Pumping Logistics While Traveling Without Your Exclusively Breastfed Babies

I love being able to nurse my babies and pump milk for them to drink when I’m not around.  I mean, I don’t love pumping, but I love that they never have to drink formula.  Recently, I had to fly cross country (San Francisco (SFO) to Washington DC (DCA)) for work where I’d be for about ­2 days.  Before I left, I tried to find information about the logistics of pumping when traveling and couldn’t find that much information, so hopefully this post will help moms in the same position.

Since it was a long flight, I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with pumping.  From the time I left my house to the time I got to the hotel would be about 8 hours, so I would have to pump somewhere.  I decided that I would pump on the flight there because I saw online there was an empty seat next to me.  I hoped that the person in the aisle seat and the flight attendant would be women, but no such luck.  The guy in the aisle seat was kind of dopey.  He had his laptop on the middle tray and was facing me, so when I was getting set up to pump, I explained to him what I was doing, hoping that he would turn away, but he was so dopey that he didn’t really understand.  So, I spelled it out for him and thankfully he turned away awkwardly.  I still don’t really think he understood, but when I started half undressing under a nursing cover, he got the gist!  While I was pumping, the flight attendant came by with water and asked if I wanted any.  I was really thirsty and he was offering, so I said yes and reached out giving him a knowing smile since I was attached to a pump and had a nursing cover over me, clearly not your standard flight attire.  Since I had limited reach being attached to my pump, he obviously noticed.  He started walking away, then paused and said, do you mind if I ask you what that is.  I didn’t miss a beat and said it’s a breast pump.  His reaction was hilarious and his recovery was impressively quick.  He said, oh, I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t an oxygen tank because those aren’t allowed, but those (motioning to my pump) are.  I couldn’t help myself, so I asked if that happened often and he said, no, but that some people did bring portable oxygen, but they’re prohibited because they’re flammable.  The dopey guy just seemed dumbfounded that I was having a conversation while pumping.  Overall, it wasn’t bad and it was amusing to see people’s reactions.

I called the hotel in advance and let them know that I would need a fridge, freezer, and late checkout.  Initially, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to get late checkout.  I told them that I would need a private place to pump then after I checked out.  A few days later, they called me back and told me they had upgraded me to a room with a fridge, freezer, microwave (handy for sterilizing pump parts), and could stay until 4PM.  Hurray!  I was only away from home for about 60 hours total, but it didn’t dawn on me how frequently I’d have to pump since I wasn’t nursing at all.  Thankfully, the conference I attended was in the hotel I was staying at, so I just had to go upstairs, but it was hard timing my pumping.  Since conference session breaks are usually only about 10 minutes, it wasn’t long enough to go upstairs, pump, and get back downstairs, so I had to either sneak out of sessions early or walk in late.  It was okay, but not ideal.  Overall, the pumping in the hotel was a minor hassle, but fine.  I also didn’t think about how much milk I would end up lugging back.  It gets heavy!

The DCA airport security was ridiculous.  I didn’t want to go through the xray security screening, so I opted out.  Along with the free groping from TSA, they searched my bag, including my pump parts and cooler FULL of milk.  The guy doing this search was obviously not enjoying himself and quite frankly, I didn’t want him massaging my milk either.  Seriously, is this really making us all safer?  The lost productivity of these inane TSA procedures is infuriating, but I guess it’s a job creation program!

I didn’t think I’d be able to pump on the plane on my way home since the flight looked full online, so I decided that I would just pump in the airport right before my flight and then in the airport when I landed.  In the airport (DCA) before my flight, no one knew about the nursing lounges that I had read about online, but there was a “companion lounge”, which was a single stall bathroom without a working toilet and a changing table.  It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t a “lounge”.  I pumped standing up because it didn’t feel particularly sanitary and there wasn’t really anywhere to sit.  On the plane, since I wasn’t going to pump, I put my pump and accessories in the overhead compartment, only to find that there was an empty seat next to me again!  Drat!  It would have been so convenient to pump on the plane since I had chatted for a long time with the guy in the aisle seat and he was super nice and had kids, but I was too lazy to get my bag and get set up.  Also, I read online that SFO has nice “nurseries”, the name they use for their nursing rooms, so a little bit of me wanted to check one out.  Mostly, I was just being lazy.

When I got to SFO, the nursery was conveniently located right by my gate and the gate attendant knew exactly where it was.  I picked up a phone outside and told the person who answered that I wanted to use the room and was given a code.  I went inside and there was a sink, a comfy chair, and music.  I set up, pumped, cleaned up, and off I went to be reunited with my boys.

All in all, pumping while traveling wasn’t terribly inconvenient, but it did feel a lot like uncharted territory – not because no one has ever done it before, but because I couldn’t find a lot of information about how to plan or what to expect before I went on my trip.

Tip Summary:

  • Imagine your plan – what do you need?  I brought my pump, a freezer ziploc bag for my pump parts, way more milk storage bags than I thought I needed (I used almost all of them), two bottles (easier to pump into than bags and then I poured into bags), microwave sterilization bag, cooler bag, lots of ice packs (mini fridges don’t get that cold, so I kept ice packs with my milk in the fridge), extra batteries, pump bra, a separate bag for all my pumping stuff that I put in a carryon so I could just pull that out when I pumped on the plane.
  • Try to make arrangements with your hotel in advance.  I’ve found that when you tell anyone that you’re a nursing mom and need accommodations, they do everything they can to help you out.   Well, other than TSA.
  • Check your flight’s seating chart when you check in.  If you can, move your seat to a row where there’s an empty middle seat.  Also, I didn’t try, but I’ll bet if you explain to the gate attendant that you need to pump on the plane, they’ll try to find you two seats.

Happy travels!

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