Pumping When You’re Traveling for Work

pumping traveling for workI am far from an expert on traveling for work — particularly while pumping. In fact, I’ve done it exactly twice: once with Jack (for a whirlwind trip to Seattle for a speaking engagement) and once with Harry (for a whirlwind trip to Chicago for an alumni conference). And: what a PITA. Both times, the pump took up almost my entire carry-on bag, and both times I was absolutely wracked with fear, as I boarded the plane, that I had forgotten some essential pump part at home. The first time I flew I was determined to save the breast milk I pumped — liquid gold! — and I traveled with a freezer bag, ice packs, and had all of the relevant TSA and airline printouts with me in my carry-ons. The second time I decided to dump it because, eh, the kid is fine with formula. (Both times I had started the weaning process, so we had already replaced a nursing session with a bottle of formula. I’ll admit that for the second time, I dropped from three feeds a day down to two in anticipation of the travel.)

Road Warriorette wrote some posts a while ago regarding pumping while traveling (one with travel tips for nursing moms, and another about her experience traveling with breast milk) — and I reached out to her to get her take…

You are right — pumping on a trip is awful. I got really good at pumping while driving though :) Making sure you have a place to pump is the biggest pain, but right after that is transporting all of that liquid gold back home. You want to make sure that you keep it at the right temperature, plus I found that TSA officers were not consistent in their knowledge of the rules about how breastmilk was supposed to be treated. After a number of arguments I ended up printing out a copy of the rules from the TSA website and keeping it in my pump bag. I never had anyone be an outright jerk though.

I wrote a couple of posts about it a couple of years ago. I’m also reading a book called “Work Pump Repeat” that is all about how to pump once you go back to work, including while traveling.

So let’s chat, ladies — what are your best tips for traveling while pumping? For those of you who’ve had to do it occasionally (like me), what were your biggest hurdles? For those of you who do it all the time (you rockstars!), what are your best pumping travel hacks?

(Pictured: View from the window of a plane, originally uploaded to Flickr by [email protected].) 


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  1. I travel either by car or plane on a weekly basis for work. The best thing I ever did for myself was to buy the Freemie collection cups. Life changing. I also have a car charger for my Medela pump, so I can pump while driving or while parked some place discreet. I will say it seems like my supply is lower when I attempt to drive while pumping (surprise!). I carry extra storage bags in case I ever forget to bring an empty bottle for milk storage. Also, some airports have nursing/pumping rooms, so that’s always something to look into. It’s totally manageable to keep it up while traveling, but it is a pain and takes a little extra thought and time.

  2. Heather says:

    I haven’t had to travel for work yet but have a two-week trip coming up in a month. Will be interested to see if anyone has some good tips. I do want to point out that a pump counts as a medical device and so you don’t have to pack it in your carry on – you can bring it in addition to your normal carry on and personal item. But a cooler would count as a personal item. I am trying to fly home in between my two weeks, so I’ll have two flights with about 150 oz to transport. Very nervous about the whole thing.

  3. I’ve used this cooler for a couple 5-day trips away from my son: http://www.amazon.com/Coleman-16-Can-Soft-Cooler-Liner/dp/B006HFBQ0K

    It worked really well. I filled a couple gallon Ziploc bags with ice and put them in the cooler with the milk storage bags and kept the cooler in the hotel mini-fridge (I was worried that the mini-fridges weren’t cold enough on their own). I used in Target Up & Up milk storage bags inside the cooler, and wrote the pumping date and am or pm on each (pack a Sharpie!). The cooler stayed cold enough that there was very little ice melt each day (I drained the water daily). Then on the way to the airport, I put fresh ice in the bags (double bagged in case of leaks) and took the cooler through security no problem. In one airport TSA didn’t even look at it further, at another airport they tested the outside of the bags in a machine. If TSA made me dump the ice, my plan was to ask a restaurant for ice to refill it. The cooler is nice because it packs up small on the way there (I didn’t use the hard insert). So, domestically it was no problem. I’ve heard of issues internationally with not being able to fly with pumped milk, especially at Heathrow.

