We recently received a message from a reader named Jill who wanted to talk to our contributor, Carrie, about the challenges she had faced and overcome as a new mom working offshore; specifically, the maintenance and transportation of her breast milk supply while offshore to keep her baby fed with an optimum diet while at home.
We have been receiving a lot of questions and interest in general lately about regulations relating to women working offshore while pregnant, but there are so few regulations in place, and so few companies who have any kind of standing pregnancy policy, that we don’t have much to offer on that topic at the moment. But we will keep pursuing the subject and try to build more reference material for whomever might be interested, because it appears to us that the main crux of retention of women in the maritime sector is the challenge of pregnancy, birth, and childcare with respect to maintaining a maritime career during and after the fact.
In the meantime, check out what Carrie and Jill had to say about pumping and transporting breast milk home while offshore:
Message from Jill via SeaSisters.org
Subject: Carrie’s story on being offshore pregnant and pumping offshore
Message: I pumped and dumped offshore after my first son. I traveled offshore at 24 weeks pregnant with my second. Now I’m facing the reality of pumping offshore again. I’d like to talk to Carrie if possible. Wondering if there is a way to keep the supply and not dump. I think they would let me freeze my supply, but I’m worried about the cleanliness of the water supply to wash the pump parts. Thank you,
Hello, it is great to have the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow offshore mom! I would love to chat about my thoughts on pumping offshore. Thank you so much for reaching out through seasisters!
In order to really understand your situation and to gauge the logistics you will encounter traveling to work and during the duration of your offshore hitch, can you tell me more about your offshore assignment during which you will want to try pumping and storing your breast milk?
Water quality onboard different vessels varies. The engineering team onboard our vessel currently uses a reverse osmosis system. Seawater is pumped from the sea chests, the osmosis plant separates the salt from the seawater, the now-fresh water is run through UV filters and then chlorine tablets are added to the potable water tanks to kill any remaining bacteria. I have talked to several engineers and there is no clear standard to exactly how much chlorine is added to the potable water which scares me a little. We are talking the same chlorine tabs that you add to pools to keep them clean. But on the other hand, most of the engineers feel comfortable drinking the potable water themselves. This is the fresh water supply the vessel uses for bathing and general catering purposes. They tell us not to drink the water here, not because it is necessarily unsafe to drink, but because they don't want to risk the water somehow becoming contaminated and a $650,000-per-day vessel losing all of its crew members because they consumed bad water.
It is less risky for my company to just purchase bottled water and tell the crew not to use the potable water for drinking. This being said, I would feel safe washing my pump parts in this water. Check onboard your vessel for the specifics. If I was to keep the breast milk I pumped offshore, I would either wash with the regular potable water or bottled water, and then sterilize the pump parts after I washed them so there would be no issue of bacteria whatsoever. You can buy sterilizers that plug into an outlet, or my personal favorite is the microwave steam bags that you can reuse around 20 times and then throw away. In an absolute pinch, when there isn't a microwave handy, I used Dr. Brown's Breast pump part sanitizing wipes [Dr. Browns are no longer manufactured but these Medela sanitizing wipes are the same thing.]
My husband, sister, and several of my mom’s friends brainstormed MANY scenarios in regard to my personal situation of wanting to keep my breast milk supply going for my son and keeping the milk without dumping it. The issues I faced included the below topics:
-Breast pumps (BP): battery operated vs. AC power vs. hand pumps
Places to pump. This is where the battery-powered pumps are king because you can use them wherever, whenever, as long as the battery is charged. Battery longevity varies per pump and age of the machine. Pump power and effectiveness also varies per BP manufacturer. Make sure you try the pump at home and know it well prior to traveling with it.
Places to charge the battery-operated BP if you are traveling on long flights/long distance to the vessel; have an extra cord in case the power charger fails.
Keeping a manual pump on hand means at least you have one to get the job done as a backup when all else fails.
Breast pumps have A LOT of accessories!
