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There are times, both for working and stay-at-home moms, when we have to travel without our babies. Maybe it's a sudden and unexpected event, like a family member's medical emergency, which calls you out of town. Or maybe it's a planned work event, like an important conference, where you can't have a baby in tow. Or maybe it's the dreaded “no children, please” wedding.
No matter what the situation, it can be a challenge to leave enough milk for your baby and maintain your milk supply while you're gone. Not to mention the emotions involved with being apart from your baby.
Here are a few tips for making these tough times work:
See if there is any way your baby can come along. It may take some creative thinking, and perhaps some money, but consider ways to keep the two of you together or at least near each other while you're traveling. Could another adult such as your partner or a babysitter come along and bring your baby to you for feedings or after work? Could your friend can make an exception to the “no children” rule at her wedding for breastfeeding babies? She'll understand one day!
Minimize your time away if at all possible. If you're expected to attend a conference or series of meetings, could you and your supervisor prioritize the most important ones so that you could skip the less important ones? Could you call in or video conference for some meetings? If you're visiting a sick family member, are they close enough that you could you come home in the evenings some days?
If you have some lead time, pump to leave milk for your baby. If you're lucky enough to have some advance notice, pump ahead to leave some milk for your baby. Calculate how much milk you'll need to leave using this calculator (note that babies younger than one month and babies who are regularly taking solid foods will need less). Multiply the number of feedings x the number of ounces per feeding x the number of days you'll be gone. Depending upon how much lead time you have, you may be able to develop a good stash by pumping once or twice a day. If you already have a freezer stash, this may be the time to spend it down since you'll be returning with a lot of pumped milk to replenish it.
Work out how you will pump and store milk while away. Contact your destination venue to ask about spaces to pump. Most states require that nursing employees be provided a clean, private space to pump at work. Ask if you can use that space while you are there. If not, ask if there are other facilities you could use. If you're visiting family in the hospital, you may be able to use a nursing mother's room on the maternity floor. If you're staying at a hotel conference center you may be able to return to your room to pump. And be sure to find out if your destination has at least a mini-fridge for storing your milk.
Know that your pumping output may decrease over time. Since your pump won't elicit as strong a hormonal response as your baby, you can expect your pumping volume to decline the longer you are away. Just remember that your supply will rebound once you are home and nursing your baby frequently again.
Pack some key items. You may want to bring a receiving blanket to place on your lap while pumping to avoid getting milk drips on your work clothes. Pump cleaning supplies, such as dish detergent and a kitchen towel, may come in handy, as a hotel or office building may only provide hand soap. Breast pump cleaning wipes may be useful should your pump parts need extra cleaning. A hands-free nursing bra may make your pumping time more efficient. And a picture, video, or audio of your baby might help your let down and production while pumping.
Plan for pumping en route. Pumping when taking a flight can be challenging, but many airports have facilities for nursing moms. This locator can help you find them. Traveling in California? You're in luck! California state laws require that airports provide a place for moms to pump.
Think about how you'll get your milk back. However you're getting your milk home, you'll want to bring a cooler with some ice packs. And if you're flying, be sure to read the TSA's guidance on traveling with breastmilk.
Nurse frequently once you're home to rebuild any decrease in supply. As noted above, your supply may decline while you're away from your baby. Plenty of nursing and skin-to-skin contact once you are home will help you rebuild your milk supply.