Faced with a can't-get-out-of-it business trip when my baby was only 6 weeks old, I shifted into extreme planning mode. I'll pause here to let you all finish gasping, "You left your baby at 6 weeks!?!" Believe me, I wasn't happy about it. (A whole 'nother post is needed about the abysmally short maternity leave we have here in the US). So, I wanted to make sure it would happen with minimal impact on the baby. Here's how I did it.
Do I take the baby with me, or leave her at home? I first talked to my pediatrician about the safety of a cross-country flight with the baby. She said that technically, the baby was safe to fly, and that the major risk was from infection from all the germs on the plane. Most childhood vaccinations can not be given before 6 weeks (because of reduced efficacy if given prior). Full immunity takes a few weeks to develop once the vaccination is given. Although the fact that I breastfeed gives some protection, we decided it was not worth the risk of taking the baby on the trip.
I needed to be in New York for business on Wed, Thur, and Fri. I wanted to be away from the baby as little as possible, so I booked a red-eye in to New York on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning and the last flight out on Friday. That meant that I was going to be gone a little over 72 hours. My husband offered to take time off work to care for the baby while I was gone. My husband is very capable with all the diapering, burping, bathing, and soothing to sleep. So, my main concern was milk: pumping and storing enough surplus, getting HB to drink from a bottle, and getting HB used to formula as a back-up plan.
Babies like consistency, so I didn't want to introduce too many new things at once. The idea was for this to be a smooth transition. We started with the bottle feeding. For one feed per day, I would pump and then my husband would feed her the bottle. Good plan so far...
The very first feed was total disaster! HB slurped down the whole bottle and within minutes was screaming in pain with gas. While I held the baby crying (me *and* the baby), and feeling like a total failure as a mother, my husband consulted the Baby Whisperer for her tips on how to relieve gas. An hour later, after much patting of the back and rubbing of the tummy, the baby was finally calm. My husband did what he always does when faced with a problem -- consult the internet -- where he found the Dr. Brown's no-gas bottles. We ordered them shipped overnight. Dr. Brown saved us, and subsequent bottle feeds were seamless.
Now that we had her drinking from a bottle, we could move on to banking milk. At that point, HB was eating an average of 7 times per day and a volume of 4 oz. per feed. Pumping and freezing one extra feed per day means that it takes me one week to store up one day's worth of milk. 3-day trip = 3 weeks of pumping. So, I started banking milk when she was 3 weeks old. She was eating every 3 hours, so I would breast feed, wait 1.5 hours, pump, and then breast feed again 1.5 hours later. I thought this would give maximal output to both the pump and the baby. Good plan, but I found that I was pumping about 1 oz shy of a full feed. So, I added a supplemental pump immediately following another feed to get the extra 1 oz. This was a serious commitment! One mid-feed pump, one after feed supplemental pump, and one pre-feed pump for the daily bottle. I made sure to stay hydrated and well-fed so that my milk production would be as plentiful as possible. Still, there were some days that just got too busy for me to fit in a mid-feed pump, and other days where I just wasn't producing enough milk to pump a full feed. So, I got a little behind.
I wanted to make sure that we could use formula as a back-up for the missing milk. So, one week before I left, we started to give her one formula feed per day. She took it without a hitch (from the Dr. Brown's bottles of course!). I took the opportunity of the formula feed to pump and store the milk that would have been fed. That allowed me to catch up on the milk-bank. Before I left, I was able to store around 100 oz. of milk.
Waving goodbye to my baby and husband, I headed off to the airport with my electric breast pump (Medela Pump-in-style) and battery pack (10 AA's for 2 hours of operation!). I wasn't planning on bringing back any milk from the trip, so it was going to be pump-and-dump all the way. It was a really difficult mental transition to go from hoarding every precious ounce of milk to dumping it down the sink. I have to admit that my first "dump" made me queasy.
I pumped once in the airport bathroom before boarding the plane, and once in the airplane bathroom mid-flight. Can I tell you how embarrassed I was at the prospect of tying up an airplane bathroom for 15 whole minutes!? I imagined the people waiting for the bathroom eyeing me as I come out: "What !?%**^@ took you so long?!". I decided that I would go to the back of the plane where there were two bathrooms, so that people in line could just use the other one. Of course, on a red-eye flight with a bit of turbulence, they left the "fasten seatbelt" sign on for most of the flight as my breasts grew increasingly full and uncomfortable. I finally had to get up and ignore the seatbelt mandate. Thankfully the flight attendants didn't stop me.
Once landed at JFK airport, I took a taxi to my hotel in Manhattan. Of course, it was now 6:30am and smack in the middle of rush hour traffic. It took an hour and a half to get to my hotel, another 30 minutes to check in. By this point, my breasts were so engorged that I had completely leaked through my breast pads. My shirt was totally soaked. Luckily I had a sweater in my carry-on bag to throw on to hide it, but I was still mortified. I decided to ditch the environmentally-friendly washable cotton breast pads for the more absorbent disposable ones (by AVENT) for the rest of the trip.
The business meetings went off without a hitch. I went back to my hotel at lunch time to pump. I ended up being able to pump around every 4-5 hours. It's less than the recommended 3 hours, but it was what I was able to manage with the work schedule. I hoped that my milk production upon returning home would not suffer too much.
The idea that I could use this trip to catch up on much needed sleep was humorously optimistic. My sore, full breasts woke me up after around 5 hours of sleep. They were uncomfortable enough that I actually dragged myself out of bed to pump before returning to sleep both nights. I had to laugh that from 3000 miles away, my baby was still "waking me up" in the middle of the night. It's a good thing that she's just too darn cute to be mad at! I missed her immensely.
The return flight was uneventful (except for being 2 hours late), and I was happy to be home and see my baby (and my husband too!). But, by being 2 hours late, I just missed her last feed of the day and she had already gone down for the night. Sadly, I had to wait until the morning to hold her. I sneaked into her room and gave her a kiss on the sweet little forehead before falling into bed myself.
The next morning, she woke up right on cue and happily fed from the breast as if nothing had happened. My fear of her being forever scarred by my absence were allayed. Daddy did a fine job, and all was well with the world. It took 2 weeks for my milk production to come back up to full output. In the mean time, I had to supplement 2-4 oz. of formula with her last feed of the day. But, now we are back on track and doing well.