Pumping Logistics While Traveling Without Your Exclusively Breastfed Babies

March 4, 2013

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!

Pressure to Breastfeed

October 4, 2012

Can most women produce enough milk for their baby/babies?

Before I gave birth, a friend told me that she thought all women, with few exceptions, could produce enough milk for their babies.  This seems like it should be true given that breastfeeding is natural and we should have evolved to produce what our babies need (we should also have evolved to make childbirth less painful, but that’s a different post …), but lately, I’ve been wondering if this is true.  Uncharacteristically, I haven’t read the latest medical journal articles about this, so these are just my musings.

I am fortunate enough to produce enough milk for twins and even extra to donate without having to spend all day pumping or taking supplements.  On the other hand, I have been donating milk to a mom whose daughter was born three months early, who pumps ALL the time, and takes tons of supplements.  I also donate to another mom to twin boys who pumps all the time, including through the night, and only gets a couple ounces each time.  (To give you a sense of twin mom output, I get 6-8 ounces if I am pumping every 2-3 hours.)  I also hear about problems twin moms are having pretty often on my twin club listserv.  This is obviously not a statistically significant sample, but it does make me think that there are moms out there who can’t produce enough milk and not for their lack of effort.

What about women who don’t?

I feel really lucky that I haven’t had any problems other than the first couple of weeks when we gave our preemie babies some formula, but I also feel terrible about the pressure women put on themselves and each other to nurse.  Not so long ago, people thought formula was better for babies, but when I was pregnant, I was inundated with the message from my doctors, books, and online forums that breastfeeding was the key to success.  I was starting to believe that if I didn’t breastfeed, my babies would be meth-addicted, high school dropouts.  Then i remembered that I was formula fed and am doing just fine!

I do believe that breastmilk is better for babies than formula, but I wonder about how this impacts women who want to breastfeed, but have problems doing so.  I know that breastfeeding is hard at first and I know lots of women probably give up because it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient, but I know that the two women I donate to have gone, and still go, above and beyond to give their babies as much breastmilk as possible.  I worry about how the stress of not producing enough milk or any milk has on a mother who wants to breastfeed and her baby/babies.

I hope public health advocates can find a way to get the “breast is best” message across without making moms feel like formula is poison and a sign that they don’t care about their babies’ wellbeing.

Observations – 3-6 months (including going back to work)

October 4, 2012

Since C&R are almost seven months old, I thought I’d post about the last three months.  They’ve been amazing, the best so far!  It’s hard to remember just three months ago we would get so excited when they held their heads up high during tummy time.  Now tummy time is ho hum since they’re rolling around like crazy, starting to sit unsupported, and even standing holding on to a table.  They laugh and giggle.  They’re really interactive and observant.  It’s all pretty awesome.  Oh, one of the best things is eating food.  We’re doing babyled weaning and it’s so much fun to watch, especially when you hand a baby a spoon and he puts it in his mouth himself and then looks at you for more.  What could be cuter?

Okay, here’s my stuff advice:

Things that have been awesome to have:

  • Video monitor (this one is great for twins because you can move it from side to side and zoom.  You can also add multiple cameras, which is cool if your babies spend a lot of time in multiple rooms.) – At first, I thought this was total mom overkill, but now that we have one, I wish we had it when we did sleep training.  It’s so nice to be able to look at the monitor and see why a baby is crying instead of deciding to let them cry or not based on a hunch.  Now, we can see if a leg is stuck or someone banged his head and attend to that right away or if someone is just rolling around and leave him alone.  We can also see adorable things happening like babies scooting around their cribs with their butts up in the air or eating their feet.  So cute!
  • Play mat with arches (This is actually good before 3m too) – C&R are so entertained by this, even now.  It’s definitely worth it and you can change up the toys to keep them interested.
  • Foam mat – You have to be careful that your babies don’t eat the small pieces, but we haven’t had a problem with this yet.  Our babies love feeling the different textures of the pieces and we have peace of mind when they fall on this instead of our hardwood floors.
  • Exersaucer, jumperoo – We would get nothing done without these.  I know people call these neglect-a-babies, but C&R LOVE them and I like having 10 minutes to eat food without jugging two babies!  I also think they might be good for developing leg strength.
  • Tables they can stand at with music and toys – We have this one.  We just started using this, but it’s a BIG hit.  It elicits quite a bit of happy squealing.  I think when C&R are able to pull themselves up, it’ll be an even bigger hit.

