I have pumped my breasts in many unsavory places (like on top of toilet seats), and in awkward places such as riding in the back of a 4×4 surrounded by work colleagues on unpaved dirt roads. I’m committed to breastfeeding, or at least supply my milk if I can’t be there for baby. I’ve pumped electronically and manually, depending on my circumstances. Here are my tips to successfully pumping on the go:
1) Invest in a good, reliable manual breast pump. Even if you plan on primarily pumping with an electric pump, you’ll want a manual pump for back-up while traveling in case you have any power- or battery-related problems with your electric pump. I’ve also sometimes found that hooking myself up to a relatively noisy electric pump is sometimes not ideal depending on my pumping environment, so I’ve opted to use my quieter and more discrete manual pump instead. I personally use and like the Lansinoh manual pump.
2) Invest in a travel-friendly electric breast pump if you are a frequent pumper or have to pump for work. I really like my Medela Freestyle pump that has traveled the world with me, and is quite dirty, but still pumping efficiently. It’s very small and portable, and the batteries seem to last at least 4-5 days with regular pumping without losing power.
3) Be prepared to practice humility. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are pumping to provide your child with the best and most nutritious source of food, energy, and hydration. You may find yourself in a situation while traveling where you must pump and don’t have many options (such as on a plane, in a car, or in an airport). This is where a large shawl or wrap will come in handy. If you do need to publicly pump when you are close to complete strangers, some sort of shawl will allow you to do so more discretely. I draped a shawl over myself and pumped in the back of a car in Paraguay when I was on long road trips with colleagues. I also recommend a quieter manual pump for these situations; your pumping may go completely unnoticed.
4) Be assertive. If you find yourself out and about or working somewhere and you are having a difficult time identifying a good place to pump, don’t be afraid to ask someone if there might be an available empty room that you can use for 10 minutes- people are surprisingly accommodating, especially if you briefly explain your needs. This has allowed me to quietly pump in an empty school classroom, an empty office, and an unused banquet room in a restaurant, rather than sitting on a toilet seat (which I have also done many times). When I was in a rural area in Jordan in the home of a local tribal leader, I motioned to the non-English speaking woman of the house that I needed a place to go to pump my milk; she was a bit confused as to what a pump was, why I needed one, and why in the world my nursing baby was not with me, but she was happy to oblige and led me to a quiet room where I pumped.
5) Bring a cooler with a freezer pack to store pumped milk. Especially if you are traveling for long periods of time and pumping milk, your milk should not be left unrefrigerated for more than eight hours, so you will need to make sure to bring along with you an appropriate cooler and freezer pack to keep your milk properly stored. Also consider using milk storage bags rather than bottles for more compact storage and travel.
6) Be prepared to present liquids over 3.4 oz/ one quart to airport security officials. You are allowed to travel with liquids such as breast milk over the allowed 3.4 oz of liquids, but you will have to present it to security officials at airport security, and possibility at a stop-over if you are required to go through additional security measures in a new airport. Don’t send your milk through the belt; present it to the security official at the belt, and they will run it through a test. In my experience, especially with male security officers, they don’t ask questions and seem really eager to take my milk, do what they need to do, and give it back to me in haste. I think breast milk makes them squeamish.