maintaining breastfeeding through absence

When I was approached about the trip to Sri Lanka, the very first thing on my mind was my nursing relationship with OBrother. Ten days apart would be quite the obstacle, and I worried that I would be uncomfortable or distracted while traveling because of nursing. I saw my options as these: letting the sun set on this season with OBrother and weaning before going, or maintaining my supply while traveling (which posed risks) and hoping for the best upon return.

In the 6 weeks leading up, I actually flip-flopped between the two choices. I began the weaning process because I couldn’t fathom being stuck in a third world country with engorgement. But then OBrother got Roseola and a fever of 105º and wanted to nurse nurse nurse. I cried and realized I wasn’t ready to let go, yet. If I returned home after my trip having made a good faith effort and he was no longer interested in nursing, that would have been fine. But I needed to know that I had given it everything I had.

Now, this story is a bit contrasted with OBoy’s nursing tale, wherein I got pregnant when he was 13 months old and he lost interest (probably because my pregnant body dropped in supply). He weaned himself by 15 months and honestly, it was me holding on until the end. I will always remember the last time I tried to nurse him as he laid down in bed next to me. He looked up at me like ‘No, thanks, I’m good.’ and wouldn’t latch. Sweet boy was done and that had to be fine by me.

This time, though, OBrother was going strong (I’m also decidedly not pregnant), still nursing two to three times a day at 15 months. It was this that made me want to try to maintain supply over a ten day absence. This is the story of how I did.

Steps I took before leaving:

1. Had a good, travel friendly pump: I love my pump to the moon and back. This is actually my second pump in two kids. I had the classic  Medela Pump’n’style with OBoy and I was never impressed; it was bulky and loud. After researching (and selling my first) I bought a Hygeia EnJoye Pump for several reasons. One feature that came in most handy for this trip was that it is powered by an internal, rechargeable battery. I was able to charge it up before leaving and never plug it in while abroad. A good pump is a must.

2. Partially weaned: (Wait. I thought you just said you didn’t want to wean?) As I said, OBrother was nursing two to three times a day at 15 months old. I knew that the kind of trip I was taking (and the duration of it) wasn’t conducive to pumping two to three times a day (understatement). I wanted to taper my supply enough that I was still satisfying and comforting OBrother before leaving, but that I wouldn’t have to be strapped to my pump while traveling. The week before I left, I was nursing OBrother once a day, give or take (mostly take).

3. Prepared mentally: He might not have wanted to pick up where we left off after 10 days apart. I worked that over in my heart and mind and prepared for either possibility.

Steps I took while traveling:

1. Pumped when I could: Instead of throwing myself, exhausted, into my bed at the end of the day, I was diligent to pump until empty almost every single day of the trip. I started out by thinking about my sweet boy cuddled up and nursing, and once my milk came in I would read a good book to pass the time. (Because of the nature and distance of my trip, I had to dump whatever milk I pumped. I don’t have any advice for storing and returning with pumped milk.)

2. Hand expressed when necessary: You guys, I have the funniest story to tell you about hand expressing into a toilet in the Dubai airport. Well, I guess that’s kinda it: I hand expressed into a toilet in the Dubai airport. Hashtag, dedication. Hashtag, engorgement. After 27 hours of travel, I was hurtin’. Problem being I had checked my pump and would not be reunited with my luggage for 8 more hours. Being able to relieve engorgement in a pinch (without a pump) is a must. I guess that adds an item of to-do before traveling: learn how to hand express.

2. Stored up supply at the end: The last day of the trip, instead of my habitual nightly pump, I held off. I wanted to have something of a buildup of milk when I was reunited with OBrother. To me it seems that the more milk I have, the less time it takes for me to let down. I wanted him to be able to get milk quickly should he have chosen to nurse when I got home. He fell asleep in the car on the way home from the airport, which coupled with holding off on pumping ended up working to my advantage. He sleepily latched on and was rewarded with milk almost immediately (see: 36 hours of travel).

Steps I took when arriving home:

1. Nurse right away: Self-explanatory

2. Nurse on demand: One of the best ways to build supply is to nurse frequently. It will be up to OBrother if he wants to increase back up to more than one feeding a day, so I will let him nurse whenever he asks or needs it.

3. Hydrate and drink Milk Maid Tea: One of my favorite breastfeeding support products, Earth Mama Angel Baby Milkmaid Tea. I chugged a glass (it is fantastic as iced tea!) twice a day for the first couple of days back. It is full of supply increasing herbs that could only help after such a long absence. Another option would be fenugreek or other milk-increasing supplements.

4. Relax: Since I prepared for the possibility of being done with nursing when I returned home, I felt a great sense of peace about it. I had to leave it in OBrother’s hands whether he wanted to continue or if he was ready to move on, and that helped relieve possible pressure. Ultimately, it’s the baby’s choice and as a mama the best I could do was make either choice available to my baby. The rest is up to him.

