How to pump and not dump while traveling without your baby

Traveling as a breastfeeding mom without your little one can feel like an emotional rollercoaster. Whether you’re jetting off for work obligations or a much-needed break, the thought of being away from your baby while still maintaining your breastfeeding routine can be daunting. As someone who’s been there, done that—juggling during my previous role as a UNICEF worker traveling across different countries and even in remote areas—I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating pumping and traveling on the go.

How to store breast milk while traveling

You may think that you need to throw away that precious liquid gold while traveling, but I can attest to the fact that you don’t! Let me share with you my personal tips for making it possible to pump and store breast milk while on a 3-day trip away from your little one.

1. Prepare your extra stash well in advance

There’s nothing quite like the peace of mind that comes from having a well-stocked milk stash for your baby while you’re gone. In the weeks leading up to your trip, dedicate some time each day to pump and store extra milk. For every day I was  gone, I allocated one week’s worth of extra milk. So for three days of travel, I prepped 3 weeks in advance. By gradually building up your stash, you’ll avoid the risk of over-pumping, which can lead to bigger issues related to engorgement or mastitis.

2. Check accommodations ahead of time

One of the lessons I’ve learned from my travels is the importance of proactive communication and planning ahead. Knowing that I would need to store three days’ worth of pumped milk, booking accommodations with a freezer was essential. The easiest option is selecting a short-term rental  like Airbnb, which often has a kitchen freezer. When staying at a hotel is the only option, I call ahead and negotiate access to a mini-freezer or make special arrangements, ensuring that my pumped milk has a safe, frozen storage space. They may charge a little extra, but it’s well worth the peace of mind, allowing me to save that precious milk for my baby until I get home.

3. Stay extra hydrated

Staying hydrated is critical for any breastfeeding mom, but when you’re traveling, especially by airplane, it’s even more important. Airplanes have significantly lower humidity levels, about 50% less than indoor environments,  so it’s crucial  to keep a water bottle within arm’s reach at all times. Proper hydration doesn’t just support your  milk supply–it also promotes better sleep quality, which you’ll want to take advantage of while being away from your baby, especially when dealing with jet lag. Maintaining this small self-care habit will help you function at your best, despite the demands of travel.

4. Be prepared with pumping equipment

Packing for a trip as a breastfeeding mom requires thoughtful planning. In addition to your electric pump, don’t forget to pack a manual pump as well. I’ve learned from experience that having a backup pump can be a lifesaver in unexpected situations, such as, power outages or incompatible electrical outlets.

5. Bring two kinds of cold storage systems

When you’re traveling, you are inevitably on the move all day and rarely have access to proper milk storage. Investing in a TSA-friendly 20-hour portable breast milk cooler, like the MilKeeper by Mila’s Keeper, is essential for protecting your milk against spoilage and spills. Additionally, bring a soft-sided insulated cooler bag to store up to 3 days’ worth of frozen milk bags when it’s time to head home. I’ve found that frozen milk along with small ice packs from the portable cooler can keep the milk safely frozen for about 8 hours—just enough time to reach home.  Remember TSA allows frozen ice packs and milk on flights within the US and most international airports!

As I reflect on my journey as a breastfeeding mom who traveled frequently for work without her baby, I’m reminded of the incredible resilience and adaptability that motherhood demands. To all the breastfeeding moms embarking on their own adventures, remember this: although the journey may seem daunting, you possess the strength and tenacity to navigate it with grace and determination. In doing so, you’ll not only nurture your baby’s needs from afar but also reaffirm the unbreakable bond that binds you together, no matter the distance.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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