I recently took my first business trip since I had Alex. It was supposed to be four days and three nights long, but I came home early because I was mostly done with my on-site work, and the remaining work I had was stuff I could do back home. Being away from Alex wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but I was really, really excited to get back home. Also, I was disappointed to discover that I didn't sleep as well as I had anticipated. I had trouble falling asleep and kept waking up throughout the nights missing my little crying baby.
I'm writing this for other new moms who might be perusing the Internet for tips on traveling without their babies while trying to maintain milk supply. I know there are tons of tips out there already, but I didn't find them helpful--they were too general and vague. I figured I'd chronicle my trip, so people can see concrete info on how I made this work.
First off, I had to conquer my guilt over--wait for it--actually wanting to keep up my supply even though my baby is almost 10 months old. Lots of the moms I know with babies around Alex's age are starting to wean their babies now, and we all know that American society is not particularly friendly to breastfeeding in general, and specifically to "extended" breastfeeding of "older" babies. Also, I've heard many stories of moms using trips like this for convenient weaning. They go away for a couple days, then -poof!- their babies have forgotten all about nursing when they get home.
I just wasn't ready to wean. Call it instinct, call it perfectionism, call it clinginess--I wasn't ready to wean. Pretty much all the authoritative sources recommend breastfeeding for at least one year. Formula seems like a worthy substitute, and I certainly don't judge anyone for using it for any period of time in their babies' lives. But I figure, hey I have the milk now, I worked hard to get breastfeeding established, why not keep a good thing going, even if it requires some extra work? Once I'd conquered that self-doubt, it was on to the logistics.
First, I had to worry about getting some excess milk ready for while I was gone from the baby. This was much harder than it seemed like it would be. My frozen supply was all used up, and I was already barely pumping enough for Alex in the first place. I took a two-pronged approach. First, we introduced formula for one of his daytime feedings. He really hated the formula at first, but we kept giving it to him, and eventually he drank it as easily as breast milk. Then, I added extra pumping sessions both at work and at home (prior to this, I'd only been pumping once or twice a day, at work). This didn't have immediate results, especially as I was getting all stressed out about not having enough milk (which, as any pumping mom knows, sure doesn't help induce letdown). But I just kept at it, and eventually I came home with more and more milk each day. Doing this for about 10 days (roughly) meant I had pumped about 20 ounces of milk (and I'd calculated that my baby would need about 40 ounces while I was gone). So, I figured that I now had enough supply to feed my baby while I was gone.
Next, I had to think about my pumping schedule while I was away from the baby. Up to this point, as I mentioned, I'd only pumped once or twice a day at work and nursed Alex while at home--including two or three times throughout the night. Being away from him meant (I thought) that I would be sleeping solidly through the night, so in order to keep my supply up, I'd need to nurse much more during the day to compensate for the night feedings. I calculated that in a normal day at home, I'd nurse Alex 1-2x before work, pump 1-2x at work, nurse him 1-2x in the evening, and then 2-3x at night. So I'd need to pump 5-9x a day while gone.
Now, IMHO pumping nine times a day while on a working (or non-working, for that matter) trip is utter insanity, no matter how gung-ho about breastfeeding you are. Instead, I thought about my likely schedule each day. I knew I could wake up and pump right away (session #1). Then there would usually be some sort of lunch break, and that would give me time to pump (session #2). Then I figured I'd be able to get back to my hotel before dinner (session #3). Then there would probably be dinner and some socializing. I'd have to leave that early, and skip all the fun parties, so I didn't get home completely late (session #4). Then I'd be able to stay up a couple more hours doing all my pre-bed, post-work stuff like email, etc., and I'd pump again before I went to bed (session #5). Five sessions ought to be enough, I figured, to maintain my supply. So with that proposed schedule in mind, I felt I had a plan.
The next huge, massively stress-inducing hurdle was figuring out whether to pump and dump, or to try to somehow store and transport the milk back home. I agonized over this. In the old days, it would have been as simple as storing the milk in the hotel minibar, then carrying it on the plane on the trip home in a little cooler.
