Tips for Pumping During Air Travel Without Baby

tips for pumping during air travel
Image via Mindi Stavish

Last weekend, I went on a three-day, cross-country trip for work. Typically, this would be no huge deal for me. Sure, I miss my kids when I travel, but I know they always have a lot of “boy time only” fun with Daddy when I'm gone. This time was different, though, as I am still exclusively breastfeeding my youngest son, Ryker, who is 8 months old.

Even though Ryker is my third baby, I have never traveled alone during the first year of one of my babies' lives. I am a full-time working mom, so pumping is just part of my everyday, work-week life. Most days I pump just barely enough milk for the following day. Thankfully, I stockpiled about 100 ounces of milk in the deep freeze during those first few weeks of Ryker's life, so I had enough for the three days I was gone.

{ MORE: Pumping Milk? Tips for New Moms }

I was most anxious about pumping and maintaining my milk supply while gone. I was also nervous about the logistics of pumping during my 9-10 hours of travel while flying from Maryland to California. After a lot of research, planning, and careful packing, here is how I survived and managed to bring home around 80 ounces of pumped milk.

packing essentials
Image via Mindi Stavish

To help reduce stress and anxiety, I created a list of all the supplies I would need so I could pump while traveling. Here is what I packed:

    • Breast pump (double electric), all parts, and charger
    • Hands-free nursing bra, such as the Simple Wishes Hands Free Breastpump Bra
    • Two empty bottles (used to pump into)
    • Breastmilk storage bags
    • Nursing cover (used if you will need to pump on the plane)
    • Breast pump wipes used for cleaning your pump parts when you can't get to a sink right away
    • Ice pack or plastic bag for storing ice
    • Bag for storage of all parts and accessories
    • Insulated bag to keep milk cold during transportation. I highly recommend the PackIt Social Cooler since the bag has a built-in ice pack that remains cold for 10 hours.
    • Breastmilk storage bags
    • Large ziploc bag
    • Bottled water so you can stay hydrated in the air
    • Protein-packed snacks
    • Entertainment such as a tablet or a book
    • Small towel to clean up spills
    • Lansinoh cream for sore nipples if you are not used to pumping frequently

{ MORE: 4 Must-Have Products for Breastfeeding Working Moms }

If at all possible, keep all of your pump parts together in one bag. Mine got separated after boarding the plane because I overstuffed my carry-on bag. (Typical.) Since I was super rushed to make my connecting flight, I ended up leaving my flanges on the plane! I didn't realize this until I unpacked at the hotel and was ready to pump. Thankfully, I wasn't too far from Target, so I was able to purchase another set. It would have been a disaster if I would have left behind the other parts, though.

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hotel fridge
Image via Flickr/ cote

If you are staying at a hotel, be sure to contact your hotel ahead of time to make arrangements for a fridge. If a fridge isn't available, you can still keep your milk cold using ice. You will just need to replenish it as it melts in order to keep your milk at the proper temperature. Breastmilk can be stored at room temperature for 4-8 hours or in an insulated cooler (at 59 degrees Fahrenheit) for 24 hours. Check out KellyMom for more information on breastmilk storage guidelines.

pumping at an airport
Image via Mindi Stavish

Determine if the airport you will be flying out of or having a layover at has a nursing room available. Not all airports are created equal. Since most airlines require that you check in for your flight at least 90 minutes prior to its scheduled departure, it is very likely that you will need to either pump at the airport or pump in your car once you get there. The airport I flew out of didn't have a dedicated space for nursing moms, but it did have rocking chairs scattered throughout the terminal, so I was able to use a rocking chair and pump discreetly using my nursing cover.

The San Jose airport, however, did have a very nice nursing room with a sink and a bench, so I pumped there before boarding my plane to come home. Unfortunately, the airport I had a layover at did not have a nursing area, so I pumped right at the gate. By this point into my trip, I was very confident in pumping in public and had no desire to stand in a bathroom to pump.

TSA
Image via Flickr/billypalooza billypalooza

TSA regulations treat breastmilk as they do liquid medications, so you are allowed to bring breastmilk in quantities greater than the typical three ounces. Empty bottles and ice packs are also permitted. When I went through security, I just let the officers know I had breastmilk with me. They instructed me to just place it in one of their bins and put it through the X-ray. I was not required to open up the bag for them to do a screening check, but it is possible that you will be asked to do so.

breast pump freestyle
Image via Mindi Stavish

Aim to get a window seat so you only have one person next to you. I flew on an airline that doesn't do assigned seating–only assigned boarding zones. On my way to California, I managed to get a good boarding zone and a window seat. Sadly, on the way home, I got stuck with the middle seat, but I managed just fine. You will most likely feel uncomfortable and nervous the first time you pump, but once you get through the first time, it gets easier and less uncomfortable. Don't worry about the noise from the pump because it honestly can't be heard over the plane's engines. I was able to not flash my fellow seatmate just by using my cover.

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airplane and pumping
Image via Mindi Stavish

If your flight is three hours or longer, you will likely need to pump once, if not twice, while in the air. The logistics of setting yourself up to start pumping is a bit tricky on a plane, but it's very possible. Assemble all your parts first. Then place the parts with the attached bottles into the seat pocket in front of you. Then put on your nursing cover and hands-free bra. I had a bit of a hard time zipping up the bra in a cramped space, so you could put the bra on in the morning–it's just not the most comfortable thing in the world. Once the bra is on, connect the parts and turn on your pump. Now sit back and relax, because the hardest part is over.

Once you are finished pumping, detach all the parts. I found it helpful to put down my tray table to set the bottles on top of instead of juggling them between my legs. Just watch out for turbulence! Then pour the expressed milk into a storage bag and clean all pump parts using the quick clean wipes.

timer
Image via Mindi Stavish

Since I was changing time zones, I used the timer on my phone to count down to my next pumping session. That way, I didn't have to calculate the time zone difference. Once I arrived at my destination, I then just adapted to the current time zone.

I'm happy to say that I managed to stick with a decent pumping schedule during my entire trip. During my three-day trip, I pumped over 80 ounces of milk and maintained my milk supply. It was quite an adventure, and it gave me a new appreciation for moms who exclusively pump. I was beyond ready to nurse Ryker to sleep on Saturday night when I walked through the door!

{ MORE: Conquering My SIDS Fears }

Have you ever traveled without baby while nursing? How did you manage to maintain your milk supply while gone?

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Tips for Pumping During Air Travel Without Baby

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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1 comment

  1. mommy nhoj says:

    I never get the chance to pump on my flights because doctor has advised so early for me to stop breastfeeding. Lol! I imagine this task as many of my former colleagues have their own stories

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