Fresh off my 6-month maternity leave, I sat across a conference table from my manager discussing changes to my company’s travel expectations and how that would impact my role as a sales rep at a reputable professional networking site. Much to my surprise, travel expectations increased drastically while I was in the midst of baby bliss, and though I used to love traveling, the idea of being away from my then 5-month-old while also still breastfeeding seemed overwhelming and frankly, upsetting. How was I going to have enough milk saved while keeping to my pump schedule? How do I pump and navigate all the different airports? Was it possible? Would I have to end my breastfeeding journey earlier than I wanted? I was faced with a decision: I loved my job, I loved breastfeeding, and I loved my son so I made the decision to make it work no matter what.
It’s been 3 months, 13 cities, 6 work trips (and counting), 2 personal trips, and no end in sight as far as traveling is concerned (in fact, I’m writing this to you 30,000 feet in the air on my way to San Francisco). I feel compelled to share with you my top 5 tips to making breastfeeding work while you are on the road. Whether you are like me (an average milk producer with extensive travel requirements for work) or a woman who finds herself in need of a girls trip or family vacation, these tips will help you achieve your breastfeeding goals while also giving you piece of mind that YES, IT CAN WORK!
Tip 1: Be honest with your manager about your goals.
The morning I met with my manager, I was in tears over the new travel requirements. My postpartum emotions were still very real, and I had to be honest with him about my fear; being forced to give up my breastfeeding journey for my job. It was during that conversation and several others with him and my senior manager that I was able to receive the support and guidance necessary to achieve my goal.
Additionally, prior to returning to work, I attended a class at MilkWorks called “Return to Work”. This class taught me that it is okay to talk about breastfeeding openly with your employer and that you should feel empowered to take control of your journey even if it means having an uncomfortable conversation. After all, the only way to make the conversation comfortable is to have it more frequently!
Tip 2: Educate yourself on the services available to you: Milkstork, Mamava, & Pumpspotting for starters.
One to two days prior to my flight, I research the mothers' rooms available to me at the airports I travel through. I know the closest rooms to my gates simply by doing a 5-minute Google search and review on Mamava and Pumpspotter. These resources are not only mobile app friendly but are also a great way to help you understand what’s available to you at each location through helpful photos of the space.
Going on a long trip? Check out MilkStork. MilkStork offers overnighted milk delivery service with a no hassle process. A quick phone call to customer service and they helped me figure out which options to order and even worked with my hotel to coordinate shipping. As part of my conversation with my manager, I asked if they would cover this expense, and much to my surprise, they agreed! Not sure if your employer covers it? Don’t worry, MilkStork will help you make the business case. If you are being flexible to fit the company’s needs, they should be flexible in return.
Tip 3: Fly through Mama friendly airports: shout out Atlanta and Minneapolis!
Because I’m based in Omaha, Nebraska there are very few direct flights anywhere. Through my travels, I’ve found there are mama friendly airports and I will always go out of my way to travel through the airports that make my breastfeeding experience easier. As the popular song goes, we can’t always get what we want, so in extreme cases, pump in a family restroom for more privacy or invest in a battery pack to pump in a restroom stall.
Separately, let’s be honest: once you have a baby and are breastfeeding, all modesty goes out the window. I’m not above sharing a mothers' room with a fellow Mama to make a flight and in fact, I did this in Portland last month (#noshame #momsunite #youarentalone).
Tip 4: Invest in a good cooler and ice packs.
I cannot stress this enough! If you are traveling, pumping on the go is stressful enough...do not make the mistake I did and lean on your generic Spectra cooler bag for long travels. The coolers that come with your pumps are not equipped for long journeys. Invest in a durable cooler with plenty of room for ice packs (always frozen) to keep your milk safe from security through destination. I also loved my Sarah Wells Pumparoo bag because those airport nursing rooms while great, aren’t sanitized! A clean space to set your pump parts is a must.
Tip 5: Don’t miss your pumping opportunity- even if it’s off schedule.
I can’t tell you how many times I booked my flights with too close of a connection. Give yourself time between flights to locate the room, ask security for access (some airports force you to call a number for access), wait in line (don’t rush the Mama in front of you!), do your business, grab a coffee or snack and make it back to your gate. It takes much longer than you think, so ensure you give yourself time!
While your pumping schedule is important, what’s more important is expressing milk frequently to keep your supply up. If you consistently miss your opportunities because it’s not on your schedule, you are compromising your supply. I pump whenever I have the chance: even if I’ve just pumped an hour before because I know it may be a while before I can pump again!
Bonus tip: Sacrifice a bit of sleep leading up to your trip.
This tip may be a bit controversial depending on who you talk to, but let’s face it, stress about supply and having enough milk while you’re gone is top of mind for us all. To create an extra bit of milk stock (I’m talking 1-2 days’ worth not a month people!), I added an additional pumping session in the middle of the night leading up to the beginning of my trips. This means that between 12-3 am, I woke up and pumped to have enough milk stored for my babe. I was willing to make a sacrifice of sleep for my baby, and while I certainly don’t believe this is the right option for everyone, it was for me and I’m so glad I did it. I was able to leave him knowing at worst, there were two days of milk for him in the freezer with more to come when I returned. This eased my concern about having to rely on formula (I’m a fed is best type of girl but at the same time #breastfeedinggoals).
To wrap this blog up in a pretty bow, I’m now 7.5 months into my breastfeeding journey and while it hasn’t come without its struggles, I can wholeheartedly tell you it’s possible and worth the sacrifice. My baby is thriving and happy, I’m able to balance work life and motherhood and most importantly, I never once had to compromise my goals and values for my job (#thedream).