November 2017 – Mother’s Sharing: Pumping Through Asia

By Leanne Sim, BMSG Volunteer

Leanne with her beautiful children.

As I saw the cockroach scurry across the damp floor of my toilet cubicle in a foreign airport, I swallowed my scream.

Ordinarily, the mere sight of a cockroach would send me racing out of the toilet, but these were extraordinary circumstances. I was held hostage by a bright yellow contraption with rhythmic suction power.

If you were to ask me what the most bizarre places I have pumped in were, it would be hard for me to narrow it down. From that unforgettable airport toilet cubicle, a late night massage parlour in Bangkok, an aeroplane toilet cubicle, an Italian restaurant in Surabaya to the nursing room in the SilverKris lounge in Changi Airport, I have literally pumped all around South East Asia (and some say Hong Kong).

But I get ahead of myself.

My pumping journey began four years ago with the birth of my firstborn, Mr E. When he was born, I was absolutely clueless about breastfeeding and pumping. I had spent so much effort attending prenatal classes and watching YouTube videos on prenatal yoga, birthing and cloth diapering that I had absolutely forgotten to read up about feeding.

So as it was, when Mr E was born, the first few days and weeks were nothing but a teary blur – a sort of sleep-deprived trauma-inducing limbo between the worlds of pre-baby freedom and post-baby captivity. To cut the very long story short, he had difficulty latching due to nipple confusion, which was obviously due to introducing the bottle too early – something I would have known, had I bothered to read about life after baby.

After that, I exclusively and proudly pumped for seven months – until I suffered a bout of engorgement and near mastitis, and decided that I had had enough of my little friend, the breastfeeding pump.

With my second child, breastfeeding came very naturally. My daughter nursed like a champion and I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We co-slept and breastfed on demand; it was a dream. Direct latching really does wonders for moderating your supply. With her, I suffered no engorgement, no pain, and always had enough. It was a dream, straight out of a breastfeeding textbook.

When I returned to work, I had to start travelling almost immediately. I refused to let my busy travel schedule affect my beautifully moderated supply. So along came my old friend, Miss breast pump. Since I had pumped exclusively with my first, pumping this time around was like riding a bike.

“Before each flight, I would arrive at the airport slightly earlier so that 30 minutes before boarding time, I could plug my pump in, pump for 30 minutes, and then be ready to board the plane.”

At this juncture, I must say that the Singapore Changi Airport is one of the best airports in the world. Not only is it efficient, clean and aesthetically pleasing, there is a nursing and pumping room every few hundred metres. I kid you not. It is like a divine lactating angel personally overseeing the placement of the mothers’ rooms. Most of the nursing / pumping rooms come equipped with a comfortable padded seat, a plug next to it and your own sink. Amazing right? And I must say, these pumping rooms are very well-used by other pumping mothers, too.

Before each flight, I would arrive at the airport slightly earlier so that 30 minutes before boarding time, I could plug my pump in, pump for 30 minutes, and then be ready to board the plane.

Pumping while on the move overseas was a little harder but not impossible. Wherever I went, I made a mental note of where I could next pump. It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds. You just have to make sure you schedule an extra 30 to 60 minutes at a particular stop (preferably clean) to pump.

While I pumped and dumped, I have heard of mothers who bring around their own portable freezers to store their milk even while travelling.

If you are thinking of pumping while travelling, I would suggest the following:

  1. Make sure you have a small and light portable pump.
  2. Bring 2-4 bottles to pump in – 2 is actually enough if you are planning to pump and dump
  3. Pour your cleaning detergent into a tiny aviation travel approved bottle (less than 100ml) and bring a small bottle brush.
  4. Place bottles and flanges in a ziploc bag and the detergent and brush in another ziploc back, just in case the detergent spills
  5. Pump just before you board the plane so that you don’t have to pump onboard the plane.  Let’s be realistic: airplane toilets are not exactly the best place to pump in and you won’t be very popular with the rest of the passengers for hogging the toilet for 30 minutes or so. I know of some women who bring breastfeeding covers so that they can pump at their seats though I have never reached that level of mastery.
  6. If you need to pump at any point of time during a business trip, just excuse yourself and say you need to pump. NOBODY should stop you. Be BOLD about it.  
  7. If you need a quiet space to pump while overseas, just ask. I have found that people are generally very, very willing to help out a lactating mother.

I wish you and your pump bon voyage and safe travels!