Traveling Without Your Baby While Breastfeeding

I traveled a lot without my son when he was still nursing; much more than I ever planned to in his early stages of life. Most of it was work related until I eventually left my job when he was almost 15 months old, and those work trips that I so looked forward to became harder and harder as a new Momma. That said, I’m a firm believer that short trips away can be good for the whole family, allowing a husband, partner or grandparents to take a lead role while also teaching your little ones to be resilient and flexible when Mom is away.

I’m thankful to have some great fellow Mom friends before me who encouraged me along the way, and many of these tips come from them as well as my own trial and error. While I had this idea that I would be pumping in the nicest “New Mother’s Rooms” across the country, the reality is that meetings go over, flights get delayed and sometimes you just have to be flexible and improvise in a pinch. Being away from your baby is stressful enough, so I’m hoping these tips and a little bit of planning will make your time away go as smooth as possible.

P.S. Although many of these tips are geared at breastfeeding Mommas, there’s some helpful info in here whether your baby is breast fed, formula fed or anything in between.

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Tip #1: Start traveling without your baby in small doses.

I definitely don’t recommend going away for a week for your first trip away from your baby if you haven’t been away from them for more than a few hours. My advice is to start small with just one or two nights depending on your schedule, and factor in that with flight times you may be missing one more bedtime than you planned. For me this meant having to cut a few girls weekends short (even when I was done breastfeeding) and cramming a lot into one or two days of work travel versus extending a trip like I may have in the past. The reality is that your first trip away is going to be tough, so give yourself a chance to ease into it. (Full disclosure, I cried hysterically my first time away from my son, even though it was only a night and I was heading off to meet my best friends in the entire world. It definitely prepared us for daycare and going back to work a month later!)

Tip #2: Start stocking up on extra milk at home as soon as possible.

This can be a tricky one if you don’t have a great supply, but even a little bit can add up over time. One way is to start pumping a little at a time after a nursing session to help your body produce more milk and get out every last drop. I started pumping when my son was about 6 weeks old, admittedly for selfish reasons at first so that I could have other people give my him a bottle versus always being the food supply when we were out. (As with all things baby related, talk to your pediatrician and consider what you’re personally comfortable with before you start pumping.) I also knew that I was in three weddings and several related events in the first few months of my son’s life, so I had to start saving up as soon as possible!

Tip #3: Find a breast pump that travels well.  

Ideally this is one that can be used without needing to plug it in with a long battery life. I opted to upgrade from the standard insurance provided model to this breast pump, which was small and battery operated, making it super easy to use on the go. Be sure to also fully charge your pump before you depart, because the whole cordless pump things loses its appeal when you’re stuck at the airport and the battery died on you. (Note: Breast pump coverage can vary drastically by insurance provider; be sure to check with your doctor and insurance on the process before purchasing.)

Tip #4: Make sure you have a large bag or tote to keep all of the stuff that goes along with pumping.

I originally purchased this bag designed for pumping since it was inexpensive but larger (and cuter) than the tote bag that came with the breast pump. I also wanted to be somewhat discreet since I was traveling back and forth with my stuff both at work and while traveling. Of course, those efforts to remain discreet when out the window when my bags are getting checked at security and I had no choice but to tell the male co-worker who insisted on waiting for me that the nice TSA person was testing the milk I produced.

Tip #5: Stock your pumping bag before you leave.

I can’t even count how many times I forgot a critical part and had to improvise. Learn from my mistakes and double check that bag! The items I always included in my bag in addition to my pump and parts (after learning the hard way) were:

  1. A sterilizing bag
  2. Hand sanitizing wipes
  3. A kitchen towel
  4. Large Ziplock bags
  5. Disposable nursing pads (especially critical in the early months)
  6. Extra milk storage bags
  7. Pump part cleaning wipes
  8. Travel bottle cleaning set and dish detergent

I’d be lying if I said that I always had a nice, comfortable and clean space to pump in, which is why I eventually started carrying more and more of these items in my bag. The reality is that I had to pump in bathrooms a few more times than I’d like to admit, because sometimes I just didn’t have the access to a private new mother’s space on my travels or I was running late and 3 gates away from a nursing room in the airport. (I personally wasn’t comfortable with pumping in a public waiting area but totally commend those who are!) While I typically held my pump to avoid it from coming into contact with anything, the towel and sanitizing wipes definitely came in handy to help ensure my pump didn’t have to go anywhere near the bathroom fixtures.

