Posted by +Debra
I recently traveled without my baby for the first time ever. It was a tough decision, and in alot of ways it was a tough time being away. As a breastfeeding mom the idea of being away from my baby for longer than a few hours was a bit difficult to wrap my head around, never mind the ache in my heart. As I prepared for my journey to my birth country of South Africa I scoured the internet and was unable to find any real advice on how to be away from my son, how to prepare him for my absence, and most of all how to maintain the breast feeding relationship even though I was away. I am writing this blog simply so that any mom’s out there who want or have to travel away from their baby can know that it is possible to do so for extended periods, and came home and resume the breast feeding relationship as before.
Basically I was out of country for 12 days, and our son Shannon was 7 1/2 months old. He is a bed sharing breast fed happy go lucky baby. It was the first time we had been apart for longer than 12 hours. He was cared for in his normal home by my fiance and his parents, so Shannon’s daddy and grandparents, Sadie and Coach.
Here’s what I did to prepare before the trip:
The hardest part was struggling to emotionally bolster for being away from my son for almost 2 weeks. I knew I was going to miss his face immensely! I cried alot at just thinking about leaving him! But when I got over it, I realized how immensely healthy the time apart was for both of us, and was oh so happy to see his little face again.
I researched his age and what types of solids he should eat and shared that information with his caregivers (his grandparents and dad). The biggest thing was for him to not eat too many solids, and to eat specific solids appropriate for his age. We haven’t ever really given Shannon purees, from the get go he has been given finger foods, and occasionally soft foods like mashed potatoes. He feeds himself small quantities with his own hands. it was important to make sure he didn’t get too many solids, and that he maintained a normal amount of liquids, from either formula or saved breast milk.
I didn’t pump enough in advance to give him frozen milk for my entire trip. I calculated what he would need for the 12 days and it was well over 300 ounces. That’s alot of pumping on top of feeding the baby his regular meals. Let’s say I could express an extra 12 ounces a day, then I could reserve 300 ounces in 25 days. But the thing is, to get that 12 ounces I was a slave to the pump after every feeding, 3-4 times a day. I quickly started to feel a bit like a commercial milk cow, and cut down the pumping sessions to preserve my sanity. I ended up reserving about 150 ounces give or take. In reality that reserve provided 1-2 bottles a day, the rest of the time he was given formula.
For formula I ordered 2 jars of Natures One Organic Baby formula. I am told he blew through those 2 jars in a couple of days, and then moved onto commercial Enfamil. He had no problems with the increased iron from the formula as I had feared. It did however take a week or so for his bowel movements to move from iron rich black and return to the yellow of a breastfed baby. We still supplement with Enfamil when formula is needed if I am away on a long shoot or we are in the car.
A few key pieces of equipment helped as well:
Bottles: I purchased additional Breast Flow bottles and playtex liner system with medium flow nipples designed for the breast fed babies. I vouch for the breast flow bottles, they are well designed and awesome.
Pump: a good pump is worth every penny! For the occassional to heavy user looking for an efficient and quiet pump I recommend the Medela Swing Pump. It was so quiet, I used it on planes, in cars, and everywhere in between. Alas, I burned out the motor on 2 cheaper single Medela Electric pumps, one in 3 months, the other in 4 days. They are noisy also. I am not a big fan, but they are fast and efficient if you can handle the noise…just make sure a sleeping baby is nowhere around. It sounds like a jumbo jet taking off, in contrast the Symphony sounds like a car blinker. *Pump Bottles: I took along 2 bottles with lids.
Pumping Bra: I I got a Simple Wishes Pumping Bra. It’s well designed and actually pretty awesome for when I used both pumps simultaneously. However, I used it a grand total of 3-4 times. I found I was alot faster using the pump and manual compression. The bra is designed with alot of attention to detail and thoughtfulness, I personally didn’t use it all that much, mostly because I pumped in alot of semi public places, or small forms of transportation. I haven’t used it since, but I work from home and feed baby on demand. I can see it being a highly useful item for a momma working in the office.
Nursing Cover: I received a nursing cover from Udder Covers when I was pregnant. I tend to just use a baby blanket when I go out with the baby, and now he is older we seldom nurse when we are out and about. The Udder Covers material is thin, and given I am tall, I really wished it had more fabric to it, but I only used it for 2 weeks, so it served it’s purpose well. Leah has an uber cute cover she uses all over town with Jonah, and I know there are alot of varieties and styles to select from on Etsy.
Pacifier Wipes and Microwave Sterilization Bags: Seeing as I was pumping and dumping it wasn’t crucial to sterilize constantly, but it certainly helped keep things nicer having easy ways to keep the bottles fresh and clean.
