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Newsletter #35: Mother’s Sharing – Eleanor Ho’s Story [Traveling Mum]

By BMSG Editorial Team

Mother’s Sharing is a monthly column where we hear the stories of breastfeeding mothers and their individual, unique experiences. This month, we speak with Eleanor Ho, a regular contributor on our Facebook group, on how she prepares sufficiently to pack her expressed breastmilk when she is traveling for work.

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Pumping while traveling, especially on a work trip, can cause anxiety in many mums but for mummy Eleanor Ho, practice makes perfect. [Image for illustration]

I’m a mother to a three-and-a-half year old girl and a one-and-a-half year old boy. I work as an improvement engineer in the oil and gas industry, mainly to support scheduling applications in the manufacturing plant. I travel approximately one to two times yearly for network meetings.

Breastfeeding While Traveling – A Mother’s Milestone

As a first time mum, it was daunting initially to learn how to breastfeed, let alone to continue breastfeeding while traveling. I had many encouraging conversations with other mums and had read positive experiences from mothers who shared their stories on the BMSG Facebook group. Sharing my story is a way for me to pay it forward.

Eleanor learnt from other mums how to make traveling with breastmilk fuss-free. Here, she shows how mums can creating “trays” in cooler box to freeze more than 1 packet of breastmilk [Credits: Eleanor Ho]

Equipped with useful tips and ample preparation, breastfeeding while travelling can be more manageable than one would expect and I consider being able to accomplish it as a significant milestone in my breastfeeding journey. As commented once by a BMSG counsellor on the group, bringing back frozen breastmilk is the best souvenir that a mother can bring home with her after a period of traveling without her children.

I had breastfed my elder child for about 15 months until she self-weaned as I had then became pregnant with my second child. I am currently still breastfeeding my 2nd baby who just turned 20 months.

Memorable Moments

One memorable moment I can recall is my first business trip where I had to pump overseas for the first time. With no prior experience, I had to do trial and error to make sure my frozen breastmilk returned to Singapore safe and sound, and ,most importantly, still frozen. Returning home with a cooler box of frozen breastmilk felt like an achievement unlocked. I was also very relieved that my baby still remembered to latch when I returned home. Doing this also made me feel empowered that I was still able to fulfil my mummy duties despite being away from home.

Eleanor’s go-to for pumping on-the-go: A Packit can fit 2 large ice packs + 1 set of pump parts & bottles & extra storage bottles, her way of traveling light on-the-job. [Credits: Eleanor Ho]

Supportive Employer

My employer has been rather supportive of my intent to breastfeed. My breastfeeding colleagues and I are fortunate that there are private nursing rooms available onsite for our use. My other colleagues will also help to book nursing rooms on my behalf whenever I visit an associate office and need to pump. Without their support and understanding, I believe I would have given up on breastfeeding much earlier than I had planned to.

Advice for Other Mums

I would say being prepared would ease the anxiety towards pumping while travelling. Minor but important logistical preparations might seem unnecessary but things like prior communication with the hotel on your freezing requirements will go a long way in easing your worries. It will also prevent any surprises or disappointments, and there would be ample time to make alternative preparation and arragements.

A checklist* will be most useful to help mums bring the essentials.

Lastly, practice makes perfect too! With more travelling experiences, you will become more proficient at breastfeeding while pumping, and be better prepared with time.

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Eleanor has kindly put together the following in a file you can access here. The file contains a checklist, useful links and labels that mums can use to prepare for their trips. Samples of the documents are shown below:

* Checklist for a Long Flight

Luggage & Cooler Box Labels

Useful links of Eleanor’s sharing on the BMSG Facebook Group (you will need to be a group member before being able to view):

  • Packing the cooler bag for long haul trips: here and here
  • Using Packit and Daiso icepack: here

Note: All documents are courtesy and credits to Eleanor Ho. Reproduced with permission.

