pump parts and bottles clean while on the go is to make sure you have a good portable solution with you. Consider traveling with cleaning wipes, some good detergent, and a steam sterilization bag. Cleaning wipes can be used when you’re pumping on-the-go. Plan for at least one complete cleaning each day, when you have access to a sink.

In that cleaning, use hot water, dish soap, and when you’re done cleaning the parts, microwave them with a little water in the sterilization bag. Daily sterilization protects your breast milk from potential contamination with bacteria and germs.

For more tips, visit the CDC website for an infographic / fact-sheet.

Nursing stations are typically located in or near the women's bathroom

What can I do to keep my breast milk production up when I’m on trips away from my baby?

  1. Consider supplementing with a good fenugreek herbal supplement
  2. Pump at regular intervals (each 4 hours is a great start)
  3. Look at a picture of your baby while pumping and/or smell an article of the baby’s clothing - as the association can actually improve your body’s natural oxytocin levels and improve breast milk supply

Where can I pump when traveling?

Airports generally offer nursing rooms, nursing pods, or family restrooms depending on the size of the airport and its relative modernity. They tend to contain a comfortable chair, a counter, and an electrical outlet so you can plug in your pump and get to business. While some have plumbing, a sink and mirror, others don’t. The first step is to get the lay of the land and figure out what options are available. Check with your airport’s information desk, or locate a map of the terminal you’re in. You’ll likely find an icon of a woman holding a baby in her arms, indicating where nursing stations are available. You may find small nursing rooms in hallways between terminals, or evan a “nursing pod”. Nursing pods are essentially enclosed cubicles with an outlet, chair, and a counter.

In some airports you’ll find the nursing room is inside the bathroom. If you don’t find a nursing room at your airport, look for family restrooms. Family restrooms typically have all the fixings of a nursing room and a toilet. Recently, I’ve noticed that some family restrooms have been changed and are now labeled “all gender” restrooms. Family restrooms are typically located right next to the women’s restrooms but with a separate entrance and locking door. In a pinch, I’ve had to pump in a bathroom stall, but this has only happened once out of the hundreds of times I’ve traveled with my pump.

Setting up in the restroom can be less than convenient

Can I pump on the airplane if I need to? In a pinch, yes.

Having spent many hours in cross-country and even international travel, I’ve sometimes had to pump on an airplane. The need presents itself more often during flights of 4+ hours in the first six months of breastfeeding, when engorgement can become an uncomfortable issue, and when leaking through your pads, bra, and clothing can lead to an embarrassing situation for both you and the people who notice. When in this situation, you have three options.

  1. Wait it out and get through the discomfort. You can use the cool packs you have in your breast pump case or ice to help ease your discomfort.
  2. Pump in the bathroom. I’ve personally done this twice, and in both instances, I asked to use the first-class restroom so I wouldn’t inconvenience so many travelers with a 10+ minute wait. Flight attendants were incredibly understanding and helpful when I quickly explained my situation. They even asked their first-class passengers if they would need the restroom in the next fifteen minutes, and if so, to use it then as they had a passenger who would need it shortly.
  3. Pump (under cover) in your seat. While I’ve never personally tried this tactic, I witnessed it on one occasion. This nursing mama simply put her nursing cover on as a privacy shield, got her breast pump out, shuffled around underneath the cover for a bit, and started the motor. That she was alone in her window seat without a seatmate next to her may have influenced her decision to just go for it.

Can I bring my pumped breast milk through security? Yes!

Any saved breast milk you’ve managed to pump on your journey may be passed through security without a fuss. It can even exceed the 3.4 oz maximum per container. However, there is one thing you should know… if you aren’t traveling TSA PRE, or if you’re traveling when TSA PRE gates aren’t operational, the gate agents may choose to inspect every breast milk bag or bottle, scanning each for explosive residues.

They may even choose to open the bags/bottles to verify contents. If you happen to travel TSA PRE, it’s a much more straightforward process, and visual inspection of the contents after they’re run through the standard x-ray usually suffices.

How can I best preserve my breast milk for air travel? Keep it frozen or keep it on ice.

Ice can be taken through security and is not subject to liquid restrictions. That’s right — FROZEN water can be spirited through any security checkpoint for the purpose of preserving your breast milk. Here are the two methods I use to preserve my breast milk in transit.

  1. Freeze breast milk to omit the need for the use of ice when going through security. In this case, if your breast milk is still frozen when you head through security, the TSA personnel may not even need to inspect your breast milk (because it’s in a solid state). If you’ve got a long travel day, you can simply ask for ice from a restaurant or coffee shop once you’re through security. Traveling with a couple one-gallon freezer bags is therefore advisable - even if you don’t think you’ll need them (more on this below).
  2. Travel with breast milk on ice. Some hotels don’t have refrigerators with freezers in each room, so freezing breast milk isn’t always an option. In this case, store your breast milk on ice. The method I like to use is simply double-bagging some ice in freezer bags, and nestling my filled breast milk bags in the ice. This ensures my luggage doesn’t get soaked while also being mindful of weight and space. At the airport, you can always pour out any excess water before quickly heading through security. If needed, ask for more ice from a restaurant or coffee shop once you’re through security.
Many airports offer nursing pods

Conclusion

Traveling with a breast pump, and bringing home a good supply of breast milk can be relatively easy so long as you’re prepared, and willing to ask for a little support from those around you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Please feel free to comment, or ask questions below.

Travel Checklist:

  • Breast Pump (and case)
  • Breast Pump Power Cord
  • Breast Pump Battery Pack
  • Batteries (for battery pack)
  • Pumping Bra
  • Breast Shields (2)
  • Breast Pump Valve Covers (2)
  • Breast Pump Tubing (2)
  • Breast Milk Bottles (2)
  • Breast Milk Bags (4 to 6 per day)
  • Indelible Marker (to date bags, mark volume)
  • 2 - One Gallon Bags (for ice)
  • Cleaning Wipes
  • Sterilization Bag
  • Picture of Baby
  • Article of Baby’s Clothing (worn)
  • Fenugreek Gold
  • Prenatal Multi Gold
  • DHA Gold
  • A Great Attitude
Products Discussed in This Article
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