By Denice Sy Munez
When asking friends and family for advice on breastfeeding while traveling without a baby, the usual recommendation — f o r convenience sake—is to “pump and dump.” This basically means to continue expressing milk but simply throw them away due to the hassle of bringing the milk home and preventing them from spoiling along the way. That might not be, however, the most ideal solution for moms who are still building their milk stash and have no intention of weaning.
My baby is eight months old now, but I had traveled multiple times both domestic and abroad since he was born. Thus, I have done the research for breast milk pumping tips and tricks that I could replicate. I’ve had my fair share of experiences, paving the way for me to find the best practices and sharing them with you.
Planning Your Trip
Before even embarking on your trip, it is extremely important to first ensure your lodging includes amenities that will enable you to store your pumped milk. This could be in the form of a fridge in your room or a freezer in the hotel’s restaurant. In my experience traveling, I have always preferred storing my milk in the freezer, as this helps keep all the milk stash cool and frozen longer when packing them to fly back home. Frozen milk packs stacked together serve as ice packs to each other.
Depending on how often you pump, your itinerary for the day might also need to work around your pumping frequency. The first time I traveled abroad since giving birth to Baby Jake was June 2019 to Hong Kong. I was pumping four to five times a day, from a high of up to nine sessions per day in April.
Stick to a routine
During this trip, I would pump once upon waking up, two times throughout the day, then one last at night before hitting the sack. My morning routine after pumping always involved washing and sterilizing my pumping parts so I could bring them out with me. I had an insulated backpack that included these plus breast milk storage bags, a marker, a power bank, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and ice packs.
I don’t bring the baby bottle brush and liquid soap with me anymore, but I do wipe my pump and accessories with a sanitizer wipe (so far, I’ve only seen Medela offer this product) after each session. I have a non-branded wireless dual electric pump that I use which I bought online. The wireless type is my favorite when traveling because I’m not constrained with so many connecting wires, making pumping outside easier.
I frequently visited Hong Kong Disneyland’s Baby Care Center to pump. I stored my milk bags in their refrigerator which I also picked up before the resort closed on the same day. I would also ensure the malls where we visited had nursing rooms since it is not a common facility in Hong Kong. Planning your destinations around your pumping schedule is really important, unless you don’t mind pumping in public with just a nursing cover, which is actually useful and very okay.
Storage when abroad
All the milk bags I produced throughout the day are properly labelled with date and time expressed, the amount in milliliters, as well as my name and room number. As soon as I return to the hotel, I put them in resealable one-gallon bags, then check them in at the lobby to store in the hotel’s restaurant freezer. Labeling is really important, because I was actually given someone else’s stash of breast milk bags upon checking out in Hong Kong.
Packing the milk
Some of the lessons I learned include ensuring that the breast milk bags are laid flat to maximize the storage capacity of the cooler box. Evidently, the hotel staff are not experts in milk storage, so some of my milk bags were frozen in unique shapes that made it slightly difficult to pack.
I’ve also learned to always put the ice packs in the bottom and top most parts of the cooler box respectively, and place the frozen breast milk bags in the middle. Since I noticed upon coming home that the frozen milk that were placed closest to the sides of the cooler box had already thawed. I immediately kept these in our refrigerator for Baby Jake’s immediate consumption within the next 24 hours. While I refroze some of my still frozen and slightly slushed milk in my deep freezer.
“As long as the breast milk is still slushy or has ice crystals in it, then it isn’t considered defrosted, and it can be refrozen, even if more than 48 hours has gone by,” according to breastfeedingbasics.com. “Milk that is partially thawed and then refrozen is safe to eat.”
I did serve the milk I produced in Hong Kong to Baby Jake in first-in-firstout basis, even before all the older milk that I had stored in the freezer.
Flying with breast milk and cooler
I produced a total of 36 breast milk packs ranging from 90 milliliters to 150 milliliters per bag during my fourday trip to Hong Kong. Upon googling, the Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong states that breast milk should be exempted from the 100-milliliter travel restrictions for carry-on protocols on liquid products. This is the same for Office for Transportation Security of the Philippines.
Since I’ve read sob stories about moms being prohibited from hand carrying their breast milk bags by illinformed airport staff, I opted to check in my cooler box with fragile stickers all over, though the carry-on did include a few more breast milk bags that I pumped at the airport, which I stored in less than 100 milliliter amounts each and kept next to ice packs inside my insulated backpack.
My experience pumping in Hong Kong was the pioneer trip that convinced me breastfeeding while traveling without my baby is completely doable. I’ve repeated the routine over the course of my many business and leisure trips both local and abroad. Here’s hoping other moms will be encouraged to do the same.
Checklist for the traveling breastfeeding mom:
- Rechargeable double electric pump
- Power bank for charging your pump in case it’s suddenly low on battery when you are pumping outside your hotel. Reminder that you cannot check in power banks, and maximum allowable limit for carry on is 10,000 mAh.
- Sterilizer – I used the Milton tablets, which I purchased from the Parenting Emporium. It is advisable to always sterilize bottle products used by the baby until they are at least one year old.
- Ice packs – I use Techni Ice.
- Breast milk storage bottles – Mostly for measuring milk and to serve as temporary storage containers before I transfer the milk to their breastmilk bags.
- Breast milk storage bags
- Marker – Permanent marker you trust to not smudge for labeling the storage bags.
- Breast pump and accessory sanitizer wipes — I haven’t found any other brand online besides Medela that serves this purpose.
- Alcohol or hand sanitizer – For disinfecting your hands and/or any surface that may come in contact with your pump parts or other nursing tools.
- Facial tissue & wet wipes – To sanitize your hands and breasts (it gets sticky sometimes) before and after pumping.
- Breast pads
- Nursing cover – If you plan to pump in public.
- Baby bottle brush
- Baby bottle liquid soap
- Gallon plastic storage bag – For keeping your breast milk bags together when you store them in your hotel’s industrial freezer
- Cooler – It should be big enough to store your frozen breast milk bags and ice packs
- Backpack or duffel bag – For storing all the breast milk pumping essentials on this checklist
Denice Sy Munez is the Sales & Marketing Director for Ever Bilena Cosmetics, Inc. She is the wife of Jacob, and mom of Jake Dean, and two corgis and two daschshunds (Pancake, Buttermilk, Walnut, and Waffle). You can follow her family on Instagram @denicesy, @jakedeanmunez, @pancakecorg, and read her blog at denicesy.com.