A guide to pumping on the road for nursing moms
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Let’s be honest. Being a Mom is incredibly rewarding. Being a working Mom is extremely rewarding but can also be extremely hard. Being a Mom who travels on a regular basis for work is even harder and if you are trying to breastfeed, society makes it nearly impossible for you to do it all! Pumping while traveling is difficult and being a breastfeeding working Mom is one of the toughest things, but it is possible!
With each of my girls, I was back to work (and by that, I mean, back on a plane) when they were less than ten weeks old. I was also extremely committed to nursing through all my work travel. I think some of most disgusting places I have ever pumped while traveling include the bathroom in New York City’s Penn Station where homeless people often come to bathe in the sinks and the train bathroom on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR), which almost always has at least one bodily fluid on the floor. GROSS!
My hope is that most of you reading this do not have to pump in these circumstances, but I know many of you do. Many of you are road warriors like me and if you are committed to nursing, you will pump in airplane bathrooms, in public restrooms, on public benches and wherever you need to in order to feed your babies the way you want to. I have lots of advice on how to accomplish this, but the first thing you need in order to succeed at pumping while traveling as a nursing, working mom are some critical tools.
Pumping takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes. If you are on the road you might be in a situation where you are on a moving vehicle, or you might need your hands free while you type an email or field a call from your boss who is in the next car over asking where you have been for the past 15 minutes.
A good pumping bra allows you to have spare hands available, which also helps you clean and sanitize things as you go. In my view, Lanisoh gets a lot right when it comes to helping out pumping Moms. I bought the Lanisoh Simple Wishes Signature Hands Free Pumping Bra before my first daughter was born and served me well for 4+ years of pumping for two kids.
If I have a third child, I will use this bra again (talk about getting your money’s worth!) It has a zip front and adjustable Velcro band for when you are more engorged or just generally wider right after birth, and you can adjust it as your body adjusts.
There are a lot of breastmilk storage bags on the market. I have tried many of them Target Up&Up Brand, Medela, Nuk, you name it. Those brands might be OK for Mom’s who don’t travel or work from home, but if you are on the road a lot you need something very durable that does not leak.
In over four years of pumping while traveling, I have never had an issue with the Lanisoh Breastmilk Storage Bags. They are super durable and have a double locking seal so even if the outside seal somehow comes undone, there is a second seal to ensure the milk stays sterile and safe. I also bring several gallon-size storage bags with me so I can use a new one each day for clean pump parts and then throw it away after I have used it for the day.
Sterilizing breast pump parts is extremely important as is keeping the pumped milk sterile. I keep all of the small bags of pumped milk inside a gallon size back for an extra layer of sanitary protection – especially if I am traveling with ice in my cooler.
3. A Great Breast Pump
No shock here! In order to pump you need a pump! If you are wondering which breast pump to buy, it really depends on your needs.
I have used several types of pumps over the years including Medela, Freemie and Spectra. They all have pros and cons, but the Spectra S2 has been the best for me in terms of getting the maximum amount of milk out which is extremely important for two reasons. Firstly, you want to make sure you are pumping enough to have it storied for next time you need to travel. Secondly, you want to make sure you don’t get engorged when traveling (not fun!). The downside to the Spectra S2 is that it’s a bit bulky and not necessarily meant for travel. However, I did not want to buy an additional pump for traveling, so I found a pumping travel bag that could accommodate the S2.
When traveling for work as a nursing mom, you need to make sure you have a battery pack on hand in case you are in a place that does not have outlets (like the restrooms in most trains and planes). I had a battery pack for my Medela that works on the Spectra just fine, but Spectra most likely also sells its own battery packs.
4. A Good Cooler
My top tip for working moms who are nursing is to call ahead to your hotel and ask for a fridge in the room. Do not freeze the milk as it will likely thaw on your journey home and since frozen milk needs to be used within 24 hours, you will end up needing to throw away everything that your baby cannot consume within that 24-hour window.
Instead, keep the milk super cold and then freeze it as soon as you get home. If not frozen, the milk should be OK to freeze within 3-4 days. To make this happen you need a good cooler. Most pumping bags have a cooler insert, but I don’t trust that keeps the milk cold enough on a ten-hour travel day.
If you have access to a freezer, I love this cooler that has a built-in gel that freezes and then keeps things cold for 10 hours. It’s small enough to shove into your carry-on or breast pump bag so you don’t get dinged for extra bags at the airport. If you don’t have access to a freezer (it can be tough at a hotel!) a regular waterproof cooler will do. You can ask the front desk for ice in the morning. If the airport gives you a hard time, you can dump the ice and then get more as soon as you get through security
5. Breast Pump Cleaning Supplies
This is a tricky one when you are on the road. It can be hard to sterilize breast pump parts when traveling. If you are an ultra-paranoid germaphobe like me who washes and steam sanitizes bottles and pump parts every day when you are home, it’s even harder.
However, there are a few things you can do to keep pump parts clean when on the road. I usually bring a small bottle cleaning brush that I use just for pumping while traveling and a tiny container of antibacterial dish soap with me on longish trips. I keep the pump parts in my cooler all day so I don’t have to clean between pumping’s. When I get back to the hotel I clean in the sink with my bottle brush and soap. Then I wipe down with the Medela Quick Clean Breastpump and Accessory Wipes and air dry until the next morning.
To be honest, I don’t know if there are more things I could be doing when it comes to pumping while traveling, but most hotels don’t come with kitchenettes to allow for additional sterilization. I will say that I have taken at least 40 trips while nursing and my kids have never gotten sick from the milk I pumped while on the road.
If you are reading this and wondering if you can nurse your baby and still travel for work, I promise you that you can! Even if it seems hard, you can do it. Speak up and advocate for what you need, walk out of meetings if you have to and realize that your most important job, above all else, is being a Mom. I truly believe that my discipline about being a parent first has ultimately earned me a lot of respect with clients and colleagues over the long term. Good luck, Mommas!