I was prepared for time to pass quickly as a new mother. I had been warned by other parents that the baby rolls fade and newborn days would pass in the blink of an eye. However, I was not prepared for the rest of life to whiz by at record speed. A few months ago, I looked at the calendar and realized nearly three years had passed since I had seen my two closest girlfriends in person. And I realized that, in fact, I’m the problem, it’s me.
I could make all the excuses—that through pandemic quarantines, cross-state moves, and the birth of three babies, months and then years slipped by while we promised to plan a trip “soon.” But as I realized how quickly time was slipping by, I resolved that this year we would reunite. And oh, will we ever.
We’ll gather this spring after (thanks to a magnificent stroke of luck and lots of ticket queue patience) securing tickets to Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. As excited as I am to shake it off (sorry, I can’t help it!), and shop for the perfect concert outfit, there are still dozens of more practical tasks to check off my to-do list before leaving town. As a breastfeeding mom, determining my plan for pumping while away is at the top of that list. I enlisted a lactation consultant to help. Here’s how I’m planning to pump while away from my baby.
Preparing to pump in public
Anyone who has ever had to use a breast pump in a public space knows that navigating flanges, milk storage bags, and suction levels under pressure can be a daunting task. Even without an audience, pumping doesn’t always come easily to breastfeeding moms, so preparation is essential when planning even a brief separation from your baby.
Michelle Ault, a registered nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant has been helping breastfeeding mothers (including me!) for more than 17 years and knows how important support can be for the women she serves. Including time to reconnect with partners and friends. “When you’re breastfeeding, not only are you mentally and physically responsible for your baby, but they’re also physically attached to you much of the time, and that can make feeling like you can get away so much more difficult,” she said.
Of course, for some mothers, time away while they’re breastfeeding their baby may not be something they’re comfortable with yet. And this feeling isn’t exclusive to nursing mothers. Securing the support necessary to care for your baby or other children takes a lot—and isn’t available for every mom. The unseen labor of preparing for an absence (introducing baby to a bottle, preparing a caregiver, researching formula brands, or building up a milk stash, etc.) may actually create more stress. Deciding when it feels feasible and actually relaxing to have time away for yourself will be different for every mom. If you’re ready, here are some tips to help you feel more prepared to pump while away from your baby.
Get comfortable with your breast pump
If pumping isn’t part of your routine, make sure you’re comfortable with your breast pump and all of its (many) settings.
Pack all the parts—and backups
Even if you pump daily, ensure you have the necessary parts, cords, battery packs, milk bags, etc., to pump throughout your entire trip. Consider a wearable pump if it’s unlikely you’ll be near a power source. Ault also encourages moms to order replacement parts and backups if possible and notes that if room allows, it can help to have a hand pump or Haakaa manual pump in case your main pump malfunctions.
Have a plan for breastmilk storage
While an insulated cooler bag will do wonders for brief excursions (I’ve been eyeing this bag from Willow that will also fit my pump on concert day), remember to review the amenities at your accommodations to see if you’ll have access to ice, ice packs, or a freezer to ensure your milk supply stays cool. Breast milk can stay at room temperature for four hours, in a refrigerated environment for four days, and frozen for six months for best quality (though twelve months is also acceptable!).
Research the availability of pumping and breastfeeding amenities
Resources like Moms Pump Here and the Mamava app can help you find a spot to pump and make any outing feel more manageable. A representative from the stadium where my friends and I will sing along with every song from Taylor’s catalog confirmed they not only offer a nursing suite, but they’re also installing Mamava nursing pods this spring to better serve their breastfeeding mothers.
Pack accessible outfits
Make pumping or nursing in public as easy for yourself as possible by dressing in accessible clothing. For my weekend I’m planning no-fuss outfits that allow for easy pumping access. If you don’t have a pumping-friendly top, you can also stash a wrap in your purse if you prefer to have a little privacy while you pump or feed your baby.
Pumping while traveling
I checked in with Ault to help develop my plan for maintaining my breastfeeding schedule on my girls’ trip, while still having fun! Ault shared some of her top tips to ensure that moms can enjoy some time away without sacrificing their breastfeeding journey, and also return (at least somewhat) recharged.
Mirror your baby’s natural feeding schedule
Breast milk production (generally!) follows the rules of supply and demand, so emptying both breasts on a schedule encourages your body to maintain your milk supply status quo. Ault noted that not all women respond well to a pump if it’s not part of their normal routine and that the output seen when pumping isn’t necessarily an indicator of how much milk they’re producing.
Ault suggested having a little album of baby pictures, videos, or even audio recordings ready to go on your phone. Some women will notice that their letdown is triggered by auditory input (like your baby cooing), while others will be triggered simply by seeing their baby. For moms who respond best to touch, Ault said “hands-on” expression can be very effective, and gently massaging the breast or using warm compresses can increase the effectiveness of pumping sessions.
Hydrate and eat
As you enjoy your time away, don’t forget to hydrate and eat so that your body is fueled for breastfeeding success.
Note your alcohol intake before storing breastmilk
When it comes to alcohol, Ault said breastfeeding moms can enjoy a glass of wine at dinner without it affecting breast milk. If you’re planning to bring milk home, she cautioned, “Alcohol stays in your breastmilk exactly the same way it stays in your bloodstream. If you wouldn’t drive a car, you really shouldn’t nurse your baby, or keep that milk if you’re pumping. But if you’re having a glass of wine and pumping in a couple of hours, that’s totally fine.”
Breastfeeding when you come home
When reuniting with your baby, Ault acknowledged it can be common to see a slight dip in breast milk production, and that it’s not generally cause for concern.
“These little dips are generally transient,” Ault noted and there are a variety of approaches moms can take to reestablish supply from pumping on one side while the baby nurses on the other to sneaking in extra feeds when possible. Ault also encouraged moms to reach out to a lactation consultant if the dip lasts more than 72 hours.
Remember the benefits of taking time for yourself
While adding “rest” to the list of things that can help boost supply may be easier said than done, Ault said that one aspect of the breastfeeding experience that is often overlooked is mom’s mental health.
“Connecting with other moms, good friends, our spouses, all of those things are so important and helpful not only for our mental health but also our relationship to our children,” she said.
Not every parent has a village to rely on for childcare or even a supportive partner to lend a hand. While it’s not always realistic to make time for an entire weekend of R&R, any time that you can take for yourself has restorative potential. Whether you’re planning a week-long spa getaway with friends or popping some cucumber slices on your eyes after the kids are in bed, taking time to recharge your batteries is arguably one of the best ways you can ensure you’re showing up as your best self.
“Our mental health matters just as much as how we feed our babies,” Ault said. “Are there absolute proven benefits to breastfeeding our babies? One hundred percent. But there’s also a lot of benefit to our babies having a mentally healthy mom too.”
“Just because something is hard [like traveling without our baby] or takes a little extra effort [i.e. pumping at a Taylor Swift concert] doesn’t mean it’s not worth it,” she continues. “We’ll bend over backward for our kids, partners, and employers. Why not invest some of that extra time and energy into ourselves?”
After years of parenting through a pandemic and friend Facetime catch-ups replacing the real thing, I couldn’t agree more. Even though it requires a bit more planning to leave these days—and I’ll probably spend a good chunk of time scrolling through pictures of my kiddos while I’m gone—I still can’t wait to swap out my yoga pants for concert attire with my friends. After all, even with a breast pump in tow, we truly do polish up real nice.