My preferred method of pumping on planes is to pump during takeoff or landing. I find it easy to set up when everybody else is rummaging around putting their bags together or taking a seat and getting situated. In this moment of transition, a woman wearing a cape that she’s staring into as she fiddles with her chest typically goes unnoticed. Whereas once people have fully relaxed into the groove of watching television, the setup and tear-down process of a pumping session is far more disruptive. My supposedly distracted neighbors try so hard not to glance over, but they can’t help it, they do keep glancing over. Also, airplanes are so loud that I’ve never had an issue with the sound of the pump being noticed or disruptive, but this is especially true of takeoff and landing. I pull two cloth bags from my carryon, one with the pump and the other with new parts.
I’ll often put on my pumping gear and then wait for takeoff before powering on the pump. After some practice, it becomes a surprisingly casual flow. I sit down, set up, pull out a book, and then pump as the engines begin to roar. The hardest moment for me is when the milk has to be poured from bottle to bag. No matter how discrete the pumping session may have been, when liquid starts getting poured its eye-opening, no matter how stealth. I’ve tried pouring into a bag that sits inside a cloth bag between my knees. At least this hides the volume of milk from view. But more often than not, I bring two plastic bottle caps and wait to pour the breastmilk until I see an ideal opportunity. The full scope of my packing and pumping process is here.
One fantastic thing about an international flight duration that I had never experienced on shorter flights was the dark environment for pumping. When the lights are dim, and people are asleep or zombied out, binge-watching shows it’s straightforward to pump. Phone for a reading light was sufficient to put together pump-parts and make adjustments. I could pour from bottle to breastmilk bag without a glance. The situation was far more ideal than I had imagined. Since I pump every 3.5-ish hours, I end up pumping three to four times on an international leg- at take off, twice during sleep mode, and at landing. My general rule of thumb is to pump while I’m awake regardless of the time zone though my production doesn’t typically cooperate.
I’ve seen production drop by about 30% while on the plane. Maybe dehydration? Maybe atmospheric pressure? Perhaps a shift in biorhythm? Or just too much stress jamming on presentations for work. I’m never sure why, but I keep plugging away at the pumping plan anyway, even when it seems absurd. Often I find that this overstimulates production and by the time I’m groggily finding my pillow at a hotel oversees my lactation production is in full swing again.