Tip #6: Invest in a hand pump as backup.

I was a little late to the game on this one. It wasn’t until I left home without my pump on a work trip to Baltimore and had to take a taxi to CVS in an iffy part of the city at 1am that I realized I should have had a hand pump in my travel survival bag already. For those times that you don’t have access to your regular pump, especially if the one you have needs to be plugged into the wall, this is a game changer. My favorite is this hand pump since it super efficient and easy to use, but I’ve also used this hand pump in a pinch as well. Both are relatively inexpensive and totally worth it.

Tip #7: Purchase spare parts for your pump.

This will cut back on washing and drying time if you don’t always have access to easily clean your parts, especially given the CDC’s updated guidance last year on this. If you’re traveling, you likely won’t be in a position to let your hand wash parts fully dry and air out until the next use, so the spare parts are critical. If my travel was work related, I typically rinsed them out during the day or used these cleaning wipes and then used my travel bottle washing set to wash the parts at night and let them dry for the next morning.

Tip #8: Bring a cooler with you to store your milk.

Unless you happen to drink A LOT of alcohol, I always recommend saving that “liquid gold” you worked so hard for and taking it home to replenish your supply. I’ve found that the pump-provided ice pack and cooler kept milk coldest for the longest, but I tended to keep this lunch bag cooler in my carry-on and loved that it was incognito so I could keep it in the employee fridge without it being out in the open. (I’ve also used a regular plastic shopping bag to store milk in a community fridge in a pinch.) If you’re going through security with your cooler or ice pack, make sure it’s frozen. TSA could confiscate it if it’s not completely frozen. Another trick is to get ice from any vendor in the airport and place it in a ziplock bag if you think your ice pack is starting to melt (one of many reasons why I always travel with Ziplock bags.)

Tip #9: Get up to speed on TSA guidelines for babies whether you’re flying with your baby or without.

Even though liquids are rarely tested if contained in a checked bag, for obvious reasons you should bring your milk on your carry-on, which makes it susceptible to scanning through security. If you’re not comfortable with your milk being tested, consider measuring your milk so that any bags or bottles are 3.4 oz or less. I didn’t realize this one until a TSA Agent (who happened to be a father with a baby at home) let me know that his wife did this when she traveled. You can read more on TSA requirements here if you’re traveling in the US. A few additional tips to keep in mind:

  • When going through security, be sure to ask the TSA Agent to change their gloves so they’re not checking your milk with the same gloves that just touched a dirty bag. They’ve always been more than happy to in my experience.  
  • I always followed the 6-6-6 rule for breast milk in terms of whether or not it was safe for the baby to drink. This is up to 6 hours at room temperature, 6 days refrigerated or 6 months in the freezer. I’ve known some people to follow 4-4-4 or less, so be sure to talk to your pediatrician and consider the timing if you’re delayed and your milk isn’t kept as cool as you’d like.
  • The same rules for transporting breast milk or formula apply whether or not your baby is with you. 

Tip #10: Bring your breast pump in your carry on if you’re flying.

This is probably common sense with your milk given that it could potentially spill, spoil or someone could search your bag without you there, but I also don’t recommend storing your pump in your checked bag. The last thing you want is to damage that breast pump you probably dropped a pretty penny on or to have your flight delayed or bag lost without being able to access your breast pump when you need it the most. Keep in mind your pump could also turn on and drain the battery while in transport when you REALLY needed it after landing. (Definitely learned from experience on this one and never did it again. Like I said, sharing my mistakes so you can avoid them!)

Please share in the comments if you have any great tips for your fellow Mommas. And good luck to those of you who are new to traveling away from your sweet baby!

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