What a day in the life looks like of a breastfeeding mom with a young baby who works a corporate job as a travelling sales representative.
I work as a travelling sales representative for a multinational company in agriculture. This requires large amounts of travelling, mostly in my dedicated area of sales (around 2 hours drive to my furthest clients from home). In some instances, I am required to travel to our head offices in Johannesburg.
For my day-to-day work, travelling around my area, I have an inverter installed in my vehicle. This enables me to use my breast pump with a two-point plug wherever I travel to with my vehicle. This is crucial for me, as I spend a lot of time in rural areas on farms.
Shortly before my baby turned 6 months old, I had to travel up to the Johannesburg office for a three-day workshop. I organised with my line-manager that I would attend the first two days of the workshop. This required flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
At an estimate, I had around 35 hours of breastmilk saved up at the time. This was from expressing extra milk from two weeks before I had to travel, and we had formula as a back-up. My baby would not go hungry! Dad was in charge of baby at night and our nanny would be there during the day.
The week before the workshop, I phoned my Human Resources representative to find out if our Johannesburg offices had an expressing space. They did not, and I picked up that this is not something that had been requested before. Kindly my colleague booked out a second conference room for me for the two days, which would enable me to be able to attend the workshop and express during the breaks.
On the day of travel, I left home at 3am. This ensured that I had enough time at the airport to pump before catching my early morning flight. At first, I thought I could fit my breast pump in a suitcase that could be checked in… but the pump box only fitted in an old duffel bag that wouldn’t offer the pump any protection. Hand luggage it was then! I packed a small suitcase with my cooler bag & extra water bottles that I would store the pumped breastmilk in. This was checked in and the pump went as hand luggage along with my laptop bag. Security fortunately didn’t bat an eye-lid and only one flight attendant asked: ‘Ma’am, may I ask what is in the box?’, and luckily didn’t ask further questions after I shortly answered ‘breast pump’.
At the conference one colleague asked me why I brought my cat with when he saw the breast pump’s box. It broke the ice and everyone had a good laugh when I responded with: “it is my milking station”. It helps keeping things lighthearted in these potentially awkward situations.
I stored the expressed milk in a cooler bag with ice bricks, and later the evening refroze the ice bricks in my hotel room’s bar fridge. The expressed milk remained chilled in the cooler bag during the day and I popped it in the bar fridge overnight. The next day I flew home again late afternoon after attending the workshop all day. I checked-in my stash of expressed milk in with my luggage and froze it immediately on getting home. On arriving back in Cape Town, I could pump again when I got to my vehicle before driving home.
Whilst I'd been away I hadn't been able to empty my breasts as effectively as when my baby breastfeeds, so they were feeling sensitive. After getting home I gave my baby as much opportunity to breastfeed as possible, which greatly helped to reduce the inflammation and soreness and no other interventions were needed.
Sometimes we just need to ask! I'm the first person to have been pregnant and had a baby whilst fulfilling my role in the company that I work for. My aim is to keep breastfeeding until my baby is at least a year old. So far, I have been able to have open conversations with my (mostly male) colleagues, answer their questions, and have received their support once they got over their initial shock.
By asking, I am hoping to set the stage for other mommies to come! I feel it is critical to be an example and pave the way where possible, even if the steps feel small. I am grateful for my copy of “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” and the support and ideas I have received from LLLSA Leaders and the LLLSA Working mom’s WhatsApp group!
I attended the La Leche League South Africa course for mothers returning to work in June 2023. It was great. I really appreciated the milk storage advice and tips, like storing milk in a container and placing that in a second container holding cold water if you have nothing else to keep it cool. That has definitely come in handy.
I also appreciate just being part of the group and hearing everyone's questions. In some instances that covers questions I didn't even know were questions. Or gives me better ideas for problem solving should the need arise.
- Nicolize Stigaard