Breastfeeding and Business Travel

I’m on a business trip in Colorado all this week. I can tell you that this trip is a heck of lot easier than it was just six months ago. Back then, I was still nursing D2 and the thought of how I was going to continue my milk supply while on a week long business trip turned my stomach into knots. Unless you can travel with your LO, business travel and breastfeeding can be tricky but it’s absolutely doable. No need to pump and dump. I strongly believe in breastfeeding as long as possible (I breastfed D2 for 13 1/2 months) but also know the realities of the job can make nursing difficult if you don’t have a plan to handle things like extended travel. Last winter I traveled to Brussels and managed to pump almost 50 ounces of milk (to my total surprise) while I was away. I’ll say more about that trip in a moment.

Let’s talk about getting ready to leave your baby for a business trip. It goes without saying that your LO should be able to drink comfortably from a bottle. Bottle training right before a business trip is asking for major trouble so try and do it at least a month in advance of your travels if you can.  Make sure you have enough pumped milk stored up to last the duration of your trip. D2 was averaging 25 oz a day so you can imagine the stress I felt to make sure I had enough milk stored up. I am a huge advocate of not waiting until you need it to stockpile milk. I always made sure I had at least 60 oz frozen which gave me enough cushion in case I felt like I might not be able to pump enough milk.

When you are ready to hit the road, I always recommend traveling with an electric pump rather than a manual pump. Why? The manual pumps don’t have enough power to empty your breasts efficiently and can make your milk supply drop as a result. When travelling with your pump, be sure to buy a couple of packs of batteries in case you can’t find an outlet to use. If you are travelling abroad, make sure you bring adapter plugs and a converter. I also recommend putting hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes in your bag to wipe down sketchy surfaces. Don’t forget to stick a luggage tag on your pump. God forbid you get separated from your pump. At least with a tag it will have a better chance of making its way back to  you.

As far as handling your flight, if you are flying a short distance, you might be able to get away with not pumping for an hour or two.  For long-haul flights, don’t be tempted to skip a pumping session! Nothing is worse than having boobs that feel like they are going to explode and blow a hole in the fuselage. If you are on an international flight, ask the flight attendant if you can pump in the bathroom for 20 minutes or however long your sessions typically take. There really isn’t any other private place to pump and most flight attendants will be quite helpful. Pumping in airports can be tricky. When I traveled to Brussels, I was forced to pump in a bathroom stall at the airport because there was no other place (even airport lounges didn’t  have private places). [Sidebar complaint : It’s amazing to me how many US airports have special areas for service dogs but a woman who needs to pump is relegated to a public bathroom stall. What’s up with that?]

My next piece of advice is call the hotel you’ll be staying at prior to arriving and ask for a empty mini-fridge. If you are planning to pump and bring your milk back home, you’ll need a temperature-controlled storage space.

When you get to your destination, nothing is more disheartening than showing up at the office where you’ll be working only to find there is no place for you to pump. So my next piece of advice is ask an administrative assistant or helpful colleague if she or he can find a private, clean place for you to pump. When I was in Brussels, I pumped in the office shower room since all of my firm’s offices had see-through glass walls. The assistant placed a nice comfy chair next to a small night stand and voila! I was able to pump quite efficiently every three hours.

So what do you do with your milk when you are ready to return home? If you have a long ways to travel, get a mini cooler, pack it with ice and put your milk in that. Be sure to check with your airline. Alternatively, If you are one of the lucky women who has an over-supply of milk, you can also arrange to donate your milk to a milk bank. Typically, you will need to arrange to have a blood test that screens for HIV, hepatitis and other communicable diseases in advance if you choose to go this route. I wish I had done this because on my European business trip, I ended up producing far too much milk to transport it all back to the US.  I was heart sick that I had to throw some away.

Finally, let’s talk about getting through airport security with your milk. TSA guidelines for liquids do not apply to breast milk even if you are not traveling with your child. Don’t let anyone else tell you differently. That said, there’s enough anecdotal evidence in the blogosphere from women who’ve had problems getting their breastmilk through security to suggest that not every TSA officer is enlightened or aware of the guidelines.

I strongly suggest you print out the guidelines and keep it on you to show a TSA officer in case you get hassled.  Next, declare your milk upfront when you get into the security line. If you do encounter resistance, don’t throw your milk away! Politely ask to speak to a supervisor, show him or her the guidelines and see if you can resolve your issue. Be firm but polite. I have to say I had a very positive experience with TSA agents in Brussels. One of the agents jokingly asked if he could have a swig (I said sure why not – knock yourself out) and after a quick scan on the outside of the bag, my bag of milk passed through.

Business travel doesn’t have to mark the end of your breastfeeding days. With some advance planning you can keep your milk supply up and continue to nurture your baby even when the job calls. Have you traveled while breast feeding? What advice would you give to other nursing mothers who travel for work?

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