Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pumping overseas for a working mom

Small Boy weaned in Jan 2012, so mentally counting the months, he was breastfed for 20-21 months.
Medium Boy weaned himself off in Sep 2009.  Breastfed for 14 months.  Medium Boy's English teacher K once commented that he is generally healthy compared to his classmates.  He has NEVER gotten HFMD, and he bounces back quickly from the common cold.

Since both boys were born, I have expressed milk on the go while away from them during the work day.  The Company is a very generous employer.  They provide nursing rooms in the SG office stocked with a Medela PISA, a fridge to store the expressed milk, a Pigeon steriliser and a sink to wash up.  I just have to bring my funnels and bottles, plus cooler bag to work.  WOW.  I used to take the amentities that the Company provided for granted until I hear of other moms pumping in the toilet over their lunch or break times. Hey, I would not eat in a toilet, why do you expect me to prepare my baby's food in a toilet? Some bosses even make snide remarks about cows and boobs when the moms come back from a pump break.   These bosses need to know that breastfed babies fall ill less often, and hence the mom takes urgent leave less often.  Everyone wins with breastfeeding, the baby, the mom and the employer.  See this from our own Health Promotion Board!

I made the following overseas trips while I was still a nursing mother.
  • Jakarta, Indonesia.  Medium Boy was 8 months old.  This was my first trip away from MB since he was born.  I remember crying into the phone the 1st night I was away from him when the Husband put his ear to the phone.  The sound of his gu-gu-gah undid me.
  • Bangkok, Thailand.  Medium Boy was 11 months old.
  • Chennai, India.  Small Boy was 5 months old.  J initially was reluctant to ask me to go since I was just 1 month back at work from maternity leave.  Well, my teammates AJ, J and R were all off to Chennai.... it would be a career limiting move NOT to volunteer to travel too.  I appreciated very much that J was concerned enough about my personal life not to ask me to travel.  What a man... What A Man... he is still the most humane supervisor I have had in my entire life :) and I miss having him as a boss (ah, this is a topic for another post)
  • KL, Malaysia.  Small Boy was 1 year old.
  • London, UK.  Small Boy was 16 months old.
Here are some tips for a smooth experience of pumping on the go.
  1. Bring the supplies.  I brought milk bags (stating the obvious: bring more thatn you think you need!), cooler bag for transporting from hotel to office, freezer bag for transporting from hotel/office to airport.  The Fridge To Go brand worked marvellously for me keeping the milk nicely frozen.... yes, even the 16 hours door to door London trip. 
  2. Freeze the FTG freezer bag in hotel freezer at least 2 days before you are due to go to the airport.  Gives you time to put things right if the bellboy misunderstands your instructions.
  3. Bring the pump and all pump parts! (including the battery and charger) I left my funnels in the home fridge while I was dashing out to the airport for my Chennai trip.  Horror of horrors.  Luckily I had attended a BMSG talk about hand expression where Mow Lie generously shared with the audience how she hand expressed through her working days as a sales person.  I had to put theory into practice really fast!
  4. Watch for language differences.  In Thailand, my Thai colleague wrote out stickers for me to paste on the milk bags "This is milk for babies.  Keep frozen below 0 degrees C".  She was a breastfeeding mom herself and was concerned the bellboys do not know the difference between chill and freeze.
  5. Follow the milk!  Large hotels generally have a bigger freezer.  My first experience in Jakarta went really well... the milk bags were frozen.  With the first experience safely under my belt, I was complacent when I went to Bangkok.  I did not check the hotel freezer at all..... Turns out the tiny boutique hotel probably had a tiny freezer and the Thai bellboy was too polite to tell me that my FTG freezer bag is toooo big to go into their freezer.  My frozen milk was dripping condensation on the way from hotel to airport.... I did not want to think what was happening to the milk on the hot Bangkok tarmac.  A whole week's supply.... sigh... down the drain.  I made the same mistake of not following the milk for my Chennai trip.  I thought I had covered the bases when I arrived on Monday and specifically told the bellboy I wanted to see the freezer in the kitchen.  Yes I followed him down to the kitchen!  Reassured myself that the freezer is large enough.  Then left it at that for Tuesday and Wednesday, as I was too exhausted from the day's work to check again.  Thursday I decided to pop down to the kitchen again to check on the milk.  Horrors!!!  The milk was just left in the chiller.  After 3 days of hand expressing.... Imagine my shock.....  The Indian chef and restaurant manager both looked at my ice queen demeanour and were shocked into complying with my requests to please put the milk into the freezer.  I received a complimentary dessert for room service that night.... but what is a dessert compared to 2 days' worth of milk down the drain.... Sigh.  A true learning experience that I hope no mom shall ever have to go through.
  6. Enlist help!  Bellboys, colleagues who speak the language, even the hotel receptionist are new best friends.  When they know milk is for baby, they are generally accommodating.
There were many angels along the way.  Mr H in the Jakarta hotel who took my milk with a smile, and personally escorted me to the freezer and back, making sure I put on winterwear before entering the room-sized freezer.  Mr P in Park Plaza London, who bowed over my milk and aceded to my daily requests to check on them.  Mr R in The Regent KL, who shared with me stories of his own baby boy and encouraged me in my breastfeeding journey.
On behalf of Medium Boy and Small Boy, I thank all of you for being such darlings about accommodating my request that the breastmilk be securely frozen.

Caveat:  I am no super mommy.  Breastfeeding for more than a year for both Medium Boy and Small Boy is pure Singaporean kiasu-ness because I am sold on the many benefits for baby.  Never mind the benefits for me too.  Heh!


  1. Thanks for sharing =) I chanced upon your blog...

  2. This is a very heartwarming post!

  3. Oh, the sacrifice and the trouble you went through so that your kids would have the best. Hats off!

    I breastfed for many years but never had to express any milk in my life. :P

  4. Oh I'm travelling to the UK next year and I'm so following these advice!

  5. Oh, I'm also due to go on a long biz trip. Can u help me wif my qns? On plane, do u use the battery wif pump? after expressing on the plane, how do u wash n clean e parts? During the trips, how do u sneak time in to express (u know long meetings, havin to network, etc)? Any more tips? Looking foward to your reply :)

    1. Hello Jasmine, nice to have another reader, and a breastfeeding mom too! On the plane, I use the battery with the pump in the toilet. After expressing, I pour hot water (I ask the stewardess for the hottest water that she can find on the plane, and yes, I confide to her that it is to sterilize my breast pump parts) over the parts, and place into a ziplock bag. Before my next pump, I pour hot water again before using. The plane would have some space in the fridge after meal service, so you enlist help to place the expressed milk in there to keep cool. The normal ice pack in thermal bag should do fine for freshly expressed milk (at least… for the first few hours!). I told my male boss and my teammates that I need to step out for a pump break over the trip, long meetings still have to end after 2 hours correct. I am fortunate in that all the people I meet on business trips are within the company, so networking… I make sure I am seen over lunch and dinner, introduce myself very quickly, then pump at the tail end of the lunch break. Be open and ask for help! You will be surprised how willing people are to help.

    2. Hi Celine, thanks for your quick replies and valuable advice. Really helps to clear the questions that had been floating in my mind.