One of the biggest questions I get from new moms in the Return to Work After Maternity Leave workshop is how the heck do you travel for business and pump! So I had to reach out to Jessica Shortall again with questions related to her book  Hope you appreciate this Q&A as much as I did. Jessica’s book Work. Pump. Repeat.

Oh, and check out the Back To Work Survival Kit from from Milkitkit. They are so cute. My fave baby shower gifts!

Pumping While Flying Q&A with Jessica Shortall

1. Is it REALLY worth the all the hassle, security checkpoint interrogation, temperature-controlled paranoia to pump while traveling by air?

I’ve got three different answers for this one:

Answer 1: Yes. Because when you land wherever you’re going for your business trip, you are going to be BUSY. Picture getting to the hotel or client office or conference center, and then you have to figure out where to pump THERE. Why not get a jump on things and pump when surrounded by complete strangers whom you don’t need to impress? Also, depending on length of flight(s), you really don’t want to land engorged and in pain.

Answer 2: Also yes. You don’t want to pack that pump into your checked baggage. What if it gets lost? I mean, yes, keep a single-boob manual pump in your carry-on, but do you really want to arrive at your business trip destination with no breast pump? MAYBE you can check your pump on the way home. Maybe.

Answer 3: Still yes, although I get that it is a total hassle to bring milk through security (presumably on your way home). But bringing home whatever you’ve produced will help you at least partially replenish your stash at home, ahead of the next trip. But if for some reason you have to dump all of it, or it doesn’t make it home with you: don’t panic. This feels like the end of the world, but it is not.

2. Give us the low down on planning: what to bring, timing it out and how the hell do you get all the white gold back home?!

Business travel means carry-ons, and pumping means even more carry-ons, especially on the way home when you are lugging milk with you. Some women get around the “one carry-on and one personal item” rule by telling TSA that the pump is “medical equipment.” If you can do this, more power to you, but TSA is such a crapshoot—everything depends on the agent you get at that moment. It’s a good idea to pack as if this were not an option, just in case you encounter an agent who doesn’t believe in the “medical equipment” thing. So plan to give up your purse for the flight. Pack it into your suitcase and put the essential purse items into your pump bag.

When packing, mentally prepare for the cooler bag of milk you’ll be bringing home (a reusable, lined lunchbag will work for a 1-2 day trip; something longer requires something that could (and hopefully will, one day) hold a six-pack. This cooler bag, if you can’t fit it into something else, counts as a carry-on, so practice filling it with bags of frozen or liquid milk and cramming it into the top of the pump bag or your other carry-on. Even if you have stuff spilling out of the top, if you can make it look like two bags of the appropriate size, you’re fine.

Bring more large, slider-top Ziploc bags with you than you think you’ll need, plus a manual single pump, a battery pack with fresh batteries for your pump, a nursing cover or large shawl, a lot of breastmilk storage bags, and a pack of wet wipes.

Finally, in preparation, put all of your pump parts into Ziploc bags before you get to the airport. Some TSA agents will insist on taking everything out of your pump bag, and you do not want them touching your pump parts after they’ve just patted down their thousandth traveler of the day.

3. Pumping on a plane. That smelly dude sitting next to you won’t mind, right? Is it possible?

Of all the places I’ve pumped, this is one of the weirdest, but it’s doable. When I say “doable,” I don’t mean “comfortable,” “fun,” or “something I’ll look back on fondly later.” It is none of these things. But what we are shooting for is doable. After all, you’re in an enclosed space miles above the ground, with very little room to maneuver. The bathrooms are impossibly small just for the act of peeing (who has sex in these things, and why?). You are packed into a tiny space with a lot of people, none of whom you want seeing your boobs. So . . . how do you do it?

•​Book a window seat, and try to get an empty row. Do not book a seat next to your coworker, unless you’re really comfortable with that person.
•​Wear layers to allow for easy access. A good combo is a camisole with a shirt and cardigan on top.
•​Bring that big shawl.
•​Buy a bottle of water after you clear security.

Pumping in the airplane bathroom is your more modest option, but it’s also much less comfortable. Find a friendly flight attendant and make him or her your ally. “I’m a new mom and I’m traveling without my baby, and I could really use your help,” is a good way to start. Tell this person that you need to pump breastmilk in the bathroom, and that you didn’t want them to think you’d fallen in or something. And then get in there with your battery pack and your bottle of water. Sit on the toilet with the lid down. Balance the pump on your knees or put it on the minuscule counter (which is probably wet). You will know how to do the rest. Afterward, rinse out the pump parts with your bottled water (don’t use the sink water), cap your pump bottles, and clean up any spilled milk with the wipes. Worry about a full wash of the pump parts once you’re on the ground.