Things that are nice to have:

  • Angel Dear lovies – super soft, very cute, and not too big, so we let them sleep with them even though we’re not supposed to.  Baby C LOVES his.  Baby R really doesn’t care that much, so it’s baby dependent.  As far as lovies go, anything can be one and these are expensive, but great if your baby is into them.
  • Aden and Anais swaddles – People love these, but I didn’t understand why because they’re not good for swaddling.  Turns out they’re really handy and versatile.  They’re very lightweight (ours are made of bamboo), so we’ve used them to cover our carseats on walks, cover our babies’ legs when they’re exposed in the Ergo and it’s sunny, cover my boobs while nursing in public (no need for an expensive Hooter Hider), and even as an emergency blanket to sit on or change a diaper!

Things people told us we’d need, but we don’t:

  • Boppy pillow – People said this was a great prop for babies before they could sit up on their own, but we never use it.
  • Bumbo – We do use this sometimes, but it’s not really necessary.  There was probably about a 1 week sweet spot where C&R weren’t active enough to jump out of it and were strong enough to  sit up in it.  We ordered the recall harness and it’s a huge pain because the Bumbo is designed to be tight, so it’s hard to actually use the straps.  We don’t and I’m sure they’re not comfortable to sit on.  If we used the Bumbo more, I’d take the harness out.

Reflections on Going Back to Work

To sum up my first day back at work: I didn’t shed a single tear and I felt guilty about that and then I felt kind of mad that I felt guilty!  People kept asking me if I was okay and how was I doing.  I felt like I was supposed to be really torn up about not being at home, but my partner was, so I knew C&R were having fun and they were coming at lunchtime.  Also, I was stoked to be back at work and able to work.  For the four months I was home, I kept trying to get work done, but was constantly interrupted or so sleep deprived that nothing I did made sense.  It was nice to be able to schedule meetings and do work!

At first, I thought my milk production was going down, which freaked me out, but I eventually realized I was producing less each time I pumped because I was pumping more often.  I think since I read so much about supply going down when you return to work, I just assumed it was happening without really thinking, but it turns out I had plenty and even extra to donate.  I found this to be helpful in understanding how pumping works in order to “pump smart”.

It took a couple weeks to get used to the idea of pumping in my office.  I kept worrying that someone was going to walk in on me.  You feel really vulnerable when hooked up to a milking machine!  I got over it pretty quick and soon enough I was even making phone calls while pumping.  Travel is tough and requires a lot of advance planning.  Once, I pulled over in a Safeway parking lot, flashed some people while hooking myself up, and then pumped while driving.  A working mom’s gotta do what a working mom’s gotta do, right?!  I get why people wean before their babies are ready, but for now, I think it’s worth the trouble.

I started pumping into milk storage bags, but switched to bottles because I didn’t like how floppy the bags were.  It felt insecure even though I never had a problem with them and also found them wasteful.  Also, I find bottles easier to store, transport, and to transfer milk from to a drinking bottle.  Tip: if you keep your pump parts in the refrigerator, you don’t have to wash them every time you pump.  You can do this for up to 24 hours.

One thing that seemed to be a direct result of my going back to work was an increase in night feedings, though I also think it has at least a little to do with increased distractibility during day feedings.  Instead of one night feeding, we had two and sometimes three.  Now, we’re back down to one or two, but I think if I hadn’t gone back to work, C&R would be sleeping through the entire night.  I don’t actually mind it too much because I like having the opportunity to nurse them and snuggle, but one of these days, I would like to sleep for more than 5 hours in a row!

Now that C&R are in daycare and my partner is back at work, mornings can be hectic.  It’s helpful when everyone knows their role – Partner showers and gets dressed, then changes diapers and clothes.  I nurse and then get ready while Partner brings them downstairs and gets his work stuff ready.  Then I come down and load the car with things for daycare if I haven’t already done it the night before (It’s helpful to do as much as you can the night before so you can grab and go).  Then we load them into the car.  I drive to daycare and he gets on the bus to work.  It almost always takes more time to get out of the house than you think, but when you have a routine, it definitely helps.

The past three months have been really, really fun.  I can’t wait to reflect back on the next three!