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Interested in more pumping stories? Read articles we have published previously:

Mother’s Sharing: Sending Breastmilk Back Home

As told to the BMSG Editorial Team

For many of us, being separated geographically from our breastfeeding babies would take a severe toll on our breastfeeding relationships. Felirose Bartolome, however, was absolutely determined to make it work. She is a medical technologist at a Singaporean hospital, and the mother of two young children aged two years old and six months old has been pumping and transporting milk back to her children ever since they were born. She had breastfed her older child till she turned one and is now still breastfeeding her younger child.

Felirose with her sweet baby boy. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

Coupled with the pressure of having to pump while at work with a hectic schedule, Felirose faces another headache: having to transport her frozen milk back home to the Philippines. She shares how she sends her milk all the way back home:

“I bring my milk with me when I return to the Philippines every month. If any of my colleagues or friends are going to the Philippines, I would usually ask them to bring my milk with them. I put the milk in a cooler box (a Coleman or Pinnacle box) and use Techni-ice (a type of ice pack that can last up to 18 hours) to keep my milk frozen.

I freeze all my milk in the same quantity so I know how many I can put in the cooler box and how many Techni-ice I need to use. The breastmilk must always be in the check-in luggage,  so I pay for my friends’ extra luggage space.

My parents pick up the milk at the airport and bring it back home. So far, no milk is wasted, and every pack has remained totally frozen. I’m really thankful for the support system that I have and for being able to find tools to help me keep my milk frozen.”

Felirose’s older child, Gianna, who is 2 years old. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

When asked what was the biggest challenge in the whole process, she replied: “Time is the most challenging to me, as I need to make sure that I do not pack my milk too early in the event of a flight delay. My milk needs to be packed at least two hours before the flight and I need to factor in the journey of going to the airport.”

Felirose also recounted how one of her friends had faced a flight delay and that was one of the most stressful times for her. “My friend’s flight had been delayed for three hours and I really prayed that my milk was all okay. Imagine having packed the milk earlier than two hours before the actual flight time and then having the milk wait out another four hours during the flight to the Philippines. He also had to queue for immigration and collecting his luggage before handing the milk over to my parents. My parents will then make a two-hour journey to reach our home.”

Felirose emphasises how important it is to ensure that you use as many ice packs as possible, especially ones of good quality that are guaranteed to keep milk frozen for as long as possible. She also maintained that a cooler is the best way to transport everything and keep the milk intact.

Felirose usually packs her milk in a securely sealed cooler box filled with ample Techni-ice packs. [Credits: Felirose Bartolome]

The pressure of managing the logistics of the whole process is truly unimaginable. For Felirose, her resolve to give her breastmilk to her children keeps her going. When her older daughter was still a baby, Felirose had to return to work in Singapore and was unsure if she could continue to breastfeed her child. Many of her other colleagues had given up breastfeeding prematurely because of the strain and stress of work and pumping. However, she soon discovered that she was able to maintain her supply. There was also a time she had an oversupply and was able to donate some of her milk to her friend’s child.

“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill,” Felirose said. She wants to give her children as much of her breastmilk for as long as she can, right up to the last drop.

Felirose has also had her fair share of challenges as a pumping mum. She has experienced engorgement and subsequently suffered from blocked ducts and mastitis due to the irregular schedule of her work. There was also a time when she struggled to produce enough as she was facing stress from work and missing her children; during that time she was only able to produce 10ml per breast.

“But I never surrendered,” she added. “I did all I could to boost my supply again and when I’m expressing my milk, I always look at the pictures and videos of my children that my mother sends me.” She advises other mothers who might be facing a similar situation: “Don’t give up and try your best! Do everything you can for your children.”

Felirose intends to continue to pump and send her milk to her hometown against all odds as she wants to breastfeed her younger boy till he turns two. We wish all mothers like Felirose the very best, even as you strive to provide your children with precious breastmilk despite the gruelling challenges, whether living apart from your children or travelling for work. You are indeed an inspiration to all of us!

“Expressing milk is hard work, really, but when I see my kids growing healthily, I feel my sacrifices have paid off. My children don’t fall sick easily and this reassures me especially since I live so far away from them and can’t nurse them when they are ill.”

Felirose Bartolome

BMSG’s infographic for mums who want to know how to pack their frozen breastmilk for a long-haul trip.