This is a blog post I never expected I’d be writing! But when I was trying to figure out if it would be possible for me to travel and pump while leaving our 5 month old baby (who is still nursing) at home with her papa and big sister, there weren’t as many “personal experience” kinds of articles out there. So I wanted to help with that.
*DISCLAIMER* I am not an expert when it comes to nursing, pumping or lactation.
I’ve also only done this once internationally, but I want to share my experience and encourage
those who might be anxious about traveling while their nursing baby stays home.
Planning to make this trip happen started before Isabella was even born. I’d emailed Katherine and Abby (the beauties behind The Signature Atelier) when I first started seeing mention of the workshop, back in late December. Would it make sense to take the baby and a friend/nanny with me? Should I just try and stockpile as much milk as I can and pray it’s enough for me to be gone for a week? After hearing back from Katherine and Abby and finding out more of what the week would look like for those of us attending, it didn’t make sense for me to bring Isa along. We would be in a home that was just big enough for the attendees as well as Katherine and Abby and the week would be full of classes and shoots and wandering the city. So while I know some friends who have taken their nursing babies abroad with them, this particular week wouldn’t have left much time for me to see Isa, much less actually nurse her!
So, after their encouragement and suggestions, I registered for the Signature Atelier and began praying that God would increase my milk supply so that I could easily leave enough at home! And He graciously answered that prayer (which was another reassurance that I was supposed to go)! Although I was pumping sometimes an extra two times a day to increase my milk stash in the freezer.
This was also when I started researching what it would be like to pump while traveling, while in France, and then coming back home. And what it would look like to bring milk home with me or if I should just pump and dump the milk (it’s still tough to even type that… because breast milk = liquid gold).
The basics I found out before Isa was even born were…
- TSA in the United States views breast milk like a medicinal item, so it does not have to comply with the 3oz rule.
- However, TSA doesn’t exist outside of the states and most other countries don’t allow more than 3oz (100mL) of breastmilk unless your baby is with you (which doesn’t make sense because why would you need to carry breastmilk if your baby is with you…??). I also read too many stories of nursing moms having to throw away all of their pumped milk at the airport and getting on their flight in a puddle of tears and I didn’t want to have to go through that trauma.
- Having a pump inside its own backpack or bag is definitely easiest.
- Being able to plug the pump into an outlet gives the pump the most power, but having the battery pack (with plenty of extra batteries!) helps with lack of outlets in older European homes and gives flexibility with WHERE you end up pumping. But just so you know, with the amount of pumping that will be happening because of younger babies and how often they eat, batteries will be drained quickly. Hence the extras you should bring with you!
I decided early on that pumping and dumping until I was past airport security in Paris and on my way home to the states would be the easiest solution overall. And the earlier I accepted that, the easier it would be mentally to pump and dump while I was gone. I even talked to my doctor about it because I didn’t know how my supply would react or how often I should be pumping. She reassured me that it would be fine! She had gone on a trip when one of her babies was about 5-6 months old and she was pumping about every 5-6 hours and her supply was fine when she returned home.
But as a precaution, I purchased some More Milk Plus (it contains fenugreek which helps with milk supply) to start taking towards the end of the week if it felt like my supply was decreasing. I ended up not taking any until after I got home but still only took it for a few days before Isa was always happy after eating :-)
The thing I was most anxious about was WHERE I would end up pumping while we were out and about in the city because Paris isn’t really known for it’s luxurious and spacious public restrooms. And the last thing I wanted to do was to sit at a café and pump under a nursing cover. So for that side of things, I had to let it go and just have faith that it would work out when I got there. And for a planner like me, it was tough. But again, I knew I was supposed to be there so I knew it would work out!
So here’s what it all looked like.
