Breastfeeding? Here's how I travelled WITHOUT my baby!
Can I travel without my baby when I'm breastfeeding?
Niche topic, I know. But to be honest I needed this info before my trip to Japan last year as I was still breastfeeding Anaïs. But for love, nor money I couldn't find anything useful so I may as well add my two cents to the mix!
I managed it, but it was a tricky situation. At the time (almost six months ago) I was still breastfeeding Anaïs 100%, so I knew that we would either have to use this trip as the time to stop altogether, or I would have to plan how to pump enough milk to last three or four days worth of feeds.
Whichever option I chose, I knew I'd also have to work out how to cope with my bursting boobs while I was away because swollen breasts are insanely uncomfortable at best, and at worst, gte mastitis. Not ideal when working on the other side of the world.
Your travel strategy is totally dependent on what you want to do when you get back to your baby. I was already weaning Anaïs off a solely breastfed diet onto a part milk, part formula, part food one. But like I said, going away for four days without breastfeeding her at all could have led to all sorts of problems, so in the week leading up to my trip I went a step further and started dropping feeds, switching to formula.
This is a totally personal decision, but for me -- a necessary one. Going back to work as a travel writer meant, ahem, travelling (shock, I know!) And while I've made a decision I'll be travelling differently going forward, be it work or pleasure, I won't always be taking Anaïs with me.
All this is to say that I knew after this trip I wanted to stop breastfeeding.
So for me, the main issue I needed to worry about was how to cope with engorged, painful boobies. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand situation, so dropping feeds = less milk. BUT if, like MOI, you want to stop feeding.....I guess it's best to drop feeds gradually. I didn't have that option, so......
PUMP OR BUST
That's right, you seriously need to pump or pop regardless of your end goal. The only real difference will be how much you need to udder up and take a breast pump break.
Regardless of why you're pumping, or how often, you will probably need to dump your milk (this is obviously completely dependent on where you're travelling and for how long).
I have two breast pumps, both by Medela. Neither of them ever got much use because I've never been able to express much milk. I don't know if you're aware, but milk supply isn't solely dependent on sticking your nipple into a plastic cone and vacuum sucking away.
You need something called 'the let down' to happen. Yep. The let down is when your hormones help to dictate whether your milk should rush in and fill your lovely empty bottle. These hormones tend to happen when your baby latches, snuggling into you and giving you all those warm, fuzzy, mama feelings.
Funnily enough, said feelings don't happen quite as easily when the latch is cold and plastic cone and you're sat for three years watching your nipple rhythmically get sucked in and out of a mechanical teat.
Ruth Crilly said it best when she declared pumping was like trying to get unicorns tears.
That is so TRUE. Needless to say my trip to Japan went swimmingly. When I got back, Anaïs went straight back on the boob for a few comfort feeds but quickly stopped and that was that. Writing this so long after I stopped breastfeeding, it's easy to see now that I didn't realise how emotional it would be to stop. my decision making was purely a practical one and I didn't stop to think about the fact that I was having to give something up because of work.
No concessions were made for me, as a breastfeeding mother. And don't get me wrong, this was my favourite press trip ever - so I can't imagine what it would have been like had I been on a more challenging one.
Yet, even so, the option was either - take the job, or don't take it. I chose to take it because, honestly, jobs like this don't come up very often. We were given a budget and free reign of our flights and itinerary with only a few clauses. It was amazing! The perfect job.
But now, as I look back I realise (late, because privilege) that had I had to go into an office after six-months maternity leave I would be screwed. As someone who couldn't express enough milk for one feed, let alone several -- I would've had to stop completely.
Which is totally shit really, isn't it?
BUT, I promised a practical post so here it is. Here are my best tips for travelling without your baby while breastfeeding.
Pump up the volume
Whichever option you go for you'll need a pump. I have two Medela pumps (both kindly gifted) - one electric, and one manual. Like I say, I couldn't tell you how amazing they are because I had such a tricky time of it expressing milk. But, I certainly preferred the electric version, as it was just so much more convenient (manual pumping for an hour is a touch tiring......)
However, the manual pump is so small and light (and doesn't come with the udder-milking sound the Swing does!) so I took that. And it was perfect for my needs as I could just whack it under my jumper on the plane (and in the airport too.....my poor travelling companion Elle Croft had to witness a lot of boob!)
Onsen if you can!
If you can, have a hot bath or hot shower. OR, do what I did and have TWO dreamy Japanese Onsen experiences. That really soothed my swollen boobs and I felt so much better afterwards.
I found that for the first 24 hours, my boobs were rock hard but after onsen and by the time I was on my way home my boobs felt full, but not uncomfortably so.
Plan, plan and plan some more
Decide what you're going to do beforehand, ideally a good month before, as it'll make your time away so much easier. I didn't have that option so it kind of meant that I had to stop breastfeeding entirely. This was the right decision for me (I was already planning to stop fairly soon.)
I am a skincare GEEK, so I double cleanse with oil or a balm cleanser and always pack flannels when I travel. If you don't do this already, I suggest you add them for this trip because they double up as a great breast-soothing tool.
You can soak them in really cold water or really warm water and rest them over your boobs. They will soothe them and, if you are trying to pump, they'll probably help the milk to flow a little bit easier.
This is going to sound super weird, but when I needed to pump even just a few drops and I was really struggling -- I would look at pictures of Anaïs and it sort of triggered a bit of a hormonal response helping the milk to flow. I definitely never got the bigger let down that some people get but it certainly stopped me from crying with the pain!
Et voila! Have you been on a trip without your baby while breastfeeding?
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