Me and baby during the trip:
Shannon was just fine, he didn’t melt down, or cry all night, or really seem fazed that I was gone and that he was getting all his meals by bottle. He was surrounded by people who love him, following his normal routine sans mom, and got to bond with everybody who played with him and fed him and rocked him to sleep. When he saw me after 12 days away he was very excited and went back to nursing within 30 minutes. I was elated and relieved.
Uhm, I was not fine. It took me about 6 days to relax and really get into the awesomeness of the trip. I cried on the plane to South Africa, big crocodile tears, and then about every 48 hours after that I hit a tough spot and would go take a small break. I had plenty of printed photos, and my phone was stuffed full of the beautiful pictures that my family sent to me while I was abroad. The daily pictures helped immensely! I couldn’t have done it without the photos and updates. They were crucial to my mental and emotional well being, and I am very grateful my understanding family kept sending them to me.
A Note about domperidone:
Domperidone is a prescription medicine in the USA, but an OTC anti nausea medicine in other countries. I first heard of domperidone from Dr Jack Newman, at the Bellies to Babies Event last year. Dr Newman is an awesome expert on everything breastfeeding. No really, he knows ALOT and then some. He’s wicked nice also. Domperidone was initially designed to be an anti nausea medicine, it works by suppressing dopamine, and as a result allows an increase of another hormone called prolactin, which is present in nursing mothers. I was able to purchase 100 tablets for the equivalent of $50. I wasn’t having issues with my supply, it was up and down a little, but mostly I was wanting to relax and not have to pump every four hours. Having the domperidone helped me relax and ease off the rigid pumping schedule. It really helped with enjoying myself more becasue I knew I would be able to use the domperidone to maintain my prolactin levels. The pills work really well, I was responsive in under 48 hours. I have a bunch of pills left over, and who knows, they may come in handy down the road.
Pumping in Different Places: wow, I pumped all over the world. Literally. I am pretty hardcore about breastfeeding, and feel it is the most important gift after a healthy pregnancy to give my child a head start to a healthy and abundant life. Breast feeding is to me a social and emotional relationship which nourishes the soul and the body. I understand that not every woman is able or wants to breast feed, and I am totally ok with their choice, we all have choices on how to raise our kids and I certainly don’t snub one persons choice over the other. However It is my lifestyle to breastfeed, and it is very important to me.
This philosophy led me to pump in the plane, the car (even with my brother and dad in the front seat!), on safari, in the desert, on the side of the road, random corners of random restaurants or friends houses, hotels, and once even a bathroom, I sat on a windowsill, but still it was kinda icky. Like eating pancakes on the toilet. Either way I was disciplined and maintained a semi-regular schedule to keep up my milk, and was still able to have fun and see lots of cool stuff on the trip. Each time I pumped I thought lovingly of my son, and treated it is as a gift instead of a burden. It would have been easy to get burned out, so I made sure to keep a loving mental attitude to prevent any resentment.
Also, pumping on the plane was not a problem, and thank you to Delta Airlines for putting me in the back of the plane with the seat next to me blocked off. I had the last row to myself and plenty of privacy. I called well in advance to see if they could accomodate me and they kindly obliged. It didn’t bother me when people walked by for the bathroom, and the flight attendants were fabulous. Delta is my favorite American Airline, hands down.
It was one looooong plane ride home, but it was easier than the flight out. I was excited to see baby Shannon and did my best to stay distracted. After 12 days of being away, I had been able to tuck the longing away in a safer emotional space, so it wasn’t all consuming as it had been on the flight out. I am a very doting and loving mom, so being away was a challenge, but also a healthy time apart to realize I am also Deb and not just mom.
Shannon was happy to see me when I first walked in the door, he showed me his toys and his new found ability to cruise on the furniture. I refrained from crying because I didn’t want to confuse him. I was overjoyed to see his smiling face! We played and everybody hung out and talked. After about 30 minutes, Shannon indicated he wanted to nurse, and we picked up the relationship right were we had left off. It was almost like I had never left. The only issues we had were latch and nipple sensitivity.
Shannon is old enough to hold his own bottles, and is pretty insistent on doing that. While he was getting a bottle for all of his meals he had retrained his latch, no amount of thoughtful nipple design could work with him sucking only the tip of the bottles nipple. It took us about 2 weeks to retrain his latch, and I had to be very patient and thoughtful when doing it. There were some days of extreme discomfort because my nipples had also become more sensitive away from baby. Most new mom’s experience a few days or weeks of nipple discomfort while their skin adjusts to the constant friction of nursing. All in all we were comfortably nursing again within 2 weeks.
I hope this information helps! Please feel free to leave questions in the comments. Thanks!