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.