Business Trips While Breastfeeding

[UPDATE] Thank god, someone at the TSA came to their senses. As of August 4, 2007, moms can now travel with unlimited amounts of breast milk whether or not they are traveling with their babies, as long as they declare the milk for inspection at the security checkpoint. The official press release is here. This means some parts of this post are no longer relevant. And for that, I am THRILLED. Anyone traveling after Aug. 4, consider yourself very fortunate. Read on to hear the hell you've just been spared! [/UPDATE]

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. But as we all know, the terrorists have won in so many ways, and one of those is that moms can no longer transport unlimited milk unless they are traveling with the baby (which doesn't make any sense at all for breastfeeding moms, but that is truly another debate for another time). I looked up the official TSA rules, which confirmed that if I was traveling without my baby, my breast milk was no different from mouthwash or nail polish remover, and that I'd be limited to a single quart ziploc bag's worth of containers each containing less than 3 ounces each. (Great! I thought...until I saw that the quart sized ziploc bag is the SMALL one, not the large one I'd optimistically envisioned at first.) Anything exceeding that amount had to be checked.

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:

  • I wouldn't have worried so much about everything beforehand.
  • I would have brought more ziploc bags.
  • I would have been a little more open with my colleagues, so they'd have known why I kept rushing back to the hotel, just as sort of an awareness-raising campaign. I'll do that next time.

    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!

    White-Black said...

    Thats a long post. I wonder, whether it can be posted in parts!
    Its a good one, at the same time!

    Unknown said...

    oh, i like the part about 'Next time don't worry so much.'
    I discovered a blog called Her Bad Mother
    that i think you would really enjoy

    Carrie S said...

    Jfh, I, too was just reading Her Bad Mother and think she is a brilliant writer! Jennifer, congrats on your first trip away from Alex! You brought back breastfeeding memories...

    Amy said...

    Wow. I am infintely impressed by your herculean efforts - seriously. That took a lot of planning and packing and more preparing. I never would've been able to do it. I'm still breasfeeding Cameron but would've probably just pumped first thing in the am and at night before bed. And I'm not sure I woud've braved packing the milk, ice and everything into a checked bag. You should submit your story somewhere --- It's really a model for a super-effort.

    Jennifer said...

    thanks for reading. i know it was long, but anyone looking for this sort of info will be interested in the detail.

    Amy, thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I will submit it somewhere... Mothering mag perhaps (though I think they may look down on working moms...dunno ;)

    Unknown said...

    This was really really helpful! I've been feeling like a bad mother for wanting to do a day-long trip away from my baby (who will be six months old by then) and wondering how to deal with the issues, now I know :-)


    Jennifer said...

    you're not a bad mom! taking a short trip at first is a great idea. best of luck!

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Jennifer, thanks so much for your post. My baby is 7 mnths old and I'm desperately trying to keep breastfeeding. He already has sometimes two formula bottles a day during the work week with his nanny because I can't pump enough for his feedings and cereal even though I pump three times a day at work with the best double electric pump. I've managed to put off travel but really need to go on a two-day business trip at the end of this month. I feel ill about it. It's nice to know that he could still want me when I get back and that if I pump my supply may remain. Thanks for taking the time to document your experience. You have no idea how much reading your entire story helped me. Although I do still feel very teary about the idea!

    Good Times With The Chopins! said...

    Thanks so much for this post. I have been at home with my four kids since the oldest was born six years ago. My sisters and I are taking a crusie and I have never left my kids except for when I was in the hospital having a baby. My youngest is seven months old and I am not ready to wean him. This post was helpful but I wanted to know how it went when you returned. Did the two of you bond again or was the baby independent?

    Jennifer said...

    I'm glad to see people are able to find this post!

    Chopins: To answer your question, my baby and I remain bonded...and in fact he hasn't completely weaned yet and is now over two years old. He's quite independent now and will probably be fully weaned very soon, though. (I never expected to be nursing this long, but I've just been going with the flow.) So, the business trip (and a couple more since then where I was gone for up to two nights but didn't even pump during that time) definitely did not disrupt our nursing relationship.

    Anonymous said...

    Just reading this now, summer of 2009, and wanted to let you know there are still people reading it and finding it useful!
    I am in Kyoto, Japan, and will have a domestic business trip next week away from my 1.5 year old, but just one night. Feel a lot better about it now, thanks to your post! Will plan to pump and dump, but just at night and in the morning....

    Kyla said...

    When I first thought of googling 'Breastfeeding on business trips' I had no idea what kind of response I would get. Luckily, I saw your post as my first result and it was EXACTLY what I needed to read. It's hilarious because I also refer to breast milk as 'liquid gold'. That stuff is very very precious, you're right. I do want to transport it back as well and I was going to call the airline and see if they would have a freezer for me to put it in but then decided that it's probably too much of a hassle and I should just dump the milk.... but I don't want to!! I am definitely going to do the cooler attempt. Thank you for your encouragement!

    libpuritan said...

    I found your post helpful, honest and reassuring. =) Thanks for sharing this. Go working moo-mies!

    Ry said...

    Thanks so much for this. I have a school trip in a couple of months when my little one will be 10 months and pumping as I type to try and stock pile some milk!

    Jennifer said...

    I'm so glad that moms are finding this useful so many years after my experience. Now that the baby from this post is in first grade (!), I am starting to miss those early days. Hard to believe, isn't it?

    Best of luck to all of you and don't give up!