Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Working Mum: The Business Trip

When Pumpkin was 6 months old, I had to take a business trip. Being the stress bunny that I am, I stressed out about this and did a lot of googling trying to find out how to manage the logistics of being a nursing mother who is flying across country without her baby. The trip went better than I thought it would, but it was clear afterwards that the information I found online didn't really help me much. This feeling was one of the reasons why I revived my blog and repurposed it from a travel blog to the mishmash it is today. However, I never got around to writing about that business trip. Today, Moxie has a post about business travel when you have kids. There are some great tips in the comments (as always), but they mostly focus on older babies and toddlers. So I'm finally going to write about that business trip, which was almost four months ago now.

The first concern I had was what Pumpkin would eat while I was gone. We had started her on some solids at about 5 months, because she was very curious about what we were doing when we ate and because I knew that this trip was coming up. However, it was clear that most of her calories and nutrients still came from me. We considered using some formula, but she had trouble with dairy in my diet , so we were reluctant to try "normal" formula (which is based on cow's milk) and didn't really want to embark on a grand experiment to find out which formula might work well for her. Therefore, I pumped like crazy. I made a worst case estimate of how many ounces she might drink while I was gone, and left more than that behind. This worked well- she did not drink everything I left.

My next concern was how I would transport my pump and expressed breastmilk while I was flying. I did some searching on the TSA website and was relieved to find that they now allow expressed milk in any quantity in carry on without needing the baby to be along on the trip. Breast pumps are also OK for carry on. I printed out all of this information, in case I ran into a TSA agent who wasn't aware of the rules. In fact, I had no problem transporting the pump or the milk I brought home in carry on, although on both legs of my trip, the TSA agent to whom I declared my pump and milk bellowed out "BREAST PUMP COMING THROUGH!!!" so it is certainly not something to do if you're shy about the fact that you are nursing.

Pumping on the travel day also required that I find my inner brazen lactavist. I had to fly across country, and then drive an hour to my final destination. This made for an 8-10 hour trip, so I was clearly going to need to pump in transit. My first plan was to pump in the airplane bathroom. A sympathetic flight attendant let me use the first class bathroom, but I still felt incredibly guilty occupying such an important resource for 10 whole minutes. Besides, it was cramped and I was petrified we'd hit turbulence that would send me and my pump hurtling into the air.

My next idea was to pump during my layover. I asked at the airport "help desk" about a family room and was told there was no such thing at this airport (O'Hare), so I headed to the bathroom. This was not a great idea, either. Almost all airport bathrooms have automatically flushing toilets now, and it is just not possible to hold still enough for 10 minutes to avoid the flush. So I sat there pumping... whoosh, whoosh, whoosh... FLUSH...whoosh, whoosh, whoosh... FLUSH..... Thankfully, the toilet I was on didn't spurt water when it flushed, or I would have been wet as well as annoyed.

Finally I settled on the one method I was sure I couldn't handle when I started the trip. I had a window seat on my next flight. I took out my large shawl, wrapped it around myself, turned towards the window, and pumped at my seat. This actually worked best. The shawl hid the pump apparatus, so it just looked like I had a black bag on my tray table. The noise of the airplane engines covered the telltale whooshing, and I got to stay safely strapped into my seat comfortable reading my magazine. On the flight back, I didn't even try another method.

My final concern was how to transport the large volume of milk I expressed during my trip back to my home. I did some internet research, and thought that it would be best to freeze some of it and put it in my checked bag. I read that several bags of frozen milk, packed with a frozen gel pack in an insulated bag would probably make it home still frozen. I also read that most hotels will put the milk in the freezer for you. So I went to the front desk of the hotel I stayed at on the night before my flight home and asked them to put my large ziploc bags full of milk storage bags and my two gel packs in the freezer. They agreed, and I went happily off to bed. I stumbled downstairs at 5 a.m. the next morning , and asked to collect my milk. The nice lady at the desk went away and came back with a stricken look on her face. They'd put the milk in the refrigerator, not the freezer. I had approximately 50 ounces of milk and no way to keep it cold for the trip home.

