Wow. I’m back in LA with a gallon of breastmilk milk that I pumped in Japan. This rig worked. Thank-you Sally for the inspiration and starting point with the thermos strategy. I’m so thrilled that this worked on the maiden voyage. Shit loads of learning and much to change when I do this again, starting with reducing the 84 pounds of luggage. I will never forget my blistering hand when arriving in Tokyo after having to heave this bag up stairs, through train stations, on to and off of luggage racks. But it was worth it, even if purely emotional, my time and energy pumping felt saved, and my body was still in great production rhythm for some overdue nursing time!
Taking Stock Upon Arrival in LA
I had imagined a watery mess but when I cracked open the cooler everything inside was still *so cold* that even the lose cubes of ice were still in good form. All of the ice packs were all either compeltely solid or mostly solid. I mean look at this picture…. this thing just went a full 16 hour run from Narita to LAX! It looks almost exactly as it did when I packed it in Japan. I wish I had thought to snap a before and after pic.
This success was in spite of the fact that the cooler had clearly leaked for a portion of the journey. This zipper is so not leakproof as promised. I knew this from my experience using it as a storage vessel in Japan. So when I saw the bag coming out of the baggage claim chute upside down I assumed everything inside would be soaked. The bag I put the cooler in has a rubber base which caught the leaky liquid and the result was wet but not soaked. Still the shit worked.
I had one bag of milk sitting on top of the vessels which I had thrown in at the last minute after I had pumped it on the train to the airport. In Japan you can’t carry any milk through security so I had to throw it into the checked luggage before going through security. It was on the most outward edge of the cooler. Interestly, but not surprisingly, this bag showed some clear signs of being shaken, the fat globs were broken up into feathery bits. But all of the other bags still had fat globs intact.
For comparison, here is a bag from a better secured spot between the vessel, ice, and ice packs. The fat glob clearly not shaken into feathery bits. Delicoius I know.
The vessels held temperature and seemed to have partially frozen milk bags that were in contact to the frozen bags at the bottom. I had filled the vessels to half with milk that was sent to the freezer. Then I topped them off with refrigerated milk before flying, but that first level of refrigerated milk showed up slushy. The thing that I hadn’t thought through fully in my decision to freeze moment was the implication of the decision upon arriving home. I was so worried about the milk making the journey that I didn’t stop to think about how much half thawed milk my baby could consume in a few days. Once milk thaws it can’t be refrozen, which means I froze two full days worth of milk and had an extra day work come back slushy.
Now I had three days worth of milk for my baby to consume ASAP which did not jive at all with my plans and desires to breastfeed that whole weekend. Nothing like pumping while you’re home after you just pumped so that you could be nursing. Oh the irony! I stretched the milk timeline in the fridge to consme it all but I would definitely try to feeze less next time and leave it refrigerated to then be frozen upon arrival. The half gallon vessels full of to-drink-me milk way out numbered the amount of milk that I had left refrigerated to be frozen upon arrival which felt fully out of whack once home.
I did have some immediate sense of accomplishment when I was able to start replensishing the freezer inventory with new bags. Because I had forgotten a sharpie I labled them all when I got home “JPN” for Japan, which at the time felt annoying but over the course of time turned out to be quite nice. When I would pull out a JPN bag it brought a little pause to remember that this bag made that journey. If I was having a particularly stressful morning packing up for school and care and work while trying to jam down a breakfast and swallow a vitamin, while a toddler and a baby made endless demands, that little zip of amazment went a long way.
I had had a vision for a suite of temperature sensors, two in liquid and two in the air, one to set to measure the vessel temp and one set to measure the cooler temp. To show relative tempeatures of the milk to the environment. In order to immerse the sensor in the milk I had packed Guerilla Tape with me (part of that 84 pounds to shed). Well needless to say the tape concept didn’t work and milk spilled out into the ice leaving a filmy texture to be washed rather than rinsed. Not sure when in the journey this happened, I was hoping to see some clear temperature spike when the liquid sensors went offline but unfortunately the history did not save this cleanly so the liquid sensor data is unusable.
What I was able to put together was a dataset of historical temperature of the air inside the cooler and vessel. When I arried in Japan I took the sensors out of the cooler assuming at that point that I would be taking the milk to the fridge or freezer. This was before I realized the rig could hold up for a full five days without touching a fridge or freezer. In retrospect I should have kept the temperature sensors in the entire time and maybe never visited the freezer. Nonetheless what came back came back well less than forty degrees as did the milk when spot checked with the terma pen.
First and foremost this is totally possible. Traveling internationally and bringing back the milk can be done. Secondly there is no need for a fridge on a five day business trip. This is still taking time for me to digest because this is so awesome. It’s so much easier to plan and manage my own gear than rely on refrigerators to be available and actually cool. So often there is not space in a hotel fridge for dinner leftovers never mind a gallon of breastmilk. I’ll never forget staying in a brand new hotel in Wuhan, China where the fridge was off and had been filled with books. The concept of pumping without refrigeration was just taken to an entirely new level. I also learned that refrigerating beats freezing when returning home. Everything frozen while away has to be consumed quickly upon return and newly reunited mommas and babies aren’t necessarily in the mood for a whole lot of bottle feeding.