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How to travel while pumping (abroad, alone, with a baby)

Please check out the whole episode on the Busy Mom Pumping Podcast for a more detailed narrative here.

As most of my family lives in Germany it was always a given that we would be traveling abroad during my daughters first year.

“My first trip abroad, pumping, I blew up my hotel room – I also blew up my pump.”

Luckily, I had my Willow pump with me that, because it is operated by a re-chargeable battery, could be plugged in with a simple travel converter.

The second time, I was more prepared. I was traveling alone, from Atlanta to Frankfurt, with my 10-month old. I am going to use this example to describe how best to travel abroad while pumping as it will set you up for the “worst case scenario”

What Pump to use?

I had 3 breast pumps: a Spectra, a Willow Pump and a Medela Pump in Style. While I preferred the Spectra for my day-to-day pump sessions, the Medela was smaller and better for traveling. For the on the go sessions I had my Willow Pump.

This time I made sure I had the right converters and there are 2 options:

Standard car power inverter which was great for the rental car – I already had this from pumping on my work commute.

Voltage Converter for International Travel that fit my country of destination. This helped me plug my pump right into the wall.

When did I pump on the travel?

On this trip, I had a 9-hour flight to Amsterdam, a 3 hour layover and then another 2 hour flight to Frankfurt. I preferred to use my battery-operated Willow Pump but this can also be done with a plug-in pump or you get a battery pack.

My first pump session was at the airport in a Mamava pumping pod. If the airport does not have one, see if there is another sort of pumping room. Worst case scenario, use a family bathroom. If you have that Willow Pump, you can even do it while sitting at the gate. My next pump session was on the airplane. I simply did this in my seat. You can really do this with any pump and a good scarf. Or you go into the bathroom.

When we got to Amsterdam, I found a family bathroom, changed a diaper and pumped.

Since the last leg of my trip was not so long, I was able to hold off my last pump session until the hotel. But again, the airplane, family bathrooms, or the rental car would have been a great option.

How to transport milk while traveling on the airplane? And my parts?

Cooler – either the Yeti, or Rtic would be my suggestion (how cool is this backpack cooler). Make sure the size you get fits ice packs, milk bottles and parts while fitting under the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment.

If you are on a shorter trip – a well isolated lunch box will do.

Bring frozen gel packs or Ziploc bags (you can ask a restaurant for ice). The bags are also great to put your bottles in (secure spillage). To further avoid spillage, do not fully fill bottles or freezer bags as the pressure up in the sky will expand the contents and the container might burst. I would also suggest bottles for that simple reason.

Ziploc bags are also great for your pump parts. Once you are done pumping, you can simply place them into a Ziploc bag, place them in the cooler and use them again. You can also use the Medela wipes for a quick wipe down.

How to travel with frozen and liquid milk on the airplane

Since I was traveling with my daughter, I had to bring liquid and frozen milk. I had a thermos water bottle for the liquid milk and the frozen milk I had in Medela plastic bottles.

” The trick here is that you freeze the milk in the bottle.”

If you freeze it in the bottle, there is less surface area, meaning, the milk will thaw less quickly. Also, remember milk can be brought through TSA.

What to wear on the airplane while traveling and pumping?

I wore a nursing tank top as that allowed me to nurse my daughter and also use my Willow pump. Bring a pumping bra (my favorite is the Ollie Gray bra - so comfortable and it keeps your boobs from looking “pointy”).

My favorite tip here is a waterfall cardigan as they bunch up in the front, if you add a scarf, no one can tell you are pumping.

How to pack for traveling on a plane while pumping?

Diaper bag: I have a Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag with an insulated compartment. That is where I kept my unfrozen milk and snacks. I also really love the Medela travel cooler .

Use a Runners Belt this is another side tip.

The one I used is the same I used for my marathons as it allowed me to put a full milk bottle in the compartment meant for water bottles. I also tied Lotte’s favorite toys to it. I used climbing clips so I could attach and detach them easily.

For your pump, you can just take it in a pumping bag, diaper bag or roller suitcase. My Willow pump I had placed into a hanging toiletry bag into my diaper bag. This made life easier while pumping in bathroom stalls as you could just hang it on the door.

How to transport the baby while traveling on the airplane?

You can bring your stroller with you to the gate, they just often make you scan it at TSA - painful. You can also bring a more easily foldable umbrella stroller. I just brought our Uppa Baby Stroller with the dedicated travel bag that is covered under the Uppa Baby insurance program.

I put Lotte in a baby carrier and my preferred option was the sling carrier. It acts like a hammock for the baby, and they can sleep more comfortably on your lab without putting pressure on your arm.

Where should you stay when pumping and traveling?

I suggest an Airbnb or vacation homes as they often come with a full kitchen. When staying at a hotel I would check ahead if your room will have a fridge/freezer or if you have access to one. I highly suggest, you make sure your hotel room at least has a minibar fridge.

How do I warm the milk while traveling?

In a restaurant you can often ask for a cup with hot water. On the go, if you have your insulated water bottle, fill it with hot water and warm the milk with it later. There are also some battery-operated ones.

How to clean your pump parts while traveling?

I packed my own dish soap in a travel sized bottle and cleaned them in hot water out of the faucet.

If you have access to a microwave (like at a Courtyard Marriott), there are travel steam bags for sanitizing (also remember the Medela quick whips.) If you have access to a stove, you can boil hot water and sterilize everything the old-fashioned way.

When did I pump while traveling?

I would pump first thing in the morning before we went anywhere or if we traveled by car, I would do it then. While out on adventures, I really loved my Willow Pump.

During my second trip I also had meetings. Here I simply had my pumping bag set up how I would have for a normal day at work. I brought my Willow Pump and ice from the hotel and all the parts and containers I needed. If you bring your plug-in pump, just do not forget that converter.

Shipping Milk Home

If you are traveling within the US and you want to ship your milk back home, there is a great service called Milk stork. When we moved from LA to Atlanta I needed to ship my whole freezer stash so I simply used FedEx.

Pump and dump – if you are exhausted after all that, remember, this is still an option.

If you are simply pumping to keep your supply up, the pump and dump is a perfect headache free option. The nice thing here is you don’t need to worry about keeping milk cool or parts sterilized.

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