By Ying Tian
Going overseas without my son Stryder was never in my plans, especially not when he was still breastfeeding. Hence, when my husband and I planned for a Christmas getaway in Hong Kong just over a month after he was born, we made all the necessary arrangements to get him his passport and an air ticket so he could join us.
However, my paediatrician advised against Stryder travelling with us, as he was still very young and the climate in Hong Kong would be chillier than in Singapore. Although we were very hesitant about leaving him behind, with the support of our family members we proceeded with our plans, but not without doing the preparatory work that allowed me to continue breastfeeding without any problems upon my return.
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Learning from other mummies
I was determined to continue pumping milk during our trip to keep my milk-supply levels up. I also didn’t want to let the milk go to waste by dumping it and sought to find ways to bring the pumped breast milk back with me to Singapore.
I turned to breastfeeding Facebook groups, online forums and blogs, and found a lot of useful information. By the time I set off for Hong Kong, I was confident that I would be able to accomplish what I set out to do. That said, on an emotional level, while I was glad to have some alone time with my husband, I also feared I would suffer from separation anxiety being away from my little one.
It helped that I was already used to pumping milk as Stryder had initially refused to latch on. To ensure that he had a supply of breast milk to drink and not have to use formula milk while I was away, I increased my pump frequencies and built up my ‘freezer stash’ of breast milk before my trip.
My pumping essentials for my five-day trip included: breast milk storage bags; four milk bottles; Spectra 9 Plus portable double electric breast pump; two cooler bags; four reusable ice packs (to keep the breast milk cold while we were travelling); and a Styrofoam box to ensure that the milk remained frozen while we were on the plane (it was bulky but it helped get the breast milk back to Singapore).
Where we would stay was also critical, as I needed the hotel to be willing to help with freezing my breast milk. Ideally, it would have an industrial freezer, as the chances of my breast milk going bad would decrease if it were frozen. When Kimberley Hotel replied that it wouldn’t be a problem as it had a restaurant within the hotel, I immediately booked a room there.
The actual trip
I stuck to my usual routine of pumping milk during the day. At night in the hotel, we would transfer the breast milk from the bottles (which I would store in a cooler bag) to the storage bags and freeze them with the help of the hotel.
The only hitch I faced during the day was the lack of nursing rooms in Hong Kong. I secured a list of available nursing rooms in Hong Kong and we adjusted our itinerary to pass these locations in a manner that would allow me to pump every three to four hours. There were a couple of times that I had to resort to doing my pumping in the handicapped toilet. I had also prepared my outfits to be nursing friendly so I could pump in public spaces when necessary, but didn’t manage to muster up the courage to do so as I was afraid of attracting stares.
By the end of the trip I had 22 bags of frozen breast milk. All our efforts paid off, as when we opened our luggage the breast milk was mostly in a frozen state, and could still be used.
The first Hong Kong trip gave me confidence to do the same for another trip to the Gold Coast.
All went well for this second trip as I was now more experienced, that is until our flight back to Singapore when I was at the airport customs counter. During our check-in, I was given the assurance that I could hand-carry my frozen bags of breast milk, but the customs officer wanted me to dump everything unless I could prove that I was carrying breast milk. I was nearly in tears as I tried to give evidence that I was a mother with the photos I had of Stryder and even his birth certificate. But the officer refused to budge regardless of what I did. Eventually a female officer came by and she let me pass with all my bags intact.
I have since travelled overseas with Stryder and it is really much easier in terms of continuing the breastfeeding routine to let him latch on directly — no need to lug the breast pump everywhere I go. However, I’m prepared and know that it is possible to still bring back the best nutrition for my little one should I need to travel without him again.
Read more of Ying Tian’s adventures with her son Stryder here.