When choosing whether to bring your pump or your baby on your next trip, consider this comprehensive meta-analysis outlining the merits and pitfalls of each option. It is based on my personal experience and my memory of it, which is poor, due to reasons including but not limited to: mom brain, milk brain, and brain probably being right next to keys, wherever they are.
CATEGORY: CARRY-ON BAG
Your carry-on is a diaper bag filled with squeeze pouches, teething toys, washable books, baby wipes, diapers, and spare clothes. Your wallet and Kindle make it in by the skin of their teeth. You know your Kindle is more likely to be puked on than read, but hope is essential. Hope is what built this great nation and it’s the reason your e-reader makes it into the diaper bag.
Your carry-on is the largest, most fashionable bag you own and it is stuffed with your water bottle, a PB&J sandwich, carrot sticks, and trail mix because no hunger burns hotter than the hunger of a nursing mom. It also holds bottles, breastmilk-specific Ziplock bags, a cooler, all the pump parts, and the battery adapter. You also mustn’t forget your nursing cover (it’s like a superhero cape, worn backward) and your pumping bra. You’re lucky if you can fit your Kindle in along with all of your accouterments, but without a baby on your lap, you are at least guaranteed a chance to read it.
When you nurse your baby, she’s happy. No matter how much the people around you hate the fact that you are using your breasts to (gasp!) feed a baby, they hate the sound of a crying baby even more. If anyone so much as gives you a crooked glance when you whip out your boob, tell them it’s that or ear-piercing screams.
When you turn on your breast pump, it’s all “Wee-WAH!” at the top of its lungs. Unless its mantra for the day is “Do IT. Do IT. Do IT.” or “COME on COME on COME on.” I swear my pump speaks to me. Connecting clear plastic medical grade tubing to a talking, battery-operated black box that turns your nipples into party wieners with the press of a button shouldn’t be awkward at all, whether you do it at the gate before takeoff, in flight, or in the relative privacy of a public restroom.
CATEGORY: ELBOW ROOM
If you are a plebian like myself, you fly economy class, where personal space is limited. Babies don’t help. I have asked a stranger to hold my baby many times in flight. If you’ve ever attempted to access anything stored in the carry-on stowed beneath the seat in front of you, while a human being sits in your lap, then you know why I do not hesitate to ask any random seatmate to hold my baby.
Your pump requires more parts and set-up than a piece of Ikea furniture. If you’re seated next to a businessman, he’ll be clueless initially, but once he catches on, he will keep his eyes glued to his laptop. Best case, you’re next to a teenager who is too busy Snapchatting to even notice you’re there. Since there’s nothing remotely cute, cuddly, or socially acceptable about involving strangers in your pumping endeavors, you can’t ask your seatmate to hold your milk-soaked breast shields for just a sec. You can only pray there’s no turbulence as you pour your liquid gold from your bottles to the storage bag.
When you’re done with your pump, you can stow it away under the seat in front of you.
As you can see, the pump has emerged as a clear winner, ahead of the baby as a travel companion in two out of three categories. “Oh, but that’s not fair!” you say. “The pump has the added complexity of requiring you to find childcare for the baby that you didn’t bring! And what about all the milk you have to pump in advance so the baby won’t starve in your absence? You didn’t even mention that!” Don’t worry about all that, ladies. This is science, and we ran out of funding to test that hypothesis.