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Nursing Mom: Traveling and Pumping

If you are a nursing mama that has an upcoming trip where you will be away from your baby, and you want to pump, store and bring back your stored milk safely, this is for you. 

Last year, when I was nursing was the most I had ever traveled for work. Prior to my first trip, I had the hardest time finding answers to a lot of my questions about where to pump, which coolers were best for traveling, how would I manage my carry on, pump, and frozen milk, what would happen with TSA, how did they screen the frozen milk, could I bring ice packs, did they have to be frozen, what about hotels, what if I didn't have a freezer? There was so much that I didn't know at the time, but now have a ton of insight and LOTS of practice. So hopefully I can ease your concerns and answer some questions with this article.

I will just jump right in and start jotting down what was helpful to me. I have provided links to the items through the Amazon affiliate program. I ordered all of my stuff on Amazon, so these are the exact items I used.

What is the best equipment to use/take?

I took my Medela Pump in the Black Backpack

Freemie Cups (instead of horn system)- read the pros and cons of Freemies below

eBags Crew Cooler in purple which has a strap to slide right onto your suitcase

Carry on laptop under the seat rolling bag to slide my cooler onto.

What is a good packing list for nursing mamas?

  • Battery pack for your pump

  • More milk storage bags than you think you need

  • Clorox bleach wipes for yucky counter tops

  • Dish soap (I put some soap in a travel shampoo container) and a bottle scrubby to clean supplies in bathroom sink at airport

  • Medela wipes for when you don't have a sink

  • I used the Freemie Cups pump system (BEST INVENTION EVER!) If you have the other horn looking system, bring an extra set of the white little plastic thingies that keep the milk from getting sucked back into the pump from the bottle in case they tear

  • Manual Medela hand pump (just in case all else failed)

  • 4-5 Large freezer bags (Ziplocks) to store my milk bags in or ice if my cooler needed a little extra chill

  • Baby wipes to wipe of my breasts after pumping, or hands, or whatever else.

Where will I pump during layovers?

I did research at my layover airports. I live in Texas, so Houston and Dallas were my main stops. I looked up the terminals that had Nursing pods, nursing mother's rooms, and even family bathrooms (last resort). Some bathrooms have additional changing rooms which may not have power. Use the clorox wipes if you end up in teh family bathroom, they are not the most sanitary places in the airport, but it does the job. I will say, try to book your flights with more than a 45 minute layover if you plan to pump. Not doing so will result in you rushing and not getting it all out which can lead to mastitis.

Which coolers were best for traveling? 

I did a ton of research on this and learned that filght attendants prefer this cooler. It holds a lot of milk (up to a week  and a half when I was in the prime of pumping).  The cooler also stays cold for about 12 hours with just ice packs, but I brought large freezer bags just in case I needed to ask Starbucks for some ice to top it off. Keeping the ice in the bag kept it a lot less messy as well.

How will I navigate the airport with all of that stuff (a carry-on, pump, and frozen milk)? 

It was not that bad. I carried my pump in the Medela backpack, the cooler which has soft sides, slides right onto my rolling carry-on. On the aircraft, the cooler and pump fit under the seat in front of me and the roller fit in the overhead compartment. 

How does TSA screen milk? What about ice packs?

When you are heading to your destination, you will likely be carrying ice packs. Make sure they are frozen, otherwise they might give you hell. Also, you will need them to be frozen to keep your milk cold after your first pumping, if you need to pump during a layover or while you are en route.  If not, then just stick it all in your checked bag.  On your way back, with milk, TSA will either shoot a laser through one bag of milk to test the consistency of it, or they will open one bag and put a strip over the open bag (they do not put anything in the milk itself). They might dump out the entire contents of the cooler as well, that is why I keep any ice in a ziplock bag to keep it nice and easy to clean up and reorganize so it stays cold. In case this is all new to you, keep the milk on the bottom and ice on top- I also use my ice packs as milk dividers to help keep it frozen from all sides. 

What if my hotel does not have a freezer in the room?  

If your hotel has a mini fridge in the room, you might be able to turn it up as cold as it goes and lean the bags against the wall of the fridge, that has worked for me a couple of times. If not, then you can ask the front desk to store your milk in their freezer for you. This proved to be a pain for me. They misplaced my cooler multiple times in the "walk-in"  fridge, and if I just gave them a freezer bag full of milk storage bags, they would not lay them flat, causing them to freeze in awkward shapes that made it harder to organize into the cooler when it was time to fly home. I found a love for Hampton Inn when I was pumping and traveling, every single one I stayed in had rooms with mini fridge/freezers and I love a free breakfast!! I always called ahead to verify the freezer situation. Only once did I stay in a Hilton Garden inn that did not have a freezer, and using the front desk was just a pain. 

Freemie Collection System

I love this system. I used it for almost two years and it was fantastic. I could pump and drive, I didn't have to take off my shirt and bra or use a pumping bra. I literally just loosened my bra, put the inserts in my bra, aligned them and turned the pump on. As with any other pumping equipment, you can't bend over and have to handle it carefully to avoid spilling, but not more than the regular old "horn" looking system. This is also now my number one gift for mom's who are nursing.

Please feel free to comment and ask any additional questions. I would be happy to answer them. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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