How to Survive Your First Trip Away from Baby
“Your heart will break — but you will survive.” My friend smiled meekly, offering her best advice when I shared that I was going on my first overnight trip since having my son.
I had an unexpected and last minute opportunity to join my colleagues in our headquarters for a strategy meeting across the country. It was an incredible chance to meet these brilliant people in the flesh — folks I’d previously seen only through video chats! As great as technology is, I knew bonding over a meal and being able to read faces in the room would be invaluable.
But I’d never left Ilyas alone overnight. The thought made ME nervous, and seeing my husband’s face when we discussed the offer left me double downing in doubt.
But the trip had to happen… I was determined.
So with a day and a half of planning, I did my best to consider every scenario for my husband, my son, and myself as a pumping mom.
There were some successes in my planning. And some failures, to be sure.
The tricky part is: you only leave your baby for the first time once. You learn from that experience and it helps you in the future. But it’s never going to be as emotionally difficult as that initial trip. You don’t need to be bogged down with feeling like a frazzled mess on top of that heartache.
I’m sharing my thoughts and tips with you in hopes that you can show up to your first outing as the best version of yourself. Whether it’s a business meeting, girl’s trip, or couples-only retreat. Yes, you’ll miss your little peanut. But we can clear out a lot of that other noise so you can enjoy and be present.
For all moms:
- Be transparent with those around you — let them know it’s your first time away from the baby. Speak up if you need to slip away for a quick FaceTime at bedtime. I found it really comforting when folks would inquire about Ilyas and ask to see photos. As much as he was on my mind, it was comforting to share about him.
If you’re the primary caregiver:
- Plan out and prep meals. While my husband is perfectly capable of cooking, I knew he’d have his hands full and that our son might be extra fussy with me gone, making it harder to get food on the table. So I made him a calendar listing out what I recommended for each meal, where it was in the kitchen and how to prep it. I readied pre-portioned meals labeled with the date and meal they were for.
- Pick the week’s outfits. Check the weather and figure out what might be needed. I left during the polar vortex (seriously, it was -40 with wind chill…) and wanted to be sure my baby was warm. This also helped me to see if any laundry needed to be done before I left.
- Make a child care checklist. I listed out instructions for the mornings and evenings, the meal plan, bath tips, and emergency contacts (basically the pediatrician and friends who were on hand if he needed help). It’s overwhelming to jump into someone else’s shoes and this gave my husband comfort knowing he wasn’t skipping something major.
- Put any essentials in a basket for quick access. Thermometers, baby nail clippers, vitamin D drops, probiotics, quick snacks, children’s Tylenol. Anything that your spouse or caregiver might not know where to find… throw it in a basket and make it easy on them!
If you’re pumping:
Check your pumping supplies to ensure you have everything. In addition, I recommend adding:
- If using disposal, extra milk storage bags in case your trip gets extended
- Dish soap for thorough cleanings (or purchase when you arrive)
- A separate bag for your pump in case your milk spills
- Use Milk Stork — a safe way to keep breastmilk cool and ship it home. Send one “Pump & Ship” order (basically a cooler that has a shipping label) to your home so you have proper storage during your flight. All other shipments should go to your hotel in advance of your trip. You’ll want a “Pump & Ship” for each additional day away, and one “Pump & Tote” (a cooler without a shipping label) for your return travels.
- Make sure your hotel has a refrigerator. If you don’t have one, you can get by with an ice bucket, but it will need to be changed every few hours. (This may have been one of my fails. :-))
- Pack adequate snacks to get those calories in, and a water bottle to stay hydrated.
- Bring a backup manual pump with you, and keep it in a separate bag in case of lost or stolen luggage. I was very grateful to have my Haakaa with me when my electric pump broke. But, when I couldn’t find my pumping bag, I had a mini heart attack (all good: I had set it down in the hotel lobby and someone turned it in).
- Inquire about lactation rooms on the other end. Do they have designated spaces? Do you need to reserve them, and if so, are they available during your meeting breaks?
If you’re pumping and flying:
- Print your rights from the TSA website. It’s not uncommon for an agent to be unfamiliar with this scenario and default to their standards for other liquids. And the TSA website says “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint” – so it’s wise to have backup if they need extra convincing.
- Ask the TSA agent to use clean gloves when inspecting your milk.
- Plan for extra time at the airport — if you have coolers, milk and/or a Milk Stork with you, then you’ll go through extra security. Your ice packs MUST be frozen or they will take them away.
- Bring a power bank with you if your flight doesn’t have an outlet.
Check Momaboard.com for nursing room locations at the airports. I tried a Mamava pad in Oakland – it’s a private room with outlets and a mirror. You will still need to use the public restroom to wash your parts.
- Let the stewardesses know you’re pumping. Your pump is a medical device and doesn’t count toward your carry-on allotment (though your cooler may). It’s also helpful for the stewardess to understand you may spend extra time in the bathroom.
Best emotional advice I can offer is this: breathe.
Your trip will come to an end and you’ll be reunited with your bundle of joy. It will be okay, I promise. Give yourself some grace. Sneak in all the photos. Take it one moment at a time, and remember there are extra snuggles waiting for you at home.
New moms: what questions or concerns do you have about your upcoming trip? Veteran mamas: what did I leave out? Comment below!
Another essential for your packing list: a top from Becoming Mama. Versatile, easy to pump in, water-repellent, and beautiful — it's a must-have!