Today I flew up to San Francisco in the morning and back to Los Angeles in the evening. The trip involved two locations with sporadic access to a fridge, if at all. A full test of my latest day bag system. Now that I’ve figured out the vessel as a portable fridge I think I can go all day adding milk to a pre-frozen ice vessel without having to stress about finding refrigeration. I had this grand vision of taking pictures of the whole packing process and weighing my bag to show how efficient this idea has become through iteration and practice. But I worked too long into the evening and was heading to bed way too late to formally pack or double check my lists. My flight left before my daughter would be up and I forgot to start packing before I put her to bed, in the crib that sits right in front of my closet. I was relegated to wearing whatever was in the laundry, and carrying this gear in the most professional looking cloth grocery bag I could find in the kitchen cabinet. Needless to say, instead of this thorough planning and documentation I threw together a pile of everything I thought I might need. A much closer reality to how I typically prep, but not helpful documentation for other women trying to plan.
So what’s in this pile?
- 1 half gallon vessel pre-frozen with two bags of ice cubes in zipper sandwich bags (I couldn’t use frozen ice packs because the TSA policy is that they must come to the airport fully frozen, so unless I had time to refreeze them at my final location *right* before going to the airport I would be shit out of luck, which I was, so it had to be all lose ice in bags)
- Medela Freestyle (in a cloth zipper bag)
- 3 sets of parts (assuming I will pump before departing and then have the chance to clean one set at some point during the day and four is too tight to easily fit in the bag) each in gallon ziplock storage bags and then into cloth zipper bags)
- 1 set of Medela milk bottle lids (in case I was not in a place to pour from bottle to bag at the moment I finished pumping, I sometimes find it easier to cap the bottles and deal with the transfer later)
- 7 Nuk milk storage bags
- 1 extra cloth zipper bag for milk that’s cooling before chilling and the milk bags and lids to live in
- Nursing cover
- 2 tea towels (for lap covers, holding parts during milk transfer, wiping up messes, filling space in the vessel before milk took over the volume of space)
- Extra zip lock bags (just-in-case/when my ice gets tossed by TSA)
- Sanitary wipes (for hands or equipment or whatever, if you’re into that kinda thing)
- Hand pump (in its permanent just-in-case storage bag)
- Wearing the 3-in-1 super mom, as always
At the crack of dawn I pumped a fresh set of bottles for my husband to use that morning to knock off one less bag of milk to deal with but also to help the flow of his morning which would otherwise involve dashing to the kitchen to heat water to then warm milk to satisfy an increasingly wakening baby who would certainly be hungry. This also meant that I was waltzing through security with a vessel filled with ice but no breastmilk which can be a challenge. Often TSA wants to see milk with the ice otherwise they’re not convinced the ice is for milk. I am not joking. Why else I would be carrying a breast pump and three sets of milk collecting parts? Seems absurd, nonetheless I’ve been through this game more than once and had my fair share of experiences with the TSA tossing my ice first thing in the morning. It feels like getting tripped at the start of a sprint. This morning though, I literally waltzed through. The flight to SF was short so no need to pump on the plane, instead I waited to get into my post flight Uber.
My new preferred place to pump on the go is the back seat of Ubers. What is so great about pumping in an Uber?
- Road noise, like plane noise, is louder than we remember, especially when riding in cheaper vehicles (one more reason to call an Uber X), but even if the car is quiet a quick masking noise adjustment can be the crack of a window.
- Distance between back seat and front seat is far greater than airplane seats, it feels and sounds intimate to say Pumping in an Uber until you’ve pumped next to someone on a plane, bus, or standing in line for something. Then all the sudden back seat to front seat spacing feels luxurious. It can help to sit behind the driver so they can’t see anything you’re doing, but does feel awkward as a solo passenger. Behind a cape diagonal from the driver seems to work just fine too, especially if you set up right when you get in, just looks like you’re fiddling with your luggage.
- Productivity. Nothing drives me more crazy than a pumping session in solidarity, feels like a time-out given to a naughty three year old…..”You! Go sit in the corner for 15 minutes while we play.”… Waaa … “No! Go. Shhh.” Who has 20 minutes every three hours to go sit in an empty room or a box or a corner? When I’m in an Uber I’m getting where I need to go instead of carving that time out of the travel day and I don’t have to sit in a closet and wait for milk to come out.
