For most nursing moms, the first day back to work is agonizing—and the first business trip is even worse. Not only are you racked with guilt and fear about leaving your child behind, but you’re also worried about properly pumping and storing your milk.
When I went on my first business trip after maternity leave in 2012, I was plagued with worry: Would my milk go bad? Would I be able to pump enough? Would I have a place to store my milk during the day? In the weeks leading up to my trip, these questions kept me up at night. Three years later, I’ve taken more than 70 work-related flights while nursing my two children—and I can’t say it’s been easy. I’ve had my fair share of incidents, from having TSA throw out my milk, to finding a warm fridge in my hotel room, to forgetting crucial pump parts and my hands-free bra. So I've learned, out of necessity, that you can prepare yourself so you don’t have to dread business travel while nursing.
Here are 10 ways to get ready for your trip:
1. Speak with your employer. Communicate early on so she'll keep your needs in mind for future trips. If you’re attending a conference, ask to stay in the conference hotel. This way, you can easily go to your room to pump.
2. Build up your stash. Depending on how long you'll be gone, add in extra pumping sessions a few weeks or days before you leave to store milk while you’re away. Early on, test your milk for excess lipase to see if you need to scald it before freezing. Babies typically consume 24 ounces of breast milk in 24 hours. Plan to provide a few extra ounces each day you’re away in case your baby has a growth spurt.
3. Practice strategic packing. I like to bring something that smells like my little one and a video or photo of her to help with letdown. I also make sure to bring these pumping and storing essentials when flying or traveling overnight:
• A soft cooler
• Two ice packs
• Re-sealable plastic bags
• Milk storage bags
• Several sets of nursing shields
• A cardigan or nursing cover
• Two to three sets of pump parts
• A hands-free nursing bra
• Sanitation wipes for pumping surfaces and pump parts
Bottles can be bulky and hard to travel with, so use storage bags instead. They lie flat in your cooler and take up less space, so you can store more milk.
4. Conduct a trial run. Before departing, go out with friends while you let whoever is going to look after your child while you’re away put her to bed. See how much milk your baby takes and how she settles down for the night. Then have that person feed your child through the night while you pump.
5. Check your hotel’s amenities before you arrive. Call ahead to make sure it can provide a minifridge in your room if you’ve booked a room without a refrigerator. (Longer-term hotel chains usually have refrigerators in their rooms.) Specify that the minifridge should be cold when you arrive.
6. Make a plan to transport the milk home. Either bring your liquid gold with you on the flight, or ship it. If it’s feasible, ask to be gone for no more than four days due to milk storage times. You should also request a direct flight home so your milk is in the cooler for the shortest time possible. If you have to be away longer, you’ll have to ship your breast milk. Ask your employer to provide the company’s FedEx account number to ship the milk home.
7. Keep the TSA rules on breast milk handy. When you fly for work while nursing, knowing the latest airport security rules is key. The TSA has changed its policies about breast milk, but breastfeeding women might still face challenges when trying to bring their equipment and milk through security. I always keep a printed copy of the rules in my carry-on bag, just in case.
8. Pump at least 45 minutes before takeoff. Depending on the length of the flight, I give myself enough time to pump and get to my gate. Always be at the gate at least 15 minutes before departure—plane doors close prior to the stated departure time.
9. Pump 45 minutes before landing. This will give you enough time to pump and get situated before arrival. Plus, you’ll be able to head straight to your meeting or event without delays. Finding a suitable place to pump on an aircraft can be inconvenient and sometimes embarrassing. The bathrooms aren’t the only places to pump—you can also do it from your seat. I’ve used a nursing cover while sitting in the window seat to pump and, on other occasions, I’ve used the restroom. If you do use the restroom, let a flight attendant know because you’ll be in there a while.
10. Find in-person or online support while traveling. There are many great groups for nursing moms to join and collaborate with others about the challenges and successes of traveling. There are also great resources such as apps like MomsPumpHere or Mamava to find places to pump while away.
Leaving your baby for a business trip may be scary, but remember: More than half of American women with children under a year old are working, and many of them travel as part of their jobs. The best advice I can give is to try to anticipate anything that might happen on your trip so you can be ready. Planning ahead can be the difference between a travel nightmare and a successful business trip.