-“Keep Cool Bag” for breast milk when in transit
There are many different types to choose from but the wisest choice would be to find something that is neither too large/bulky to be a carry-on in a plane, nor too small to fit the quantity of breast milk you need to transport.
Finding a reliable bag that actually keeps the contents cool
Method of keeping the contents cool: Ice pack - will the ice melt and then leak? Will the ice pack last long enough to get home? Will TSA let you travel with a bag containing ice, or will they confiscate it? Could there be places to refreeze the ice packs along my trip to or from the rig?
-Shipping container to ship the frozen breast milk that I have pumped throughout my hitch offshore on the vessel.
TSA will not allow "more than a reasonable amount of breast milk" as a carry-on through TSA security. *See below section for info I found on the web regarding TSA and breast milk.
Filling the shipping container with the breast milk and enough keep-cool material (ice, ice packs, dry ice) to make it home safely.
Transporting the shipping container full of BM from the vessel to the airport.
Freezing conditions onboard the vessel and transporting the BM home
My husband and I were really worried about curious crew members poking around in my personal effects and the capability level of the Campboss patrolling or enforcing Angolan catering crew to stay out of my frozen breast milk. There are only the walk-in freezers onboard my drillship. If the galley crew is willing (as you said in your email) to let you keep your breast milk in their freezer, that is a huge bonus.
I was worried about the copious amount of "carry on items" I would need to bring with me through security and on the plane and eventually to the vessel. I am/was self-conscious about having to explain and defend myself to everyone around me about traveling with breast milk and the necessary supplies without my child. I was worried that I would put all this work into breast milk travel logistics to only have the milk thrown away by a disrespectful TSA agent or refused transport by the airlines. I was not confident enough to "power through" all the physical and emotional challenges of saving my breast milk to bring home.
I absolutely, 100% want to support you in your breast milk pumping and storing adventures. Please let me know your situation and we can brainstorm together! My husband and I are trying for our second currently (fingers crossed!) and together we could come up with a plan for storing and bringing home breast milk for our little ones, or as an afterthought, donating the milk to a local family. I can't wait to hear your thoughts.
*More on Traveling with breast milk at airports through TSA: https://exclusivepumping.com/traveling-with-breast-milk/
Traveling with Breast Milk by Plane
One good thing about flying is that your breast pump is considered a “medical device” and therefore doesn’t count as a carry-on, so you can plan on packing your luggage as you normally would.
Packing your milk
For passengers flying in the U.S., while there is no defined limit to how much breast milk you can bring with you, the TSA website references a “reasonable amount.” Leaving “reasonable amount” up to an individual TSA officer would make me nervous, so if you need to bring a substantial amount of breast milk with you on a trip, I would probably opt to either ship it ahead to your destination or check it. This is a great tutorial on how to ship breast milk with dry ice; if you need to check it, you could try using a large cooler like this. Make sure you check with your airline ahead of time, though, just to make sure there are no surprises at the airport.If you’re bringing just a few bottles, store them in a small cooler bag with an ice pack, similar to the one I mentioned above. Make sure that the ice pack is frozen solid when you leave for the airport; if it’s not, it might be treated as a liquid and be subjected to additional screening.
Going through the security checkpoint
If you’re carrying on breast milk, be sure to take your milk out when you take out your other liquids, laptop, etc., during the screening process, and make sure you tell the screener that you’re traveling with breast milk and that you have a pump. They will likely examine the milk by x-ray.It’s a good idea to print out the TSA guidelines to bring with you, in case your screener is not familiar with how breast milk is screened.
Thanks again for your detailed email and your support! I literally googled ‘pumping breastmilk offshore’ and your article came up. Like you, I’ve traveled internationally while pumping and have had to get creative. I’ve pumped in lavatories while en route to China (tried to do this while most folks slept and chuckled a bit while reading your article because I very much related to your airplane experience), in shipyard bathrooms in the Netherlands, and in heliport briefing rooms with a locked door and my back turned toward the glass part of the door.
Luckily, my next offshore experience will be domestic. I live in Houston and would fly out of a heliport 2 hours from New Orleans. I’m really glad you brought up the TSA issue. With that in mind, I may just drive to Louisiana so I can control the return of the breast milk.
