A Mom’s Top Tips for Pumping While Traveling

The Bump deputy editor and mom of two has been around the block (and a few planes). She’s sharing her best advice for breastfeeding travelers who need to pump on the go.
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By Lauren Kay , Executive Editor
Updated November 14, 2018
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Traveling with a baby can be challenging for sure—but traveling without one can be tricky too, especially if you’re breastfeeding. I’m on baby number two and month seven of my breastfeeding journey, and have run into my fair share of travel snafus. Luckily, I’ve have learned a few things along the way.

My most recent trip was last minute and required travel from New York to Los Angeles and back again in 48 hours. I didn’t have much say in picking flight times, so it became clear I’d have to pump in my seat at least once during the trip. Turns out I did it twice, both ways.

On the first leg of the flight I was seated next to a nice German man who seemingly had no clue (or interest) in what I was doing, so pumping was no sweat. On the return flight I was seated on the aisle, close to the bathroom (read: high traffic zone). My guard was up and I was ready to shoot daggers at anyone who seemed to disapprove. But as it turned out, everyone was really kind. In fact, my seatmate was also a mom and cheered me on. She didn’t have much luck breastfeeding her two kids and had a lot of admiration for anyone who could.

My big takeaway from the trip: With a little preparation, pumping on an airplane is really no big deal. Sure, my carry-on was stuffed full of snacks and baby bottles, but otherwise I was like all the other passengers. But over time I’ve learned that a few little things can make your pumping experience while traveling so much better. Here are my best tips for your next solo journey.

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1. Pick a Portable Pump

If possible, invest in a breast pump that can operate on a battery (I love my Medela Sonata and my Medela Freestyle). That way you’re not dependent on an outlet to pump—meaning you can express in the comfort of your seat and not a grimey lavatory. Request a window seat if you can—this will give you “privacy” on one side, and if it’s not a full flight you may not have a middle seat mate either (hey, a girl can dream!).

2. Go Hands-Free

A hands-free pumping bra (I use this one from Simple Wishes) allows you to be discreet when pumping while traveling, especially when paired with an oversized t-shirt (this Hatch long sleeve shirt has taken me through two pregnancies and beyond!). But don’t forget to consider what kind of nursing bra you wear during your travels. I love Third Love Nursing Bras because the clasps open in the front (YES!). This means I can easily unclasp my bra, shimmy on a hands-free pumping bra, place my breast shields and bottles and go. No nudity necessary! And no annoying nursing covers!

3. Do Some Airport Recon

As of October 2018, all large and mid-size US airports are required to provide clean, private lactation rooms (that aren’t bathrooms) in every terminal. Keep in mind, though, that airports have until 2020 to install those rooms. Thankfully, many airports already offer Mother’s Rooms or Mamava lactation pods, so on a lengthy layover you don’t have to pump in a bathroom or covered up in a corner. Scout out the airports you’ll be traveling to before you fly.

Image: Lauren Kay

4. Pave the Way for Your Stay

Before I jet off to my destination, I always call the hotel to ask in advance for a refrigerator in my room. Just tell them you’re a nursing mother and need a fridge to keep your milk cold (after all, breast milk is considered a “medical liquid.”) Most hotels accommodate this request at no extra charge—the good ones even have it chilled upon arrival.

5. Splurge on Travel-Friendly Supplies

I’m in the “less is more” camp when it comes to baby stuff, but I break that rule just a little when I’m gearing up for a trip. Through experience I’ve discovered a few travel essential I no longer leave home without. A good cooler, milk storage bags, travel bottle brushes and quick-clean pump wipes are all must-haves in my book.

6. Triple Check Your Bags

I’m always nervous that I’m going to miss an early flight, so I set multiple alarms the night before. Take the same approach to packing your pumping bag. Double check that you have all your supplies (chargers, bags, bottle parts, tubing), because most of these things are hard—not to mention expensive—to replace when you’re on the road. I usually pack extra pump parts, so if I’m not near a sink for a while (like on a cross-country flight), I’m covered. Also on my packing list: snacks, a water bottle and some lactation tea in case my milk supply dips from the irregular pumping sessions.

7. Count on the Kindness of Strangers

Be a proud nursing mom—you’re a hero to your baby! Most people are delighted to help or accommodate your needs if you just speak up. I’ve had lovely conversations with airplane seatmates and made friends with empathetic flight attendants and airport and hotel staff alike (even TSA!). One hotel manager even left cookies in my requested hotel room fridge. If someone has been particularly awesome, I always make a point send a quick thank you note or an email to their manager so their good-doing is properly recognized, and maybe even inspires others to do the same.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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