how to: travel overnight for work while breastfeeding

Working, traveling mothers aren’t always only gone for day trips. Sometimes our work requires us to take a flight and depart our littles for several days at a time. While those babes are left in good hands and competent care, it can be sad to leave those sweet faces behind. I know when I leave my children overnight, I find myself missing snuggles the most at bedtime, but try my hardest to enjoy a night’s sleep without quite as many interruptions. This extended type of work travel brings about yet another set of new considerations and challenges. Flying milk across country isn’t something most women do everyday {or at least I don’t}, so it’s important to think through logistics and plan accordingly.

My most lengthy time away from my nursing baby was this past summer when I traveled to a conference requiring my attendance for five days and four nights. As a mother who was (and is) feeding her child breast milk without any formula supplementation, this trip brought about some concerns. How much milk should I leave available for my baby while I’m gone? Will I be able to keep up with pumping? My baby still sometimes night wakes; how should I handle pumping through the night? How will I store and keep milk cold the entire time? How many extra supplies should I pack “just in case”? How in the world will I get all of that milk HOME?

These questions swarmed through my head, and as I tried to figure it all out, I knew that I would just have to plan the best I could and make the most of the situation. I did have to attend this conference, after all, and somehow had to make it all work. I find thinking it through step by step or question by question is often the easiest way to plan and lessen my worries.

QUESTIONS FOR A MOTHER’S OVERNIGHT WORK TRAVEL

LEAVING MILK FOR YOUR BABY
How much milk should you leave for your baby while you are away? Calculate how much milk your baby consumes in a day. Seems simple enough, right? Well, what if your baby wakes up in the night, unexpectedly or not, and demands a feed? What if her caretaker spills some of the milk? What if she doesn’t take her full bottle amounts and wants to feed more frequently? There are so many scenarios you could think through or worry about.

Thankfully I did not have to worry about if my baby would take milk from a bottle, because she was already used to being away and consuming expressed milk through our favorite Dr. Brown’s bottles. But, I did have to worry about how much she would need. Because my husband was traveling that same week, our daughters were going to be with other family members, therefore access to our chest freezer wasn’t just down the stairs and into the basement.

After thinking this through, I ended up taking all frozen milk for my nursing baby and requested that our family member keep the milk frozen until my baby was ready to consume it to prevent any from going to waste. This also allowed me to take extra milk in case any of those worrisome scenarios would occur without depleting it from my freezer stash.

NIGHT WAKING
Does your baby wake to feed during the night? How to handle night waking will really depend on where your child is at in his or her sleep schedule. At the time of my travel, my daughter was only sometimes waking in the night, as in every few nights or so, but more often sleeping through. Because of this, I decided I would pump once right before I would go to bed and again upon waking up in the morning. It was a nice compromise and allowed me to get some additional sleep on my work trip.

I typically have a concern that my supply will not keep up with pumping alone because I had a supply struggle experience with my first baby. If I would have been at the point of nursing my baby during the night, I would have chosen to wake and pump once during the night to keep up with her demand while I was away. I did not want to return home not having pumped at least the amount she consumed while I was gone.

STORING MILK
Do you have a milk storage plan? Most hotel rooms come equipped with a mini fridge. Should you have any concern that your room does not have this amenity, check the hotel website or call ahead of time and request a fridge should it not come standard. Be sure to check the refrigeration temperature upon arrival. Hotels often keep these at a warmer temperature, likely to save on energy expenditure, but you are able to change the temperature setting simply via a dial on the fridge. It’s very important when you’re storing milk to have the proper temperature (39 degrees Fahrenheit)!

Storing milk during the conference day may vary. While I suggest you refer to the Conference Day Pumping Checklist for some more details, I’ll share that this extended conference stay was actually quite accommodating to my pumping schedule. Because the sessions were in the same facility, I was able to quickly escape to my hotel room for pumping breaks and did not have to carry my pump or cooler with me for the day. Major perks of that conference! Should that not be the case, the checklist will help you think through the conference day logistics.

I stored milk in freezer bags after expressing to save on space and allow for easier transfer home. These freezer bags are my favorite! Also to note here is that my trip did not require me to freeze milk while I was away. Breast milk may be kept safely in a refrigerator for five days. Should I have been away for longer, I would have made arrangements to freeze my milk during my stay.

EXTRA SUPPLIES
How many supplies do you need? I recommend packing two sets of pumping supplies. This allows you to not have to wash after each pumping session during the conference day and provides a back up set should anything happen to your parts while traveling. Also, pack lots of freezer bags! I did not want to have to re-divide milk to use or freeze when I arrived back home, so I simply divided and stored accordingly while I was traveling. These were great to lay flat in the mini fridge and even easier to bring home with me.

GETTING YOUR MILK HOME
What are your options? I believe there are two options to get your milk home with you: bring it with you or ship it separately. I have always chosen to bring my milk with me because I’m way too fearful of something happening if it’s out of my possession and that liquid gold is far to valuable for me to risk anything else. I will speak to that experience, though just know that shipping is an option.

TSA allows up to 4 ounces of liquids in a ziplock bag as part of your carry on luggage. Breast milk is an exception to this rule, however, you should be aware that the milk will need to be “tested” before they just let you walk through the TSA checkpoint.

I packed my 100+ ounces of liquid gold in a small cooler as one of my carry on luggage pieces. I packed ice from the hotel I was staying at in order to keep the milk cool during my travel. When I arrived at the TSA checkpoint and the agent wanted to check my milk, I was nervous. He told me he would have to open the milk. AH! When he unzipped my cooler and realized exactly how much milk I had and how many freezer bags he would have to open, he said “Wow, that is a lot of milk.” No joke. I kind of laughed at him. After discussing my concerns with him, he allowed me to touch the milk bags and open them myself. He chose a small sampling rather than testing every.single.one. {there were more than 30 bags} and simply had to wave a test strip above the open milk bags. When I had the all-clear, I simply continued on my journey taking my cooler full of milk home for my little girl. I did stop for lunch in the airport on the way home and asked the restaurant if I could have two to-go cups with lids, each filled with ice. I swapped this ice out in my cooler for the bag of ice I had filled at the hotel that morning. This made me feel more confident the milk would be properly cooled for my lengthy day of travel.

I arrived home from that conference proud of myself. Sometimes we mamas need to be prideful! I had successful overcome my worries of pumping for five whole days away from my child. She did great without me, but you better believe she was so excited to get to my breast that night when I put her to bed. And as for me, I was so happy to be back to nursing her too. And, there was even extra frozen milk that I packed for her that I gratefully transferred back home to our chest freezer along with the 100+ ounces brought home from my trip.

Happy pumping, mamas!

Lisa Boettcher is a Wisconsinite, residing in a small suburb outside of Milwaukee with her husband Mark, daughters Maven (04.04.14) and Sylvie (10.28.15) and blonde Goldendoodle pup, Nova. She’s madly in love with her family and is passionate about living a happy, healthy life. She writes over at In Wild Hearts for women who juggle the demands and desires of every day life and want to make the absolute most of it by sharing real, genuine content inspired by her world.

Lindsey Witmer Collins