Tips from the road: pumping breast milk while traveling (for work)

A few days before a recent trip to talk at the University of Michigan I sent inquiries out into my social media networks, asking for tips on traveling and pumping breast milk. I had hoped for a few hard won tales but got crickets instead. So, in the event that someone else asks a similar set of questions, I’m listing a few tips below. Feel free to share others in the comment thread! In case you need it, I’ve also written a “Dear Colleague” letter template that you can send to organizers in advance of your travel letting them know your needs.

– be gentle with yourself, this is crazy absurd work.
– If possible, have your milk frozen when you go through security. In my experience, TSA dip-tests every liquid individually (!) but does not dip-test frozen breast milk.
– If you don’t already have one, get a battery pack and supply cord. There are rarely outlets in planes and hand pumping didn’t work AT ALL for me.
– Ask the flight attendant if you can use the first class bathroom to pump. While this is going to depend on the individuals involved, I had good luck here.
– When you go to pump on a plane let a flight attendant know that you may be in there longer – this lets them run interference with other passengers who wonder what’s taking so long.
– Take along your preferred disinfecting wipes to clean out your equipment when you aren’t near a sink or a good spot to thoroughly wash everything.
– I took my equipment (breast shield, valves, bag attachment thingy) already assembled on the plane in a plastic bag, which gave me an area to stage set up that was relatively clean and meant for fast set up
– Arrange to have a refrigerator in your hotel room if that’s where you’re staying while traveling.
– Pack plenty of your favorite storage containers and cooling technologies – I used the small storage bags because I could pump directly into them and lay them flat in the freezer for easy stacking for the return trip. I also used the flexible freezer packs in order to fit more into my cooler bag.
-According to sources at a breast milk bank, milk can be stored in a refrigerator for 7 days if you have one at your hotel. If a freezer is available, it can be frozen and taken on a plane with some blue ice blocks. The preceding isn’t medical advice so for more on breast milk storage and use see the CDC’s guidelines and/or KellyMom discussions.
– Check with your airline for guidelines on carrying breast milk on vs. checking it
– As always, drink a ton of water – air travel dehydrates and those are much needed fluids!
Good luck and feel free to share other tips and to share this widely with friends.

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