What I took with me:
- My Madela Pump in Style Advanced Breastpump Backpack (you can see it here, but this is NOT a sponsored post)
- The removable cooler bag and 4 bottles (minus the cooler pack because I’d read several places that I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane with it while outside the states)
- Battery pack, lots of extra batteries
- Plug to use while in the states
- gallon zip lock bags for the shields and other pieces
- sandwich bags for ice on the way home
- Quick clean wipes to clean the pieces while not at home or at the house where we were staying
- plenty of paper towels (I used the select-a-size and cut each of those in half, folded them and put them in the backpack)
- nursing cover as a “just in case”, although I think I only ended up using it once at the house
Travel TO Paris:
- About an hour and a half before boarding the plane that left for Paris, I found a Family Restroom at the airport.
- First, there’s more privacy
- Second, those restrooms generally have outlets (to save my batteries for later!)
- Third, there’s usually a large counter/changing area where the pump can sit so it doesn’t have to go on the floor or be held in your hands.
- Maybe halfway through the flight, I went to the restroom and pumped while most everyone on the plane was asleep.
- I was hoping to only have to pump once on the flight, but because of timing and how long it would take me to get to my hotel in Paris, it made more sense for me to pump a second time on the plane. There weren’t a lot of people up and about the second time either so there weren’t any problems with me spending 20 minutes in the tiny restroom!
While in Paris:
- Pumping when I woke up and before I went to sleep were not an issue. After a few days, everyone knew what I was doing and since we were all women anyway, it wasn’t a big deal :-)
- Instead of pumping while we were out and about, I would pump about 20 minutes before we would all leave the house. A couple of times we ended up being gone much longer than I’d anticipated or would have liked (yes, ouch), but it was actually easier to have some discomfort than to try and find somewhere to pump. And it didn’t seem to decrease my supply like I was afraid it would!
- I haven’t ever seen family restrooms at the Charles de Gaule airport in Paris so I decided to pump before taking an Uber to the airport, which turned out to work perfectly in terms of timing for the day. I had a 3:30pm flight so I pumped once when I woke up, once before I left the house around 11am, then I didn’t need to pump again until I was on the flight.
- I only needed to pump once on the flight home (yay!) and let one of the flight attendants know I’d be in the restroom for 15-20 minutes pumping. She was very understanding and said she’d help me out (but I have a story that I’ll tell you in a minute). At this point in my trip home I knew I could keep the milk so I had taken some sandwich bags with me to get ice from the galley, which the flight attendants were more than happy to fill!
- At security in Atlanta, I let the TSA agents know I had breastmilk and ice so they just did a manual inspection of those and gave them back to me after I’d gone through.
- They did end up thoroughly checking my pump (even though no one else had any any other point in my trip) and the male agent that was inspecting it decided that was a good time to tell me all the stories of his wife’s and his sister’s experiences with nursing (#facepalm). My guess is that he was a little nervous so he just talked and talked… and of course everything was fine so I went on my way laughing to myself :-)
- Once in Atlanta, I still had a couple hours before my final flight home (which actually kept getting delayed because of weather) so I had time to find a family restroom and pump one last time.
My experience on the flight home wasn’t nearly as easy as the flight over. I let one of the female flight attendants know that I’d be in the restroom for 15-20 minutes pumping and even told a couple of the passengers waiting in line with me (because I kept letting people go in front of me!) and everyone was SO understanding. Except for the one guy who was waiting in line after everyone else had left… he kept banging on the door even though I kept saying I needed a few more minutes, he continued to bang on the door. Friends, please don’t ever do this on a plane. Those restrooms are SO tiny that clearly if someone is in there for longer than a few minutes, they NEED to be in there! So as soon as I finished pumping and got myself put back together, I cracked open the door and in tears told him I was a nursing mom and was needing to pump. With a smile on his face, he said, “Oh, ok!” with no apology or anything. So I closed the door again, collected myself, the milk and my pump, dried my tears and went back to my seat. When I went to the back of the plane to get some ice for the milk, the girl that had been outside of the restroom with the guy banging on the door apologized for how he had acted. It was so sweet of her, but I told her he hadn’t known what I was doing in there and he probably really had to go too (although with the other restrooms on the plane, you’d think he would have just gone to another one!). Thankfully I didn’t see that man again :-)
Again, I’ve only done this once, but there were so many unknowns before I left that I wanted to put it all in writing in hopes that it might help someone else in the future! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can :-)