Birth Your Way Jax



Managing the Milk Supply from 43,000 Feet

by Jane Bledsoe

March 2000

I wrote this article for every traveling mother who leaves a nursing baby behind. When I was preparing for my trip, I found little or no information available for nursing mothers on how to prepare and what to expect while traveling. Here's my account of the experience. Hope it helps you!


Supply list: Raspberry leaf tea, Fenugreek, ice cube trays

I had about two weeks to prepare for a three-day business trip, away from my five-month-old Dominic for the first time. I didn't have enough milk stored in the freezer for the full duration of my trip so I tried a number of remedies to increase my milk supply. I drank a lot of water, juice, milk and the raspberry leaf tea recommended by my ob-gyn's office. I bought an herbal supplement called Fenugreek at a local health food store and took two capsules three times each day. It seemed to increase my milk supply somewhat.

I pumped religiously and produced about 50 ounces, which I froze in ice cube trays (each cube is approximately an ounce and can be easily thawed in specific amounts.) Unfortunately, 50 ounces were not going to satisfy my chunky baby for the duration of my trip.

The Flight

Supply list: Hand pump, lunch-size cooler bag, small leak-proof plastic bottles, small freezer packs, a jacket

My flight was 4 hours from Minneapolis to San Francisco, and I knew that I would need to pump on the plane. I bought a little hand pump, the Avent Isis. It's compact and works pretty well.

I was fortunate to be seated between the window and an empty seat. However, there was a college-age guy sitting on the other side of the empty seat. And, unfortunately for me, this was his first plane ride. He kept peering over in my direction to see out the window.

Finally, though, when I couldn't stand the pressure any longer, I slung my jacket over me and started to pump. I tried to read with my free hand, so I could be sort of inconspicuous about the whole thing. When I was done, I put the bottle in a lunch-size cooler bag, packed with a couple of little freezer packs, all of which fit into my carry on bag. Mission accomplished.

The guy next to me said, "Hey! That's pretty good!" My heart skipped a beat, fearing that he had seen something he shouldn't. But he was just referring to the ice cream he got with his inflight dinner.

The Hotel

Supply list: Refrigerator in room, the hotel's freezer, small leak-proof plastic bottles, breast/nursing pads, large shoulder bag

I used the bell captain's freezer to keep my freezer packs cold for the following day's meetings. I pumped for a full hour before I went to bed the first night and for about an hour in the morning when I woke up. I stored that milk in the refrigerator in my room. During the day, I pumped about every three hours, but sometimes it was longer due to lunches, dinners and long meetings in between. The nursing pads prevented embarrassing leaks when meetings ran long.

I kept an oversized, professional-looking leather purse with me that was roomy enough for all my notes and files along with my hidden treasures: a lunch-size cooler bag complete with hand pump, freezer pack and a few small bottles of milk.

Mostly I used bathroom stalls for pumping -- which presented some humorous moments. I will never again take our company's lactation room for granted, and the little girl who peeked under the bathroom stall at me will always have more than one definition for "going potties".

The Shipment

Supply list: A larger cooler bag (mine was 9" X 6" X 7"), 6 small freezer packs, large (24-32 oz.) leak-proof plastic containers

The hotel staff allowed me to keep more freezer packs in the bell captain's freezer. It was extremely important that they be frozen solid for the milk shipment. By 3:00 pm the second day in San Francisco, I had filled two 24-oz. plastic bottles with milk, and I was ready to ship.

I used a larger cooler bag, packed the two large leak-proof bottles in it, and topped it off with all six of my solidly frozen freezer packs. The hotel's shipping staff boxed it up and mailed it by Federal Express. Incidentally, I didn't tell the shipping staff about the contents of the cooler bag. The words "breast milk" always seem to elicit a look of fear from those who don't work with it everyday.

My husband, who, luckily, is not at all squeamish about these things, called me from home at 10:30 the next morning to tell me the liquid gold had arrived. Most importantly, it was still cold. And it was just in time, too. He was one bottle away from the end of my frozen supply.

Coming Home

Supply list: Tylenol, lunch-sized cooler bag, small leak-proof plastic bottles, freezer packs

I woke up on my last day in San Francisco with one red, sore and achy breast. I called my doctor's office in Minneapolis and was told that, if I didn't have a fever or flu-like symptoms, I didn't need antibiotics. They told me that I probably had a plugged milk duct and that I should put hot towels on my breast and massage it vigorously while I pumped.

I had a 3-hour meeting and a 4-hour plane ride ahead of me. Hot towels and vigorous breast massaging may actually be socially acceptable in the streets and boardrooms of San Francisco -- but I decided not to take any chances. Instead, I took Tylenol and suffered through the day, pumping just a few times.

My plane was delayed by an hour and stuck on the runway for two more hours. Seven hours later, when I finally got home, Dominic was just waking up for his 2:00 AM feeding. I was never so relieved to nurse him! After a couple of days of nursing, the pain in my breast disappeared. He acted like his milk supply had never been in jeopardy.


  1. Traveling while nursing is achievable, but it takes a lot of preparation and a good sense of humor.
  2. Airports, restaurants, hotels and places of business have a long way to go to become lactation-friendly.
  3. Breast pumps are an imperfect imitation for babies, the most effective little suckers on earth.
  4. For the first time in my life, I'm happy to be grounded and will ask my boss if I can stay that way for the next year or so!


Read the latest TSA policy for flying with expressed breastmilk