Pumping in your airplane seat is your other option. I don’t imagine anyone will do this on their first rodeo, but many veteran business-tripping moms totally go there. Throw your travel shawl over yourself, set everything up discreetly, and pump while watching a 30 Rock rerun on the seatback TV. The white noise of the plane does a great job of masking the pump sounds. No one will notice, or if they do, they probably are not going to make a thing of it. Once you’re done, you can still go into the bathroom and wash out your parts with bottled water, or just throw them in a Ziploc bag and deal with it on solid ground

4. We know Alyssa Milano has something to say about it but how much milk CAN a mom travel with? Do you pack it in a carry-on?

In the United States, you are allowed to bring as much breastmilk through security as you want, so I always carry it on. Regardless of whether your baby is there, it is categorized as “liquid medication.” This means that it is exempt from TSA’s 3-1-1 rule about liquids, so you can transport breastmilk in containers larger than 3 ounces, and you are not limited to only one quart-sized plastic bag. It also means that you can ask for the milk not to be put through an X-ray machine—but if you do make this request, they can subject it to “further inspection” (no further explanation is given, leaving the question open for argument, which is never a good idea with TSA). Because of the “medication” designation, you can bring ice packs to keep it cool.

Unfortunately for Alyssa, and countless others, this is not always the case in other countries, so you really have to do your homework if traveling abroad. (Also: use a battery pack, not the plug, abroad. You do not want a power surge or different voltage to fry your pump in a foreign land.)

I always pack my breast milk in my carry-on; too much risk for my anxious self of the bag getting lost, or the flight getting delayed and everything sitting somewhere hot. I’ve traveled home with a week’s worth of breastmilk in a carry-on – most of it frozen, which makes things easier and less messy (but I still double bag everything in hefty Ziplocs).

5. To dry ice or not to dry ice? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

If you want (or need) to ship your milk home, the very best how-to comes from a badass former Navy mechanic, RN, and IBCLC Robyn Roche-Paull, who literally wrote the book, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, for active-duty military breastfeeding moms. Robyn says that dry ice can be used, but isn’t actually necessary in most cases. Check out her step-by-step at:

6. Are there different things to consider when doing a quick rager in Vegas (i.e. napping by the pool for 2 days) vs. a longer trip like 5+ days?

The biggest thing to think about is cooler size. But of course, there are Wal-Marts and Targets nearly everywhere, so you can always run out and get a bigger soft-sided cooler if you need to. On business (or just away-from-baby-for-fun) travel, it’s really the beginning and end that are the most stressful: making sure you pack everything, getting through security, pumping in the airport or on the plane, getting where you’re going and negotiating for a fridge or freezer; and then doing the whole thing in reverse on the way home, but with milk in tow. The middle, however long it is, is pretty standard.

7. Tips on how to maintain supply while away from baby?

This is a tough one. A lot of working moms see a temporary supply dip from work travel. Maybe you don’t eat or drink enough, or you drink a lot of alcohol (dump the milk if you pump it while you can still feel the buzz!). Maybe you don’t get as many pumping sessions in, due to the stresses of a busy schedule. Don’t let a little supply dip freak you out – you can usually recover from that. But DO call ahead to your hotel and any client office or conference center to make arrangements for where to pump and where to store milk. Get individual names and cell phone numbers so you can find those exact people when you arrive – because they are sure to not have relayed the message to any co-workers. And pack healthy, high-protein snacks!

8. Any gear, tips or any encouraging words we should know?

I swear by the replacement flanges (the horn part of the pump) made by a little company called Pumpin Pal. They are angled, so you can sit back while you pump, which means less back pain and less spilling. And their shape is more natural, so you have less discomfort while pumping. And no, I’m not being paid to say this!

In terms of encouraging words, the best I can do is share the mantra that got me through two kids, 22 total months of breastfeeding, and literally circumnavigating the globe with a breast pump:

Your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces.

Breastfeeding was a HUGE priority to me, but I struggled so much with it. Anxiety out the wazoo. There were times when my ability (or lack thereof) to provide my babies with breastmilk seemed to define my success as a mother. Clinging to those words really got me through. Providing your baby with your milk is nothing short of amazing. But the only way to get a gold medal in the Mom-Lympics is to love your baby and love yourself. That’s it.

A version of this post appeared originally on ThriveMomma by Elaine McGhee.

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