Oh, the places you’ll pump! A story of breastmilk, a trip to Europe, and the weird things we do for our babies

One mom's true tale of how challenging (and often awkward & humorous) pumping while working abroad can be, with tips to make it easier! #breastfeeding #pumping #pumpingwhileworking #workingmom

Contributor Post by: Claire LaFrance

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Two and a half to three ounces, every two hours… Let’s call that twelve ounces over the daylight hours… I muttered rough calculations to myself as I paced back and forth in our bedroom. My son sat on my husband’s lap on the bed throwing me bashful smiles unaware of the nervous tension in the room. My husband on the other hand, with his cool and calculated personality, was only slightly peeved that he would be left alone for a week with an infant. Both of our eyes stung with a new level of sleep deprivation that far exceeded even our college years.


We were blessed with the birth of our first child in the summer. My husband and I experienced the typical ups and downs of raising an infant: Mostly ups, of course. When I returned to work in September, I was just getting over the jitters of leaving our baby in the hands of anyone but ourselves. After a generous 12 week maternity leave, I had grown spoiled in having this tiny human all to myself most days.


So upon my return in September, I learned that I was needed in a workshop in Europe in November. With my son pretty exclusively breast-feeding up until this point, I set out on a goal of aggressive pumping, bagging and freezing milk.


As the weeks before my departure dwindled, I became nervous about leaving enough milk and finding a solution for what I was going to do while over there. Naturally, in my mind I thought I would simply pump and ship the milk back to the arms of my eager son and my desperate husband. (Lesson learned: My husband’s super dad ability proved that I, at this point, was simply a milk maid to the little guy and they were totally fine on their own).


So I scoured the internet looking through mom blogs, breastfeeding groups and parenting advice searching for those brave souls who had done something similar before me.


I was surprised to find that plenty of nursing women in America went back to work and that there was lots of support out there. There is MilkStork, a company that ships your milk anywhere in the United States. And FedEx even has a specific website dedicated to shipping milk. However, the hefty price tag of shipping made me nervous. Most of these cold boxes were $100 just to get the box. I could only imagine the 2 day shipping cost from Austria.


I’ll just carry the milk back, I thought to myself. People can do that, right? Carry breastmilk on airplane? Err… like 30 ounces of milk… uh, on an airplane… I suddenly hear how ridiculous this sounds. Even if it is allowed, what if I get a grumpy TSA agent who, after all the pumping, freezing and storing, decides that me and my oodles of boob milk are a threat to national security. I wouldn’t put the white gold in a position to be confiscated.


I called the Transportation Security Administration. I called my own airline. I asked unexpecting male phone operators lots of questions about traveling with breastmilk. Probably more than they ever wanted to hear. I could almost feel them blushing on the other end of the line. But it had to get done. This was my baby’s food we were talking about.


The TSA has a vague but confidence-inspiring statement on their website saying that a mom can carry a “reasonable amount” of breastmilk in their carryon with or without a child and that breastmilk, like medications, is not subject to the 3 ounce rule. I printed it out thinking if I get a grumpster security agent, I could simply wave it like a get-out-of-jail free card.


I also had some additional support from my European colleagues who assured me that not only could I get up and leave meetings every 2 or 3 hours to pump, but they had secured me access to a freezer at my hotel.


So I had a plan. I would pump and bag my milk during the day and freeze and store it at night. Then, at the end of my trip, I would pack my frozen bounty into my checked bag and pray this is not the one in 10 times that the airline “misplaces” my luggage.


I also discovered that, even in the 21st century, it is almost impossible to be sure, with 100% accuracy, a city in Europe will have everything you need to pack frozen items and keep them cold. So I brought with me the following:

  • 2 soft coolers (like the ones you buy to keep lunches cold)
  • Breast milk storage bags meant to be frozen (available on amazon)
  • Regular Ziploc quart size freezer bags
  • One really big plastic bag (I had a plastic storage back that you can roll up to get all the air out of)
  • Unfrozen icepacks, a few different kinds, and sizes to both keep my milk cold on the way back but also during the day before I can freeze it.


I did not spring for an actual battery powered pump but I did buy a portable one. The aux power cord was a USB which made it convenient plugging into any adapters I had for the different European wall outlets.


I also, on a whim, packed with me a portable battery (similar to this one). I was so glad I did! There were a few times where my so-called private pumping room would turn out to be a changing room in the spa attached to the hotel my conference was located. So naturally, it had no outlet. But, I took what I could get! I would make lemonade from lemons, or, if we were being accurate, milk from my boobs.


Another interesting cultural observation was, while breastfeeding and pumping are quite widely accepted in Europe (depending on where you go of course), maternity leave for lots of women are much longer and thus, most women are done exclusively breastfeeding their child by the time they return to work. I watched as the slightly awkward realization came across some of my male colleagues’ faces when I would be asked where I kept running off to.


To complicate things, although pumping at work is a rarity, most European countries are less inhibited than Americans (overgeneralizing here, I know!). Example being, to pump, I was offered everything from a hotel lobby to a conference room with glass doors. I chuckled thinking of myself being milked by my little noisy pumper behind a glass case like some risqué modern art performance. Needless to say, I found other, more private corners.

One mom's true tale of how challenging (and often awkward & humorous) pumping while working abroad can be, with tips to make it easier! #breastfeeding #pumping #pumpingwhileworking #workingmom

My standard I set for myself while traveling was to never pump in a bathroom. I, fortunately, found some pretty good flights where my longest was roughly 7 hours. I made it back from Vienna to Dublin, Dublin to Boston all in 10 hours. I have to add here too that I can actually go this long without pumping unlike some women. I was engorged but not in pain. 


I did look up nursing stations and some major airports do have them. Although, if they are not placed in your terminal, or if you have a close connecting flight, I feel like you are just out of luck. I assume that some women are forced to pump on their flights which is perhaps another story altogether. My heart goes out to these women because there is just nowhere to escape to except the cramped airplane bathroom. And, you already know how my standard. I can assume we are all on the same page.


After all said and done, I did have a wonderful and productive work trip. I took peace in the knowledge that many, many women before me survived having had to, for one reason or another, be separated from their children. I wasn’t breaking the mold here. Nor would I be the last nursing mom to travel. I also feel fortunate that my situation wasn’t dire or immediate.


I am thankfully back with my son. He now sits on my lap, content after a long feeding, groggily looking up at me in a milk-drunk gaze. I can rest easy now knowing that for the next few months at least, I will be awkwardly pumping exclusively in the comfort of my own home…. and office (but that’s another story).

Claire LaFrance is a mom to her first (human) child, 6-month-old son Cassidy, along with her dog, Ruffy, and cat, Roo. She is a non-profit professional working as communications director for an international animal welfare organization that rescues and rehabilitates animals all over the world. Claire is based out of Boston, Massachusetts and is a part-time writer, wanderlust traveler, amateur photographer, weekend gardener, avid volunteer and fitness hobbyist. 

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Pumping while working abroad can be confusing or awkward, here are some tips to make traveling with breastmilk and pumping abroad easier! #breastfeeding #pumping #pumpingwhileworking #workingmom

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