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 my traveling without my son when he was a baby was work related, although I did have a few girls weekends in there. Traveling without your baby while breastfeeding can be tough and certainly requires some planning in advance. I’m a firm believer, however, that short trips away can be good for the whole family. It allows the other parent or caregiver to take a lead role, while also teaching your little ones resiliency and flexibility.
I’m also super thankful to have some great fellow mom friends before me who encouraged me along the way. Many of these tips come from them as well as my own trial and error. Being away from your baby is stressful enough. So I’m hoping these tips and a little bit of planning will make your travel or vacation without baby while breastfeeding smooth as possible.
P.S. Although many of these tips are geared toward breastfeeding mommas, there’s some helpful info in here for all moms. (Whether your baby is breastfed, formula fed or anything in between!)
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Tip #1: Start traveling without your baby in small doses.
For your first trip away from your baby, I recommend starting small if you can. That means one or two nights depending on your schedule. And be sure to factor that in flight times with bedtime schedules if you don’t want to miss too many nights. For me this meant having to cut a girls weekend trips short 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!
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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. Even a little bit of milk can add up over time, though. 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. The haakaa hand pump is inexpensive and perfect for catching extra milk when you’re nursing your baby. Be sure to also stock up on breast milk bags for an inexpensive way to store your milk in the freezer.
Not sure how early is too early to start pumping? Talk to your doctor if you’re not comfortable, but I personally started pumping when my son was about 6 weeks old. Admittedly, it was for selfish reasons at first so that I could have other people give my him a bottle. (And to get a break from being the only food supply when we were out!) I also was a bridesmaid in three weddings in the first few months of my son’s life. So I had to start saving up as soon as possible!
Tip #3: Choose a breast pump that travels well.
Ideally if you’re going to be traveling without baby while breastfeeding, you want a breast pump with a rechargeable battery. I opted to upgrade from the standard insurance provided model to this breast pump. It was small and battery operated, making it super easy to use on the go.
If you’re going to be pumping without baby while breastfeeding, be sure to also fully charge your pump before you depart. (Whether it’s for a day or you’re leaving your breastfed baby for weekend or more.) Speaking from experience, the whole cordless pump thing is pointless when you’re stuck at the airport and the battery dies 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 for ALL of the stuff for pumping.
I originally purchased this bag designed for pumping. It’s fairly inexpensive and also larger (and cuter) than the tote bag that comes with your 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 were 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 pump 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:
- A sterilizing bag to sanitize bottles and pump parts
- Hand sanitizing wipes
- A kitchen towel
- Large Ziplock bags
- Disposable nursing pads (especially critical in the early months)
- Extra milk storage bags
- Pump part cleaning wipes
- 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. That’s the main reason 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. Sometimes I didn’t have 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 I totally commend those who are!) Sanitizing wipes are key to making sure your hands and breast pump stay clean if you have to pump in a less than pristine room.
Tip: If you’re flying, check on-line beforehand to find out if a.) the airport has a new mother’s or nursing room and b.) the location of the room.
Tip #6: Invest in a hand pump as backup.
I was a little late to the game on this one. It wasn’t until a.) I left home without my pump on a work trip to Baltimore and b.) 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, hand held breast pumps are a lifesaver. 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.
Having spare parts for your breast pump will cut back on washing and drying time. This is particularly true if you don’t always have access to a sink to easily clean your parts. Depending on your office or travel situation, you likely won’t be in a position to let your hand washed parts dry and air out until the next use.
When it comes to actually cleaning your pump parts, at a high level the CDC guidelines recommend to 1.) Wash your bottles and pump parts in warm, soapy water and 2.) Let them air dry completely before using them again. If you haven’t read the full article from the CDC, be sure to read it here. Since it’s not always easy or possible to follow these steps, having extra pump parts is key for pumping multiple times a day at work. (Whether you’re traveling or not.)
If you’re in a pinch, these cleaning wipes are perfect for a quick clean during the day. The travel bottle washing set is perfect for washing your pump parts at night. You can then dry them on the rack for use the next morning. And don’t forget dishwashing soap when you’re traveling with or without your baby!
Tip #8: Bring a cooler with you to store your milk.
I always recommend saving any breast milk that you worked so hard for and taking it home to replenish your supply. (Unless you drink a LOT of alcohol. There are differing theories on how much is too much!) I’ve found that the pump-provided ice pack and cooler keeps milk coldest for the longest. This lunch bag cooler is my favorite for work travel without my baby, however. I love that it’s somewhat 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.)
Note: 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 option 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 traveling with babies
You’ll definitely want to read the TSA guidelines on traveling with children, whether you’re flying with your baby or without. I always recommend bringing milk in a carry-on bag versus a checked bag. The only downside is that your milk is then susceptible to scanning through security. (Personally, I’d rather have them check my baby’s milk in front of me than go through my checked bag when I’m not there.) You can read more on TSA requirements here if you’re traveling in the US.
A few additional tips to keep in mind when traveling with or without your baby:
- When going through security, be sure to ask the TSA Agent to change their gloves. That way 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 follow the 6-6-6 rule for breast milk in terms of whether or not it’s 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. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician and consider the timing if you travel is delayed and your milk isn’t kept cool enough. (When in doubt, the smell test usually works too!)
- The same rules for transporting breast milk or formula apply whether or not your baby is with you.
Not comfortable with your milk being tested?
Here are two common solutions to reduce the chance of having your breast milk tested in security.
- Measure your milk so that any bags or bottles are 3.4 oz or less.
- Opt for a full pat down in lieu of having your milk tested.
I haven’t personally tried #2 since I was only aware of it being an option after I was done with nursing and pumping. I’ve heard from a few moms, however, that it worked for them with no issues.
Tip #10: Bring your breast pump in your carry-on bag 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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