- Uber drivers are driving. It’s easy to time the most revealing parts of the pumping process to points in the journey where they are bound to be distracted (inserting the flanges under the cape and pouring the milk from bottles to bag).
- It’s possible to spread out the cloth bags and tea towels to access all of the different parts (also harder on a plane) rather than balancing things in my lap.
The timeline of my day allowed for two Uber pumping sessions. I also have the luck of working with supportive women who have done this too, so pulling out my nursing cover in their presence is welcome. By early evening I felt the day of pumping could not be going better. My vessel was holding temp, my pumping sessions were all productive, the world seemed to be generally understanding of my life stage. Then I returned to the airport to fly home. I had planned to find a sink at some point during the day so that I could clean one set of parts so that I could pack three sets instead of four. Of course I forgot to prioritize this until I realized way too late, at the airport, that I didn’t have a clean set of parts. A remembered immediately why cleaning parts in public restrooms is impossible. Why? The water is never hot, the auto sync feature is annoying as hell, there is no good place to set the parts down without setting up a full scale drying station, people are consistently impatient with what you’re doing, or overly inquisitive, or ready to mentor you on pumping, or judge you for not being home. And now you’ve got a soaking wet set of disassembled pump parts in a pile that you’re either shaking off onto other people, wiping with crispy towels, or trying to keep a grip on through a Dyson Airblade, all of which is totally ridiculous.
TSA also decided to reminded me that traveling while pumping can be a total nightmare. Even though in the morning I waltzed through, this was not the case in the evening. Maybe because I was only carrying three bags of milk, which is not enough to overwhelm the agents and influence them to let the full bag exam slide. Maybe because I looked particularly tired after a late night and a long ass day. Maybe because milk is a real security threat, someone please explain how this could be. Whatever the reason today’s agent was going to make damn sure my milk was legitimately breast milk. So if you were ever wondering what the experience of dealing with the TSA is as a pumping mom, here’s the blow by blow. Also know that this is to-the-book, not an extreme case.
First they take apart your cooling vessel, completely. I wish I had packed a temperature sensor in there today, I’m sure it would show some ridiculous spike. After a night of freezing and then a day of judiciously choosing when and where to open the vessel to add milk so that the ice and temperature were minimally disturbed, I watched an agent take everything out throw it all over the place and the haphazardly try to jam it all back.
The particular irony of this happening today was that I finally figured out how to pack ice into smaller portions so that I could move the around in the vessel without having to take any of them out. I had gone all day without ever removing ice and I had been stoked about that. But there I was starting at an empty vessel. All of the ice had fully disappeared and milk had been thrust to the side on the counter.
Then the milk disappears for a while. Off to be scanned bag by bag. This is why bringing a lot of bags can help dissuade agents from dealing with the hassle. Here is a fuzzy pic of my agent jogging away with my breastmilk. No comment as to where she was going or why or for how long, just away she went with two hands full of dangling bags and people passing by seemed not to think anything of it.
Then the agent then reappears with all of your milk and asks you to identify it. Can be awkward when traveling with a co-worker or in my experience, my boss. “Yes, that bag of yellow liquid is my breastmilk.” Sometimes they will literally say “is this yours?” and you will have to confirm bag-by-bag. Gladly this was not the case today. Regardless I was asked to hold my milk and open each of the bags one-by-one so that a sensor could be held above the liquid to test for god knows what. Once everything cleared it was all shoved back into the containers, a full five minutes had passed, maybe ten, doesn’t feel like a big amount of time unless you’ve been so meticulous to protect the temperature of the vessel all day, then it feels utterly disruptive and disconnected from the goals and realities of a pumping mom.
Regardless of my security stop everything made it home just fine. The bags of ice had thawed some. At this point they’d spent more than twelve hours in the vessel and five + minutes on the counter at the TSA. Also, even though Yeti makes a plea for cooler owners not to drain water out of melting ice, the TSA hasn’t gotten their memo about how this helps maintain temperature. The bags came back freshly drained leaving a fraction of the ice I’d started with. Regardless, it was a short flight and enough ice to hold temperature.
Also, today was a breakthrough in the scale and carrying weight issues. I had one very managable pumping bag that included my vessel (porta fridge) and a briefcase. This was by far the most managable travel set up I’ve put together yet, had everything I needed and not much more.