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Across the Oceans...

My Experience of Breastfeeding & Being Away from Baby

by Ms Aileen Tan
(This story appeared in "Keeping Abreast" July/September 1999 issue)

“Is it possible?  Can I do it?  Have to pump to keep up the milk supply – should I discard the milk or bring it back?  If so, how & where to store the milk? How to transport the milk back?  After the long separation, would Elias still know how to suckle?  If Elias is weaned at the end of my trip, all my efforts would have been wasted!  Is it worth it?”  All these questions and more were running through my head.

When I was given notice of the 3-week business trip to Boise, Idaho (in USA), I told myself ‘No big deal, I will find a way out.”  That was in early September and the flight was at the end of November. I was thankful for the ample notice.  I'd breastfed my first daughter for 3 months and had to stop because of some health problem.  It was a pity, and I was reluctant to let a three-week trip spoil my plan to breastfeed Elias for a longer period.

Two main things I did first were to buy an Ameda electric breastpump and to start building a supply of Expressed Breast Milk (EBM).

Electric pump - was it necessary?
I did some thinking before buying the pump since it was not that cheap.  I figured that it would be more efficient than my handpump as it was electric & a dual-side pump.  Dual-pumping  helps stimulate a better letdown reflex.

Building up the EBM stock
From September onwards, I began to freeze a 5-oz bag everyday.  By the time I had to go, I had about 40 bags of such frozen EBM.  That was not enough, so my friend who had a good freezer stash gave me some of hers.

What I brought with me
My baby boy, Elias was just over 3 months' old when I crept out in the middle of the night to catch my flight.  With 2 huge suitcases, it looked like I was going to be away for months!  The truth was that I had these extra things that no ordinary traveller would bring:  an electric breast pump, an adapter for US voltage, a half dozen batteries, a hand pump, a plastic container with sterilizing tablets, dishwashing liquid, milk storage bags & clips, 20 bottles, 2 ice-packs, 2 ice-cooler bags, sticky labels…I really wanted to be as prepared as I know how.   The rest I left to God.

The Adventure Begins
The flight was long and a little worse than I had expected.  I had pumped during the flight, so when I landed in Boise, I quickly checked into the hotel and got my EBM sent to the kitchen for freezer storage.  This was a little inconvenient, so I was glad when I found this colleague who was staying in a service apartment.  Henceforth, I visited her every night to put my EBM in her freezer.  Some nights, I even had the audacity to ask her to bring my EBM back, transfer them from milk bottles to storage bags, label and freeze for me.  She was truly very kind.

So I settled into a routine of expressing.  I would wake earlier to express before I leave for work, and about twice during work and once more before I sleep. As the electric pump was "hands free", I could actually get some work done while pumping.  There was a fridge in both my hotel room and my workplace pantry, so storage was convenient.  I used a cooler bag to transport the milk from the office to my colleague's apartment.

Soon, it was my last week in Boise.  I had mixed feelings.  I looked forward to seeing my family again, but at the same time I was in a nervous panic because I still had not the faintest idea as to how I was to transport my EBM back to Singapore.  I was in a ‘desperate’ state when one day, I received good news from our shipping department - there was an icebox for me!  It was a good-sized icebox that was used for sending mold compound items inter-company.  Despite it's size, it was still not large enough and I had to throw away about 1 week’s supply of EBM.  Still I was content to be able to bring home the other two-third.

I scouted around and found a 24-hour supermarket where I could buy dry ice just before I left on my early morning flight.  Now, all I needed was to make sure that I would have enough dry ice for the EBM to stay frozen throughout my journey home.

As for the dry ice, here's a little information on how it works:  5Llbs of dry ice lasts 12 hours, 10 Llbs lasts 24 hours, and 15 Llbs lasts 36 hours.  I settled for slightly over 10 Llbs of dry ice.  I had to optimize the amount of EBM I could bring back and yet not risk having too little dry ice to keep them frozen.  It was a close margin.

My Journey Home
My scheduled flight was 23 hours.  But of course, time was "wasted" with baggage claim and the car rides.  To add to my panic, both connecting flights from Seattle to Narita and from Narita to Singapore were delayed for a total of two hours!  I kept looking at my watch, hoping for a miracle.  Thankfully, we landed at the Singapore Changi Airport only 10 minutes later than the original schedule!

As soon as I reached home, I tore up the icebox and saw that there was still a handful of dry ice left and all the EBM still frozen!  I whispered prayers of thanks.

When Elias woke the next morning, I tried to nurse him.  I was eager to find out if he still wanted the breast.  Initially, he showed no signs of interest or familiarity.  My heart sank a little, but I tried again by offering him the other breast.  Slowly, his little mouth opened, closed round the nipple, and then I felt the rhythmic pull against my breast.  I had not wasted  my effort!  Over the next couple of weeks, Elias also happily finished up those bags of weathered EBM.

It was a busy trip.  Nevertheless, I am glad that I made that commitment and have thus been able to continue breastfeeding Baby Elias.


Aileen Tan works full-time in an American MNC.
This story was written in April 1999.

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