I was too shocked to do anything but take the milk and head off to catch my flight. Once at the airport, I made a last ditch effort to save the milk. I asked the attendant checking me in if she had any ideas about what I could do. She disappeared into the back and came back with one frozen gel pack, which she gave me. I was so grateful that I almost cried (damn hormones). This enabled me to get half of my milk home safely, which was better than none. However, I kept thinking about all of the ice cream I could have eaten at dinner the night before if I'd known the milk I was going to pump when I got to my hotel would end up being thrown out. (Pumpkin's dairy sensitivity means that I haven't had much ice cream since she was born. I miss ice cream more than anything else I've given up while nursing.)

So, my "lessons learned" from this trip were:
  • Get over your fear and pump in your seat on the plane. Ask for a window seat, use a large shawl, and it will actually be fairly discreet.
  • People who have never tried to pump out enough milk to feed a baby don't have the proper reverence for your breast milk. Try to get a room where you can freeze your gel packs and/or milk yourself rather than relying on the hotel front desk. Next time, I'll stay at a Residence Inn or someplace similar.
  • The business trip wasn't as hard as I thought it would be, but I also didn't catch up on my sleep as much as I could have. Next time, I'd leave a little earlier in the day so that I could arrive at my destination in time to get a full night's sleep. This is the proper reward for being away from my baby and putting up with the indignities of traveling while pumping.
I wouldn't change the early flight home, though. I went straight from the airport to pick Pumpkin up at day care. I was so excited that I was actually a bit concerned about whether I should really be driving. I got to the day care center, and saw Pumpkin playing happily through the window. She is always very, very happy when I pick her up at day care, and this day was no exception. The giant grin on her face when she saw me made me forget all about the difficulties I'd had on the trip.


  1. This post makes me thankful for the Canadian one-year mat leave.

    But for everyone else, this post is a great resource. I never considered the logistics of pumping on a plane before... And that sucks about losing your milk!

  2. My jaw dropped in horror at the thought of your refridgerated frozen milk! How devastating!

    Thanks for the good tips! I just went on a trip to visit a friend, leaving the Pumpkin for the first time since her birth 10.5 months ago. My drive was short, so that was good. But the pump was not as efficient as the baby, so my supply started dipping while I was away.

    Here's my tip that I'll add to yours: If you can, come back Friday night or Saturday so you can nurse a lot over the weekend before you return to work on Monday. This helped me get my supply back up, and was a great way to re-connect with the baby.

  3. Oh, cinnamon gurl, you have no idea how jealous I am of your superior leave! And don't get me started about the Scandinavian countries...

    Although I think for me, 6 months would have been the perfect leave time. And then let hubby have 6 months, and he could bring her to the office for me to nurse her at lunch time or something. Going back to work actually helped me handle her challenging naptimes better- for 3 days a week (I went back part time at first), naps were someone else's problem!

    Caramama, your tip is a very good one. I actually came back from the business trip and went immediately on a long weekend trip to visit my parents (by car). So I had a nice 4 day chunk of nursing. I hadn't really thought before about how that helped re-establish my supply. I did take fenugreek while I was gone, to try to keep the supply up.

  4. Anonymous1:33 PM

    Thanks so much for this advice, and for your advice on returning to work with a demanding travel schedule that you posted on Moxie. I think your advice to ease back into things-by requesting a month of no travel at first (or even quick, regional trips instead of the longer, farther trips I often do) is spot on, and I really appreciate you sharing your experiences. Sounds like you've figured out some great ways to make travel work.

  5. Abbey, you should check out Mom-101's archives, too- she may have some advice about business travel. She travels quite a bit for her job, I think. And anything you find there will be well-written and probably also funny.


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