What I decided was that I'd bring the small freezer milk bags, fill them each with three ounces, and then bring back as many of them as I could fit into the quart sized ziploc bag. If it turned out that I'd pumped more than I could carry, I would consider checking my milk in my suitcase. For some reason I was worried about this, and I didn't think I would end up doing it, but to be prepared just in case, I brought a small, empty, soft-side cooler collapsed in my bag. Looking back, I should have also brought a bunch of the BIG ziploc bags. These things are generally useful when traveling, but even moreso for a mom carrying all sorts of liquids in all sorts of bags. I knew I was prepared to attempt to transport the "liquid gold" home, but I also reserved the right to dump the milk if I felt like it was all becoming too complicated. My main goal, after all, was to maintain supply, not bring back extra milk. But I just couldn't envision pouring my milk down the drain. That stuff is so damn precious. Still, I told myself it would be OK to dump it if it came to that. And with that, I packed up my supplies, took a few deep breaths, and headed off on my trip.
For the most part, pumping during the trip happened as I'd anticipated. I had to share a room, and I'd given my roommate a heads-up that I'd need to pump. She was extremely supportive and super-funny about the whole thing, so that helped. There was absolutely no awkwardness, and I appreciated that. Storing milk in the minibar is a total pain, because there's really not enough room in there for extra stuff, but I did it. The hotel's constant hot water supply was really handy for quickly rinsing off my pumping supplies between sessions. (Usually, this is one of the most annoying things about pumping--always having to worry about cleaning everything off all the time.) And there were a couple very stressful moments where I found myself caught in a conference that ran overtime, or on a shuttle bus full of people making last-minute changes of plans that would make it really hard for me to get back to my hotel room to pump in time. (One other wrinkle: I really didn't want to get all in-your-face with my coworkers about my pumping. Maybe I'm a wuss or maybe that's how I survive in a male-dominated and totally immature industry, but I just didn't want to confront people about having to get back to my hotel room on a regular schedule.) It was stressful, and I was late to a few appointments here and there, but I made it work.
As my trip came to a close, I assessed the situation. I had a little more milk than would fit in the quart ziploc bag. I considered dumping the excess and carrying on the rest, but since I'd brought the cooler, I decided to transport the milk in my checked bag. This is where the big ziploc bags would have come in handy for storing ice that would melt during the trip. I didn't have these. Instead, I just dumped a bunch of ice from the hotel ice machine into the cooler, put in the bags of milk, and dumped a bunch more ice on top. Then I put the whole bag in the big plastic hotel laundry bag, and put it in my suitcase, making sure to take out any paper products that I didn't want to get wet. I also put in a note to TSA security calling out the presence of human breast milk. I don't know what effect this had, but I figured it was best to let them know there were liquids buried in my bag that required careful handling.
When I got my bag home, I opened it up and, indeed, most of my clothes were rather damp. But the milk bags were all intact, still chilled, and ready to pop into the freezer at home. I grabbed my baby, and within minutes, he was happily nursing (he didn't forget!). I could finally relax.
I'm really glad I went on my business trip. It made me realize that there is life without Alex. I'm also glad I made the extra effort to keep up my supply. I don't think I needed to bring the milk home--will 20 or 30 ounces really make that much of a difference in Alex's diet for the next few months before he can drink regular milk? Probably not. But I spared myself the experience of having to throw away milk, and it didn't even take a ton of preparation. I'd say the hardest part was making time to pump. Business trips are often jam-packed with events, and I really had to force myself to prioritize pumping over lingering to chat with colleagues after meetings or going to the happy hour. Maybe I missed out on a few networking opportunities, but I have a baby and I can't pretend I don't (nor do I want to!).
The few things I would change:
So if you're taking a business trip and you're breastfeeding, all I can say is, don't worry, pump and dump if you have to, and good for you--it's hard to keep up with all your coworkers who don't have to worry about ziploc bags, ice packs, and minibar crowding, but you can do it!