I’ll be honest. I thoroughly enjoyed breastfeeding, but I never expected to one day be sitting on the grimy floor of a supermarket bathroom squirting milk out of my overly full breasts. That would have been a hard pass for me in the Places To Pump Department, and I had already found myself pumping on the sweaty seats of a high school bus at a cross country meet as the bus driver blocked teenagers from climbing aboard. But if you are like me, you’ve had to or will be away from your breastfed child because of travel for work or pleasure. And also like me, the idea of pumping and traveling might be daunting to you, but I have lived and survived pumping on the go, even when I was pumping on the floor of a bathroom, and I am here to tell you what you need to know.
1. Know Before You Go
Even before the plane takes off, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that things go smoothly once you arrive at your destination.
First, make sure that whoever is watching your child has enough of a milk supply to feed your baby. If your little one is like my son and you have a diva on your hands, then you know your bougie baby spits out anything other than breastmilk. My son did this until he was about 9 months. This means that you have to have a well-stocked freezer with a supply of breastfeed, which means that you have to do double duty for a few weeks leading up to it if you don’t already have an ample amount. You should have 25-30 ounces per day for your baby. Probably more. Of course, you can always ship your milk back home, but when I looked into it, I found it was way too expensive for me. In addition, you can have the childcare provider mix breastmilk with a little bit of formula to make the supply last longer. Or finally, you can buy breast milk from someone, which is what I had to do for one trip because I just couldn’t find the extra time to pump on top of my normal pumping and breastfeeding. I found a trusted person and bought her breast milk. It worked, and I wasn’t so stressed!
Second, pack your supplies. You want to make sure you have everything you need before you jet out of town. What you should take with you is the following:
I know all the prepping can be overwhelming, but when done, it makes the trip a lot less stressful when you are prepared.
2. Manage Expectations
Whether you are traveling alone or in a group, you need to let yourself know and everyone with you what the expectations are. Be clear and firm that you have to pump when you have to pump. When traveling in San Francisco, I had to excuse myself from a wedding to pump and also while we were in the middle of sightseeing. On another occasion, we had to delay going to dinner because I had to pump. You do not have to feel guilty about this. You do not have to feel rushed. You do not have to apologize. If you are upfront about your need to excuse yourself to pump with all parties involved in your travel, then that is the best you can do, and if someone gets annoyed or irritated, that is on them, not you, because you laid out your expectations.
Also, go easy on yourself. Pumping isn’t going to be like it is when you are following your normal routine. You might go a little longer between pumping sessions because you got caught up in the travel. You might have to pump more since you don’t have a child hungrily draining your whole milk supply. You might have to pump in strange places. You might even have to, God forbid - don’t say it, gasp, throw away some milk because you underestimated how much storage containers you needed. Take a deep breath. It’s okay. Give yourself grace.
3. Have a sense of humor
Things will go wrong. Sometimes disastrously wrong. Like you might find yourself and your engorged breasts squatting over a toilet in a stall at Starbucks with a line out the door furiously trying to squeeze milk out of your tendered breasts. It happens. All you can do is laugh and learn for next time.
Pumping while traveling wasn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Know before you go, manage expectations, and have a sense of humor even if you find yourself on the dirty floor of a supermarket. You got this, Mama!