18 Responses to “maintaining breastfeeding through absence”

  1. Kacia

    I’ve been meaning to call [which I will be doing soon]

    Thank you for this!! I am nervy leaving Harlow for 4 days at the beginning of October…and I need to buy a pump – I’ve been looking at that one – so you’ve just confirmed it.

    I’m so nervous. I feel a bit crazy. yikes!

    SO proud of you, Allison!

    • AllisonO

      Thank you, friend. And thank you for being there from the beginning of my crazy. I felt your support in all of it.

  2. Megan at SortaCrunchy

    1. You are the cutest thing ever.

    2. This is SO GOOD. Such great advice. I love how you broke it down into the various stages.

    3. It’s so hard after the first year to find the balance between continuing to offer nursing and being able to know when to let it go. I love your approach – it’s so peaceful and encouraging. You are a great mama, you know that?

    • AllisonO

      Yes, it’s a tricky balance. With OBoy I feel like I didn’t have to try. It will be interesting to see how things progress with OBrother. He might nurse forever. ;)

  3. Jessica

    This is a great post, but I would add that for most women supply is most.. er, plentiful? In the mornings, so if you’re trying to keep supply it’s usually better to pump in the morning rather than the end of the day, so if that’s an option, try that.

    I love my Enjoye, it’s a great pump. I have the one that you always plug in, but you can add an external battery. However it is the only commercially available pump that is safe to resell, the Medela is not a closed system and should not be used by more than one person. The medela pumps are only meant to work for a year, so it’s not surprising they don’t last long enough for two kids. Hygeia’s pumps are all closed and can be recycled and resold, and have a 3 year warranty. That’s one reason I chose it because we want to have more kids and I wanted it to last for the second kiddo.

    Sorry to hijack the post but I worry about people reading that part and thinking it’s safe to buy a used Medela or other brand pump, you can google for used medela and find articles explaining how the system is not closed.

    • AllisonO

      Please! By all means, hijack! :) I am thankful for your knowledge, thanks for sharing it here.

      The morning advice is great too! Good to know.

  4. Candace

    Thank you so much for this post! I was wondering how you did it!! My toddler is about the same age as obrother and my hubby and I have considered going away for a few days and I didn’t know how to go about it or if she would still nurse as often (3x a day) when we got back. I really want her to wean in her own time and I LOVE your approach! Thanks again!

  5. Kelly @ Love Well

    So much good information, Allison! And knowing your heart, I’m so glad it worked. I don’t think I could have done it, mostly because my body doesn’t like pumping. I could be crying from engorgement, pump for an hour and only get 2 ounces. (And then – hello mastitis, my old friend.) So I’m super … um, pumped that you could get ‘er done.

  6. Amanda

    You guys are precious – love that pic. :) I’m so glad this worked out the way you hoped it would, and this is such great advice for those who need it! We went away for a weekend and left the boys at home, and I pumped 3x/day. It worked quite well, although I do think I tend to get clogged ducts when I solely pump. I was lucky to have a freezer to store it all in, and packed it in a cooler for the drive home.

  7. Amanda

    So glad you posted this! I am leaving my son for 5 days at the end of October and while he will be 16 months when I leave, I am not quite ready to completely give up breastfeeding. This filled me with some needed courage to try to keep a feeding or two. THANK YOU!
    Pssst… I read your about me and just thought I’d say howdy to one hippy from another :)

  8. Heather @Cookies For Breakfast

    Holy moly, this is the most incredibly helpful post ever! Found you via the Boba tweet linking this post. I’m going away with my husband in January, away from our son, and like you, I’m not sure if he’ll be weaned by then or not. If he’s not, I’m SO worried about maintaining our BFing relationship while we are away. Thank you TIMES A MILLION for this post – so helpful and super timely :)

  9. Meagan

    Excellent post! The first thing I thought of when you announced your trip was that you’d have to wean so I’m glad the pumping worked for you! I left Andrew at 15 months for just 3 nights and we had no problem getting back to it. I was so glad! I’m wanting to leave my baby for about a week when she’s 18 months and I think she might be ready to wean by then anyway, but it’s nice to know I could probably be gone that long and keep it up if I wanted. Great advice!

  10. Jennifer Hanson

    I have yet to meet you, but I was in this same place in June when we traveled to pick up our 2nd son in S Korea. I’ve been nursing our oldest son since birth & he’s almost 3. I wasn’t in a place to wean him & I didn’t feel it would be best for him either in his transition to being a big brother & having to share his mama. But…my breast pump wouldn’t have traveled well, so, I winged it. When I returned home, Oliver nursed & reports that there was no milk on either side. We then prayed his evening prayers & he prayed for mama’s milk to return. The next morning, we were back in business. We nursed 3x/day all summer & I’m just weaning him this month before his 3rd birthday on 9/22. I’m sad, but I think it’s time. Breastfeeding is such a great relationship builder. So glad to hear your encouraging post.


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