  4. Meg Murry says:

    I don’t have a lot of time for details, so I’ll try to come back later, but keys for me were:

    -if you need to bring milk home or have ice packs for when you are on s!te (in my case, 15 hours in a factory, yay), stay at a hotel with an actual full fridge with freezer, not just a hotel with a mini-fridge so you can freeze ice packs. One of the hotels on my company’s approved list was Homewood Suites, and I got approval from my boss to stay there (it was about $30-40 more per night than the other hotel option most people would have used) as needing “a place to stay with a full fridge and freezer for a medical accommodation”. He was ok with the extra cost, but we had that in our back pockets in case someone up the food chain questioned my expense report. The Homewood Suites was nice because it had a real fridge, real freezer, real kitchen sink, and even a dishwasher – I didn’t use the dishwasher itself to wash the parts, but I did use it as a drying rack.

    -I was trying to bring 5 days worth of milk back home through airport security, and I was concerned they weren’t going to let me bring half-melted ice packs through (since that is technically a liquid), so I bought Igloo solid state ice packs, packed the cooler all around with ziplocs of ice that I threw out just before security. I also read a tip that said you were allowed to bring food through security, so some blog’s advice, I got oranges from the hotel continental breakfast and froze them in my hotel freezer and then used them as ice packs. It worked.

    Ziplocs. Pack lots of ziplocs in various sizes, and use them to pack up pump parts, bags of milk in case one leaks, to fill with ice from the hotel icemaker, to pack up your makeup and shampoo- just take lots of ziplocks, they will come in handy.

  5. I travel regularly to developing countries for my work and was able to arrange to not travel until my son was 9 months old. I stockpiled my freezer with breastmilk for months, so that when I did go out on my first trip he had all the breastmilk he needed to drink out of bottles/sippy cups. To keep up my supply, I pumped and dumped for two weeks — in airplanes, in bathrooms, whatever I had access to and could find a way to pump in. A lot is about attitude: I didn’t see it as a pain, I saw it as something I was doing to keep up my milk for the benefit of my son (we resumed breastfeeding upon my return), and my attitude made it manageable. It was challenging to fit around work meetings, but it can be done! My travel hacks? Talk to the flight attendant when you get on board, let them know you’ll be pumping in the bathroom. Pump over lunch breaks. Take a hand pump in your bag so that if you have a moment to jump in a bathroom and pump you can. Use an electronic pump (if possible) for long morning and evening pumping sessions. Bring several ice packs if you need to save the milk that you’re pumping. Best of luck ladies!

    • ” let them know you’ll be pumping in the bathroom” – what? no. this is disgusting and unnecessary. Pump in your seat.

  6. Alexis L says:

    I found that a soft-sided cooler, bags for the milk and ziploc bag with ice worked for me. The first time I traveled with ice packs, and TSA gave me a hard time. After that, I traveled with ziplocs full of ice and simply drained any melt from them before going through security. If you are staying a a hotel with a mini-fridge, I highly recommend packing the milk in ice, keeping it in a cooler inside of the fridge or asking to store it in the hotel’s fridge because most mini-fridges do not stay very cold.

  7. All great points. I’ll just add that if you are flying you may find it worthwhile to purchase lounge access for the day. Unfortunately my status just expired but when I had to fly for the first time post partum the shower rooms in the lounges were perfect. They had seats, electricity and privacy. My flight was just under three hours so I managed to avoid pumping on the plane. I have a slightly longer flight coming up in a month but since the babies are now on solids I can go a bit longer between pumps. I don’t think I can stomach pumping and dumping though. What is the cost of FedEx ing milk home domestically? It’s two nights three days and pumping for twins I think it will end up more than I can carry home

    • Meg Murry says:

      I carried home between 150-200 oz in milk storage bags after my 5 day trip- it was basically the Medela 4 bottle cooler, filled to the brim with milk bags laid flat. One thing I didn’t consider until I was running through the airport with it is that that is more than a gallon of milk, which means the cooler weighed 8-10 lbs. I was pleasantly suprized that the handle didn’t rip off the cooler, in retrospect. I used a carbiner clip to attach it to the handle of the pump bag, since I couldn’t get it squashed back in the pump bag.

      The problem with shipping it home FedEx is you would need to do it on dry ice to keep it cold, and then you’d have to pay a hazardous charge for the dry ice.

  8. I had to travel a lot for work while I was pumping with both kids. I attribute my awesome pump as the #1 reason I was able to do it at all — I had the Medela Freestyle and it was small, quiet, and very portable. I used the Medela cleaning wipes to clean the pump while I was on the road and without access to a sink. I made stash-building a priority on maternity leave so my goal wasn’t necessarily to bring back the milk to replenish — it was mainly just to keep my supply up so it didn’t dip while I was traveling.

