Are you wondering how to maintain your breast milk supply while traveling? I did it! It is possible! I outline everything below: what I used, what worked, what didn’t work, and obstacles while traveling.
Once in a lifetime trip
My husband was kicking ass at work and earned his way into the President’s Club trip to Sardinia, Italy. (See more about our vacation!) But there was a catch – when the trip was scheduled, my little babe was only 2 months old. My sister-in-law volunteered to babysit almost immediately. I contemplated the trip for a while. So many questions were running through my head. Would she get sick? Would she think I left her forever? Would she drink the breastmilk from the bottle? Would she latch back on when I returned? Would my supply drop? Did I pump enough to last her while I was away?
I want to clarify that I would not have actively planned a vacation. However, this seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity and since I had the greatest support team I could imagine, the pieces fell into place for us to travel. I would not have left if I didn’t trust my sister-in-law.
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And you know what? I left and the world kept turning.
And she did latch back on, my supply was maintained, and I traveled back home with some milk for a new stash (well almost).
How did I do it? I was a SLAVE to my pumps (both electric and manual) on this trip. I pumped in a club bathroom, I pumped on the plane, and I even skipped a dinner to pump in a sketchy outhouse bathroom. If you want to consider traveling while pumping, expect to pump in odd places and during inconvenient times. I had a timer for every 3 hours to pump and I did one stretch of 4 hours at night. I wasn’t getting sleep at home, so I decided to treat myself to a little bit longer stretch of sleep while on this trip.
When I returned home to her, I didn’t need to supplement at all. She was full and showed no signs of needing more than I was providing. It is possible!
What supplies I used – How to maintain your breast milk supply while traveling
I have the Medela Pump In Style Advanced, and it worked great for me. Though, I want to mention that I respond really well to the pump. I recently learned that some moms don’t respond to pumps at all so I wouldn’t have taken the chance if I struggled with the pump. I only need the pump to be set on the minimum setting to get milk when it’s plugged in.
- Medela Pump in Style Advanced
- Medela Hand Pump
- Extra pieces for the pump (membranes) – I had an issue with the membranes that I explain further in this post
- 24 pack of batteries – I used the batteries for the travel pack
- A cute small purse that would fit my hand pump for excursions
- Nursing apron
- Yeti Cooler (But please read when it worked and when it didn’t)
- Ice packs
- A good book (kindle or hard copy to fit in your bag when you pump on the go. I have the kindle app on my phone so I read from there.)
- Correct size flanges – I realized right before the trip that the flanges I had were too large! I was able to buy a size down and it made pumping significantly more comfortable. If pumping is uncomfortable for you, look into the size of your flange. There is a guide on Medela’s website.
I survived off batteries for the week. A 24 pack of AA for 12 dollars off amazon was enough for me. I was afraid to risk plugging it into the wall because I heard that you can ruin the pump and the Medela pamphlet warns you not to use it overseas.
Also, we bought a voltage converter and special plugs for Italy and it zapped us when we plugged in our phones to it. The funny thing is, I told my husband what had happened to me, and he either A) wasn’t listening or B) didn’t believe me. Later plugged in his cell phone and was shocked when he got zapped. (haha ~shocked~ when he was ~zapped~) I TOLD YOU SO.
So anyway, I didn’t want to risk ruining my expensive pump after we got zapped for plugging in our cell phones. I lucked out with the batteries. I don’t need to use the pump at full force to get the job done, so I could use the batteries for about a day and a half. For me, the suction doesn’t work as well with the batteries so I had to turn it up a little more than usual. If you need it strong, I would test it first before you leave and test how long the batteries work for.
Halfway through the trip, I accidentally overslept my night alarm and when I woke up, my boobs were like rocks. I sat on the pump for about a half hour, because I was averaging that amount of time, and when I took off the pump pieces I realized I hadn’t pumped anything. Panic set in. I thought I was doomed to get plugged ducts so I jumped into the shower. I took a small towel and began to manually massage and express the milk. After about 45 minutes I was relieved. I finished the rest of the job up with the manual pump to make sure I got all the milk out. Turns out, the batteries needed to be changed. I didn’t think of that at the time, but that’s why I had problems.
Later in the week, I needed to change a membrane after one side didn’t fill up the bottle as I expected. I was confused why the bottle was barely filling up, and when I changed the membranes out, that fixed it.
Attempting to bring the milk back home – and what went wrong
I have traveled with breastmilk within the states with my Yeti cooler, and it kept the milk frozen (it was about a 6 hour total travel time). I was able to monitor it and I would have grabbed more ice from a vendor at a layover if needed.
However, when I was traveling internationally, we were stopping in the UK for a layover. According to Gov.uk, they DO NOT allow you to carry on frozen breast milk on the plane.
Our travel time was around 18 hours and I had no choice but to check the cooler. I was unable to monitor the milk and add more ice if needed. I wish I kept it only refrigerated instead of frozen because I could have froze it when I returned home instead.
Unfortunately, when I got home all of my milk was thawed. My liquid gold was RUINED. I saved enough for a day in case I needed it within 24 hours, but tossed the rest since you can’t refreeze it. A ton of time was wasted ensuring I sanitized the bottles so it would be clean and safe for my babe, but all my hard work was for nothing. I hope you can learn from my experience!
Obstacles to consider before traveling
There were obstacles that I didn’t think about when I was traveling overseas.
A lot of the bathrooms in Sardinia (and other places in Europe) have shared sinks. They have separate designated bathroom stalls, but the sinks are in one shared place for everyone. That made it really difficult one night at a dinner. We were at a large venue with 400 people and there was only one stall for women and one stall for men and a shared sink area. If the sink area was private to women, I would have been comfortable standing and pumping with my nursing apron, but I wasn’t comfortable with men potentially seeing me.
Dinner ran way longer than expected and I was engorged. I left during the main course, and found a sketchy bathroom outside for employees. Surrounded by trash cans and bugs, I pumped away. It takes me about a half hour to pump both sides and there were plenty of employees of the venue knocking while I was in there. Awkward.
We signed up for a jeep tour and I originally didn’t think twice about it. We were off-roading and the roads were treacherous. I had to hold my chest the whole time because of how uncomfortable it was.
3. Crowded areas
One night, I kept getting bumped at a crowded bar. It made my milk come in! I was UNCOMFORTABLE. I decided to squeeze out and wait to the side while my husband got us some drinks. An acquaintance approached me and said, “I don’t bite.” Buddy, if only you knew.
We were able to request a kitchenette in our hotel room to sanitize the bottles and to freeze milk. When traveling you need to either decide to dump, or figure out a way to get clean your bottles safely.
If you have a good support system, it is possible for you to leave, maintain your supply, and come back to your baby as if you never left. Evaluate your situation and decide if it’s okay for you to leave.