My friends who have my blog on their RSS feed are probably now cringing. As are those who just love GF posts. I realize that discussing breastfeeding is akin to discussing your personal toileting behavior. But this post is really important to me.
When Bricklet was 6 months old, and I had been back to work for 3 months, I had my first business trip since my return from maternity leave. Not only was it my first trip away from my squish. It was my first trip as a mom who exclusively breastfed. I knew the trip was coming, so I had lots of time to research and plan. What frustrated me was there was almost no good information online about SAFELY transporting breastmilk home after the trip. As a frequent traveller, I needed that milk to come home.
From here on out is all about breastmilk before, during, and after the trip. Note I did this 3 times that quarter, twice on intercontinental flights. This includes transporting it home.
Preparing for travel
If you are a career loving momma who occassionally (or frequently) travels, preparation is key! If you feed breastmilk only, that means establishing your relationship with your pump. You'll do this when you go back to work anyways, but any time you feel you can add a pump to get a surplus do it. When Bricklet dropped his late evening feed at 12 weeks, I started pumping before bed. I kept this pump until he was 11.5 months old. At the beginning it yielded 4oz, it peaked at 7-8oz, and at the end was about 2oz. This pump gave me runway to freeze breastmilk daily, along with any other overage from my workday pumps.
If you supplement with formula, decide if you want to build a freezer stash, or just go all formula while you travel.
How much breastmilk will you need?
This ranges by baby. According to every reputable resource I read, the answer is 25-30oz per day. Bricklet was 30oz per day. If you're a working mama you probably already pump and know the range while you're not there of what they get. I guessed mine based on level of 'fullness' and pumping output. The pediatrician also verified 30oz was a good amount for Bricklet.
Once you pick your amount (go high if you're not sure), multiply by the number of days you are traveling. In my case I needed 270oz. When I left I had +400oz in the freezer.
Pumping while Traveling
If you are choosing to maintain breastfeeding, pumping is going to happen. A lot. You'll want to maintain feed frequency, maybe +1 to maintain supply.
While at the airport, I always pumped prior to boarding. Luckily I had lounge access, so I used the shower stalls. Bathroom stalls are gross, but will do. If you're lucky the airport has a family room you can use.
In the air, I used the bathroom. I read some women pumped in their seats with a nursing cover. I did not feel comfortable doing this. Do tell a flight attendant that you will be in the washroom for ___ minutes to pump. Otherwise they knock every few minutes and a major queue will form (I learned that one the hard way). This is necessary on a long haul. For a domestic / short trip, try to time pumps around, and pump upon arrival to minimize stress.
What to do with the Milk?
My first few trips, bringing it home was non-negotiable. We needed that milk. Towards the end it became a choice. I brought the milk home twice, once on a long haul, once short. To determine what to save, I considered shelf life in a mini-fridge (5 days max), length of trip, and how much I would bring back. I typically binned whatever I got in the air so I didn't need to worry about santizing pump parts.
Each place I went when I was bringing it home, I arranged a fridge or selected the hotel based on availability. I kept the milk I could (anything within 5 days old at time of my arrival). I chose not to freeze as it's easier to keep sufficiently cold vs. frozen.
Transporting milk on a long haul (or short flight)
I got a large cooler bag. Spend on this because quality matters. I bought a bunch of icepacks as well - this was not necessary (I will get there). The hotel I stayed at in the UK froze all my ice packs and brought them to my room when I requested them. In the US I had issues with hotels agreeing to do this.
Packing this bag effectively is key to the milk staying good for the long haul. Each milk bag was touching at least one frozen ice pack, these were packed into freezer ziploc bags. The milk bags I brought extra quart and liter ziploc bags, and filled these at the ice machine. The ziploc bags of ice filled all remaining space. I packed the polar bag into my checked bag (cooler than the cabin - and wasn't allowed to carry it on).
When I flew LHR-EWR, I opened the bag as soon as I got home (door to door was about 12 hours), the ice was still frozen. Literally there was barely any melt. All the milk was still cold, I spot check smelled a few which we fine. All went into the freezer. I also had success on a short haul, and employed this strategy on a flight SFO-SYD (with a lunch cooler bag).
Hope this helps other mommas out there that need to travel without their little one, or are pumping while traveling with!