My biggest concern was water quality and possibly contaminating the milk. I’m not sure yet if I’d be on our new rig or the 30 year old DCV. With that in mind and your advice, I would use bottled water to wash and sterilize in the microwaveable bags. I think I’ll pump directly into the Kiinde bags. I have them on hand but have yet to try them out. One less thing to wash though!
I’m not shy about claiming freezer space as everyone knew I was pregnant and I know I would have the support. I may even be able to swing a microwave and mini fridge in my room, or ship a combo out if I’m on the vessel and not the rig. Space is more limited in the rig’s quarters.
Thank you for your advice, fingers crossed for number two!
I feel humbled that my story was one of the google search results, and flattered you read and enjoyed my post! I am happy that you can relate to the story, but saddened that this situation is all too common to women working away from their babies. When I wrote my article, I wanted to get the word out on how difficult it is to keep your breast milk supply going while on a business trip. A heavily populated, diverse place like an airport should have the basic necessities for breastfeeding women. It is sad our society makes it so difficult for breastfeeding moms, with or without a baby in tow, to keep their supply going or to supply the basic needs of their children in private. I hope as more women enter the workforce, this will change.
Your situation seems incredibly positive for keeping breast milk on board your vessel. If I were in your scenario I would drive from Houston as well, or call the airport prior to travel to ensure you have the "Manager on duty" number to authorize any checked breast milk onto the airplane etc.
My husband and I have traveled through Louis Armstrong Airport many times with checked liquids in a cooler with ice packs. Just make sure the cooler is taped shut so if any contents leak, they will stay in the cooler. Driving seems the less stressful of the two options. The Kiinde breast pump bags are great; I bought a bunch, they’re worth their weight in gold, and less to clean up is great, too! You can also freeze your breast milk in the Medela plastic bottles, which you can pump directly into as well, and warm the milk up from the frozen bottle. I put the frozen breast milk bottle in the bottle warmer - this takes a little more time - screw the baby bottle nipple on, and you’re ready to feed. This avoids the risk of spilling milk all over while trying to pour the warmed frozen milk from the Kiinde bags into a baby bottle for feeding. Just one more option you can use. A refrigerator and a microwave in your cabin would be huge, all amazing benefits! I am so excited and inspired by you!
Please keep in touch and enjoy your little one, motherhood is the best blessing a woman can be gifted.
Thanks so much for your input! Your advice makes me more confident about keeping my supply. When I pumped and dumped months worth of milk, I nearly cried a little every time!
My husband previously worked offshore in W. Africa. I talked to him about your experience and he thought your donation idea was incredible!
And Elizabeth, I would love to contribute to Sea Sisters. What a great community for women like us. I may have an idea for a story on the hurdles needed to go offshore in the second trimester of pregnancy. My biggest concern was the helicopter possibly affecting the baby’s hearing. There really isn’t a lot of guidance on this so our family pediatrician referred me to the CDC website and wished me luck! I decided to go, considering pregnant women go on Babymoon helicopter tours. That’s basically the only resource I could find! Baby’s hearing is just fine.
I am hugely inspired by the openness and candor with which these women recount their experiences and offer each other support. I have hope and confidence that discussions like this will help countless women in this industry who would like to have children but are bewildered by the looming challenge of traveling and working while pumping milk for their babies back home. Thank you, ladies!
We will check in with Jill soon on her progress in this endeavor!
* To clarify: we do not claim to favor breast milk over formula, or breastfeeding over pumping. Breastfeeding does not come easily to all mothers, and circumstances do not always guarantee that a new parent can provide their own breastmilk to a new baby (think same-sex couples and adoptions, for starters). “Fed is best”, and there are many different ways to go about handling infant nutrition. We just want to support the moms who have been looking everywhere for information on pumping while working offshore, and getting that milk home, but have as yet had no luck. You found us! Welcome! And thanks for reading.
posted by Elizabeth Simenstad