Being sent overseas? Want to continue providing your breastmilk to your baby? Here are some tips and techniques for making it happen.
For any type of deployment that will last longer than just a few weeks, you have a couple of choices: you can pump and dump your milk, you can pump and ship your milk home, or you may have to wean your baby. Deciding what is your best option depends on your MOS, your command, where you are being sent, the accommodations you’ll have, what kind of conditions you’ll be in, and other factors. It is possible to manage pumping while overseas with some preparation and perseverance.
When you get your orders, speak with your supervisor, don’t go deployment hoping that you can pump without anyone knowing about it. Let your command know that you plan on pumping and what your requirements will be, such as the amount of time you will need (10-15 minutes four to six times in 24 hours) and what kind of accommodations might be available and suitable. Begin pumping and storing extra milk as soon as know when your ship out date is. Pump as often as possible, including when you are at home, to build up a good stockpile. Pack your pump and extra parts such as membranes and tubing, milk bags, and cleaning supplies with you (be prepared to pump during the long flight overseas). You may need an adaptor for your pump due to the overseas electric outlets.
In the Field
If you will be at a forward operating base with personnel quarters and medical facilities, you can probably find someplace that could be converted or used as a pumping area. You can also speak with personnel in medical to see if you can also store your milk in their freezers while waiting to ship it home. As with FTX’s or TDY’s you will need to pump as often as possible, but at least four to six times in 24 hours and at least one to two times overnight, to maintain your milk supply. Be prepared that your supply may drop. Make sure that you also eat and drink enough to help with your supply as well. Some of the tips on the Supply Issues page may be helpful. You have the choice to pump and dump (useful for maintaining your supply) which is cheaper, but means your baby at home will require formula. Or you can opt to pump and ship your milk home (also useful for maintaining your supply) which can be very expensive. Take a look at the Shipping Milk page for tips on what to expect when shipping milk from overseas, supplies you will need and how to properly package and ship your milk home. Read this story about a Captain in the Air Force who shipped her milk home from Afghanistan for nearly 5 months in 2007.
There are going to be overseas deployments where you simply must wean, such as combat conditions and deployments of six months or more. If you opt to wean and you know your date of deployment ahead of time, wean gradually to ease the transition emotionally and physically for your baby and yourself. While you may be tempted to breastfeed your infant until the last day before departure to prolong the relationship, it is harder on you physically to do so (see the section on Weaning for more information). Also be aware that with deployments of any length, but especially long ones, it is very likely that your baby will not return to the breast. This can be a very bittersweet reality, however as tough as this time will be in your life, be proud that you have given your baby the gift of breastfeeding and your breastmilk for whatever amount of time that you could.