One of my mommy friends reached out to me a while ago asking me to do a post about traveling with breastmilk and I thought it was such a great idea! In general, it’s not too difficult to navigate but there a few things you should know… including your rights! I have been flying with pumped breastmilk since Lily was THREE WEEKS OLD. I am officially a pro at this, you guys. Traveling with your child can be stressful and pumping during time away from your baby can be even worse. There are a few things to know before you go and I’ll share my tips with you so you can be fully prepared and hopefully a little less stressed on your trip!
- How to pack: Your breastmilk DOES NOT need to follow the 3-1-1 TSA rule, meaning breastmilk in amounts over 3.4 oz. can travel in your carry-on luggage with you. To be safe, I try not to travel with a ton of milk and I usually pack mine in Medela zip bags or Medela plastic pump bottles. Get a highly rated, leak-proof soft-sided cooler and a frozen gel pack or two, place your breast milk (or formula or juice) in the cooler and zip it up! It’s that simple. I try to find the smallest cooler I can because I’m an over-packer and need all the space I can get. A quick note: the 3-1-1 rule DOES apply to cow’s milk; however, I have packed almond/hemp/cashew milk along with my breast milk (in the same Medela bags) and have never had a problem with it. Feel free to also pack your liquid/gel filled teethers and your canned/jarred/processed baby food. Packing your breastmilk in a cooler in your checked luggage is also fine but keep in mind, you can’t check for spills/leaks! I would double bag the milk in large Ziplocs and keep it away from anything that can’t get wet. Your pump is allowed in your carry-on bag, just be prepared to have your bag pulled aside for extra screening!
- Fresh or Frozen: The TSA breastmilk rules SHOULD apply to frozen and fresh milk the same; however, I have read horror stories about women who were made to throw out their frozen milk or had it handled improperly. I don’t fly with frozen milk for one reason: even with a really good cooler, the chance of the milk starting to melt is huge. Keep in mind those cooler bags keep your things closer to fridge temperature than freezer temperature. When your milk starts to defrost, it should not be re-frozen and you should feed it to your child ASAP. Cold (not frozen) milk can last in cooler bags for up to 24 hours if you want to keep it passed then, get it in the fridge ASAP. You can ship your frozen milk via UPS or FedEx using dry ice and have a much better chance of it staying frozen.
- Going Through Security: As I mentioned above, TSA doesn’t always follow its own rules. If you want to be extra prepared, you can print out the TSA’s official policy and show it to the agent if you have any trouble. When you get to the screening area, take out your cooler and let the TSA agent know that you have breastmilk, juice or formula inside of it. Research has shown that X-Ray waves do not affect breastmilk, so you can comfortably allow your breastmilk to pass through the machine. I was told (incorrectly, it seems) irradiating milk can zap the nutrients out of it so, to be extra careful, I ask to have alternate screening (hand check) for my milk. If you do this, an agent will pull the milk aside to the area they use to do the extra screening for bags. When I’ve had my milk screened, they usually just wipe the outside of the containers and use a test to check for explosive matter. Some agents may ask you to open your milk and pour a little bit into a testing cup or into the garbage, though this has never happened to me. You should NEVER be asked to dump your milk completely or to take a sip of it (yes, this has happened to other moms!!!).
- Using Your Milk on the Plane: This was such a stressful thing for me to think about the first couple of times we traveled. I tried little portable milk warmers or would rush into a bathroom to run it under the sink before we got on the plane. As most moms do, I panicked a little less every time. What we usually do is ask for a disposable coffee cup (or bring one with us in our cooler) and ask a flight attended for hot water. Then, we mix the hot water with some cold water from a bottle until it’s just warm enough. As Lily got older, though, we were able to just give her cold milk and she enjoyed it just the same. The nice thing about cold milk is that there is no rush to feed it right away, you can give your child a little then put it back in the cooler and give him/her a little more later.
I know it can be difficult to adjust to traveling as a mom but I promise, you’ll get the hang of it! My biggest piece of advice is to leave a little early so you don’t have to be in a panicked rush to catch your flight. Security will take a little longer while traveling with milk or a child, so be prepared. Between traveling with breastmilk, a toddler, a dog, and being pregnant (I don’t go through metal detectors while I’m pregnant) it can take us quite a while to get through security. We have TSA pre-check which really helps but no matter what, you feel exhausted by the time you get to the other side. I’ve also traveled by myself with Lily a lot. DON’T be afraid of asking for help. I will ask an agent or a kind stranger to help me fold up my stroller or to put my bags up on the belt so I can hold on to Lily and hand over my cooler bag. Many people love to help new moms and they especially like that their assistance can help move things along a little faster. When it comes to TSA, always approach the process with a smile on your face and a lot of grace but please, DO NOT let them bully you. If you follow the advice above, you are within your rights and just because an agent may not be aware of their own policy, it doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your hard-earned milk. Don’t be afraid of feeling high-maintenance or like you’re being a pain, this is YOUR milk and YOUR child you are caring for, you have the right to have everything handled properly and respectfully.