Remote and low-resource environments

Although I do not do international development work professionally, I have heard from pumping moms whose jobs take them to remote areas and low-resource environments where local colleagues and contacts may be unfamiliar with breast pumps. There are particular challenges associated with pumping, storing, and transporting breast milk in these conditions and I appreciate the moms who have taken the time to contact me with guidance, tips, and advice for handling these situations.

Keeping milk frozen over the duration of very long flights/layovers. To keep milk frozen for really long periods of time–like 30 hour travel days–the recommendation is to put garbage bags into a collapsible freezer and then pack Techni Ice all around, alternating layers of milk and Techni Ice. This type of ice is also useful for day trips away from a hotel or office or if you are staying in a hostel, hotel, or other location without power.

Alternatives to rechargeable batteries. In some developing countries, it is either very hard to locate good quality batteries, very expensive to buy rechargeable batteries, or difficult to get reliable power outlets to recharge the batteries. Unless you are bringing a lot of disposable batteries (a heavy and expensive proposition), it may be necessary to invest in an adapter that has worldwide voltage input so it can be used in the United States or internationally with a converter. The MayMom is recommended. Be sure to get the right unit for your brand of pump.

Modesty in different cultures. Traveling in countries or on flights where modesty is a major consideration may make public pumping very difficult. Enlist the help of the flight attendants. Ask for their help in arranging for you to use the Crew Sleep area–the seats that they curtain off for their naps–or another suitable, more private location.

Being away from the hotel/office when traveling. In the developing world, it may be especially difficult to locate places that are suitable for pumping. Frequently, adequate private space, reliable and safe plumbing, and electrical outlets are at a premium. To prepare for these challenging situations, pumping moms are best advised to bring several sheets of Techni Ice, a collapsible cooler, batteries, nursing cover, and lots of breast pump wipes. Certain locations, like a person’s private office or the kitchen at a work site provide privacy and decent amenities. Pumping in vehicles in these environments may be particularly difficult because children will quickly identify a foreigner in a car and pay close, unwanted attention.

Negotiating customs. Getting milk and breast pumps though customs and security in countries where people are not familiar with the practice is a challenge. The best advice is to draft a general letter that states the pumping mom’s name, affiliated organization or company, title and role, purpose for traveling in the country, and background information about the baby (i.e., age, still nursing) and explaining the need of the mother to pump (as well as describing the equipment necessary to express, store, and transport the milk). Have the letter translated into the local language, if necessary, and have it signed by the highest level person in the local organization. In addition to facilitating the transportation of the expressed milk, the letter may also make it easier to secure a private place to pump in the airport.