    I basically didn’t care what anyone thought. I’ve pumped on a plane with a nursing cover and the only thing someone ever said to me was, “Good for you.” I’ve done the same thing on a train. I would always call the hotel ahead of time to make sure there was a fridge that had been turned on in my room so I didn’t have to wait for it to cool down.

    Although milk keeping wasn’t my priority, I did bring breast milk bags with me and transferred the milk from the bottles because the bags were much more portable and I didn’t want to bring 20 bottles with me. I had two 8-ounce bottles (which actually held about 10 ounces each) and I would just keep transferring milk to bags, which worked out.

    I’ve never mailed milk; I just brought what would be good back with me and never had issued with TSA. Most would test it, but it didn’t really bother me.

  9. I travel a lot for work now, hoping I don’t have to as much after I have a kiddo.. this all sounds terrifying. If I have to I’ll definitely come back to this post!!

    One other tip similar to buying a day pass to an airport lounge – if you’re “homeless” on part of your trip (room isn’t ready yet, or had to check out, or flying to another city that night so don’t have a hotel room, etc) I have been known to buy a day pass to a hotel spa. You can shower, and there are plentiful couches, private changing rooms with outlets, etc. It seems ideal for pumping as well, but I use it now as a way to freshen up/recharge/rest.

    Side note: I feel like the worst place to be travel-wise is on the cusp of status but not quite there. Last year I flew probably 22K miles, so I wasn’t able to achieve status on any airline. That said, that was a lot of travel.

  10. Manhattanite says:

    I traveled several times while pumping, both flying and taking train. I never had a problem getting through security with a pump and cooler bag. I think I may have always brought one bag of milk with me on the way out, just to avoid having any issues with blue ice but nothing needing to keep cold. I also once wound up having to pump standing at the sink of a very nice motel bathroom because I’d had to check out several hours before and still had an hour before I had to catch my train.

    I had one incident where I was supposed to fly from Boston to NY, had to train back, didn’t pump for several hours (8?) and got seriously engorged. My milk supply dropped precipitously, but I had a holiday weekend after I got back to nurse every couple of hours and was able to get my supply back with that + lots of fenugreek. In retrospect, I really really needed to get a pumping session in somehow on the train. I probably wouldn’t have gotten through that weekend if I hadn’t spent it with family that was very supportive and knowledgeable about breastfeeding needs. And my DD was already starting solids so I couple supplement with extra banana or whatever instead of formula, which I hadn’t been ready to do yet.

  11. shortperson says:

    the most important thing for me is to have a bag that looks professional and holds a laptop with my pump. the sarah wells “annie” bag was a worthwhile investment.

    when I travel for a day I just bring bottles and my medela cooler, but when I travel for longer I transfer into medela bags with a larger foldable cooler.

    pumping in my hotel rooms has been no problem. flying with milk is also fine — 90% of the time TSA doesn’t even stop me to inspect the milk. I guess they can recognize breastmilk when it accompanies a breast pump and a large chested woman and I get the sense they’re too embarrassed to talk about it so they just let it go.

    the biggest pain for me in pumping on the road is finding places to pump during a long day out for work or before/after transcontinental flights. it’s just a pain. I have pumped on the floor of many “family” restrooms, which always have a locking door and an outlet. (try to fly through SFO as they have actual pumping rooms with comfy chairs.) it helps to have a battery backup for your pump so you can always pump in a stall if you need to. also, it has been critical for me to have a stash stored at home so that I don’t feel that I need to save every last drop that I pump. bringing home milk pumped peacefully in a hotel room is one thing, but when you’re in a crunch and pumping in a bathroom stall, it’s nice to be able to use dirty parts, not wash your hands, etc because you know you can just throw it all out. I also travel with a hand pump in case of emergency, although it has not gotten to that point yet.

    a few more hotel tips: buy buy baby sells little bottles of baby dishsoap. call ahead and ask not only for a refrigerator but that it be plugged in and turned on. I have arrived at a hotel room with milk to find an unplugged warm refrigerator.

    the most difficult pumping situation so far that I’ve been in has been at an ABA conference. there was absolutely nowhere to pump. I’ve complained to the committee on women in the legal profession with no response. if you’ve been in this situation as well please be in touch with them to add your voice.

