Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pumping on a plane

Warning: This post is about pumping breast milk, as in attaching a medieval torture device to your own nips and withdrawing liquid after you’ve already endured nine months of pregnancy and the whole lovely birth experience. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, people.

So if that mental image disturbs you, you’re probably not a mom, and that’s totally cool. Feel free to hit that handy back button on your browser or mobile device, or better yet, go to A Wide Line’s homepage to find other posts that might be more up your alley. Although if you do decide to leave, you will miss out on some very useful (and hilarious) information. Please proceed.

Still here? Good. Let’s get to it.

I recently flew to Boston for a blogging conference. I can’t describe how awesome it was to not have to wrangle a toddler, nurse a baby or pump breast milk on the flight. The last time I flew solo was over a year ago when I went to Boston for a wedding and had to pump on the airplane as to keep up my supply while Baby Q and I were apart.

Since that flight, people have asked me how I managed to pump in my seat on the airplane, and I figured with all the holiday travel coming up, now’s probably a good time to share my tips with you. If you’re a breast feeding mama and need to pump during a long flight, here’s what you’ll need.

A pumping bra
A nursing cover
A breast pump (with a fully charged battery and possibly a spare battery)
Several baby bottles
A burp cloth (or something similar)
A nonchalant game face

Step 1: Get a pumping bra

Medela and some other companies make hands-free pumping bras that you can purchase if you feel like plunking down forty dollars. Or you can make your own from an old sports bra for zero dollars. My friend test drove both options and said the homemade pumping bra works way better. (Read A Curious Mom’s review of both bras. Very useful information!) I used the homemade version, even at home, and it worked perfectly.

To make your own, get an old sports bra that fits very snugly. If you don’t have one, buy a super cheap one that’s a size too small. Try it on and mark where your nips are with a pen. Then cut a small X in each side where you marked. (Of course, take off the bra before using the scissors. Your poor nips have been through enough torture at this point.) Start out with tiny Xs and cut them bigger if necessary.

Put the bra back on, and slide the funnel of the breast pump into each side. Stick them to your boobs as normal and poke the shaft of the funnel through the X. (Yes, I said “shaft.”) If the X is too small for the shaft to fit (are you giggling yet?), cut it a little bigger.

The bra should hold the funnels securely against your boobs. Then attach the bottles and tubes to the funnels as normal and flip on the pump. You should be able to pump both sides simultaneously, hands-free. If the funnels start pulling away from you as the bottles fill with milk, you need a tighter bra.

Step 2: Wear proper pumping attire

My "plane pumping" shirt - a faux wrap that
kept the girls modestly covered, yet 
accessible when needed 
You’ll have to wear the right clothes on the flight for this to work. First, wear the pumping bra instead of a nursing bra. So your nips don’t poke out of the X’s you cut out, slide a nursing pad into each side. (There are plenty of weird-looking people to stare at in the airport. Don’t be one of them by walking around with uncovered nips. Plus, airports are cold.) 

Second, wear a v-neck shirt or nursing top that allows you to pull the neckline down over both boobs. (Most nursing tops only accommodate one exposed boob at a time, and it’s hard to see what you’re doing if you have to pull the bottom of your shirt up.) 

Finally, throw on a hoodie or jacket that zips up the front.

Step 3: Cover up and pump away

Once you’re settled in your seat on the plane, whip out your nursing cover and put it on. (Here’s the cover I used.) Bring your breast pump and all its accessories onto your lap under the cover. (I liked the Medela backpack pump because it’s small and discreet.) Peer through the top of your nursing cover, unzip your hoodie, pull down your neckline and attach the pump as in Step 1, doing your best to stay hidden beneath the nursing cover and trying not to drop the nursing pads on the airplane floor in the dark. (Ahem.)

Put on your best “nothing to see here” face and try not to make eye contact with your neighbor who is probably wondering what the hell you’re doing. 

When you’re done, carefully pull the funnels away, using a burp cloth to catch any drips, and cap the bottles. Put the nursing pads back in your bra, fix your shirt back over your boobs, zip your hoodie, remove your nursing cover and pretend nothing happened. 

Don’t forget to take the funnels out of your bra. Those nursing pads can only hide so much.

Every airline has different rules. Some airlines will let you bring a cooler with blue ice to preserve your bottles of liquid gold, but some will not. Some airlines consider a breast pump to be a medical device and will let you bring it on the plane in addition to your two carry-on items. Others count it as one of your carry-ons. And sometimes it just depends on whether the gate agent is a d**k face.

Do you have any travel tips for families this holiday season? Feel free to leave your advice and/or links to your posts in the comments.