    • Meg Murry says:

      Oh, yes, that reminded me – there are only 8 airports with rooms that are pumping rooms (that aren’t bathrooms) according to this study: Airports in the United States: Are They Really Breastfeeding Friendly – http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/bfm.2014.0112

      to quote the yahoo article I found it on:
      “Pumping moms at the following airports should consider themselves lucky: San Francisco International, California; Minneapolis–St. Paul International, Minnesota; Baltimore/Washington International, Maryland; San Jose International, California; Indianapolis International, Indianapolis; Akron-Canton Regional, Ohio; Dane County Regional, Wisconsin; and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional, Florida. Of the top 100 busiest airports, they were the only to provide actual designated lactation rooms. It should be noted, though, that at Baltimore/Washington International and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional, those rooms are located outside of the security zone. (And once you’ve waited 15 minutes in the security line to essentially empty out your entire suitcase and strip down, it’s going to take a lot more than engorged breasts to send you back out.)”

      I had to pump in a “family bathroom” at both the airport and the rental car facility while sitting on the floor- that milk got dumped immediately, because the bathrooms were just so gross I didn’t want to chance bringing it home.

      • Nicole says:

        I think this study might be slightly out of date, as I’ve recently flown through Chicago Midway and Birmingham (AL), both of which have really lovely nursing/pumping mothers rooms. That said, those airports have both been the exception and not the rule, and I’ve found myself pumping in the bathroom, or even out in the open (in a far removed part of the airport, under a shawl) in many airports, because so many of the bathrooms do not have outlets, or are super gross.

        Additional thoughts, that I don’t think anyone else has mentioned yet:

        – If possible, buy both the battery pack and car adapter; the latter is great if you have to pump in the car, the former is great for moments like the ones I described above (and it’s easy enough to get double a batteries in a pinch).
        – If you need to ship breastmilk, and don’t want to have to worry about dry ice, try these: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000ZOWG62/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1. You can fly with them, and then when you get to your destination, submerge them in water, and stick them in your mini fridge/freezer, and they’ll stay cold enough for the trip. (I also tend to carry one in my suitcase, unfrozen, because I live in fear that my ice pack will be confiscated).
        – Similarly, for shipping, I’ve ordered these containers to arrive at my hotel (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007PB0NM2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1), which is pretty fantastic because you don’t have to worry about finding a cooler and appropriate box to fit it in.
        – I never had a problem getting this bag through security (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000K53U7K/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) – it has a built in ice pack in it, which is a nice feature, though I find needs to be supplemented with another ice pack if you’ve got it for a super long trip/don’t have time to “re-freeze” the bag before coming home. (For instance, I had trips where I would leave my house at 4:00 am, and then return, the same day at midnight – the bag will obviously not stay cold for the duration.) It also is not large enough for travel of more than a day or so.
        – For longer trips, I could wash everything, and let it dry on a portable drying rack (highly recommend this one: http://www.amazon.com/OXO-Travel-Drying-Bottle-Brush-/dp/B00AA7O4CS/ref=sr_1_2?s=baby-products&ie=UTF8&qid=1430765171&sr=1-2&keywords=oxo+baby+drying+rack), but on shorter trips, I recommend bringing as many pieces as you’ll need for all of your pumping sessions, if your carry on allows for it (i.e. if you’re going to need to pump three times, bring three sets of flanges, bottles, etc.) since you can’t always wash things on the road. The various wipes out there are good (I used the Medela ones), but I never felt like my pumping pieces truly got clean, so after a while, I would just bring multiples if I couldn’t get to a sink.
        – Bring LOTS of extra ziploc bags and a sharpie marker.
        – Be as friendly as humanly possible when explaining your situation. I found that everyone was much more accommodating when I explained what I was doing – hotel clerks were willing to let me use their deep freezers, starbucks would give me ziplock bags of ice, the TSA was more likely to waive me through (though the outside of my milk was still periodically tested).

  12. Lizochka says:

    I pumped quite a bit for work while traveling between New York and DC on Amtrak. Would never use their onboard bathroom in a million years. It’s easy enough to pump from your seat (and there is ample space, plus an outlet). I did have a few challenges, though:

    – I would try to warn people before they sat next to me that I was going to have to pump during the trip, so they should relocate if that concept made them uncomfortable. No one ever moved, but it was clear several times that the men had no idea what I had been talking about until I started pulling out all the equipment. Then, you could see the fear creep into their faces.

    – The train, especially the Acela, is very rocky in a side-to-side motion. It’s easy to spill. :(

    – People are always getting up and walking around on the train. I felt like every single person who did so was staring at me. Fortunately I am not shy, but it was definitely a bit uncomfortable. No one smiled at me, for example, it was just a stare and a raised brow. What I would have given for a smile!

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