Tips About Pumping While Traveling and Flying with Breast Milk

All you need to know about traveling while pumping and flying with breast milk. From security, to the gate, up in the air and even on the way back - Park Slope moms share their experiences about flying with breast milk and pumping (plus tips for alternatives to breastmilk). Includes advice from some of our amazing working moms about what they did when they had to travel for business!

 

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ONE PARENT ASKS:

 

"I've read the TSA guidelines and all the storage guidelines I can find, but wonder if anyone has any specific advice on storing and then flying with breast milk for a 3-day business trip (i.e., refrigerating versus freezing during the trip, checking luggage versus carrying on, etc.).  I'm leaning towards refrigerating, then traveling with the milk in a cooler in my carry-on, then freezing when I get home, but would welcome any advice or suggestions."

 

QUICK LINK:

Read our frozen breast milk tips here.

 

IN THIS ARTICLE YOU WILL FIND ADVICE ABOUT:

Storage

What to bring

Security

At the aiport and in flight

General Advice

Emergency Planning and Alternatives

Other resources

 

STORAGE:

 

Bring a cooler just for milk:

“I would recommend bringing a sense of humor.
I was told more than once at security that the breast milk had to be in a separate bag (separate from the pump and so on), so bringing a cooler that just has the milk in it for the travel sounds just right. I always carried it on.
I never had a freezer while travelling, so I mostly either refrigerated or just threw away. That was ok for me because I was supplementing, so the pumping while travelling was as much about keeping up the milk supply for my return as it was about actually getting that particular milk home.
I never once had it taken away from me; but it was always given an extra check, and the responses to what it was verged from jokey to embarrassed on the part of the male security gents. But no one ever tried to take it away from me!
I always thought I would call my memoir "Taking breast milk Through Security.”

A clever trick for keeping breast milk chilled:

“I recently traveled from Germany to the U.S. with pumped breast milk. I had no problems. I doubt you would encounter problems traveling between the U.S. and the U.K. Generally, the most restrictive security measures are those of the U.S.
Since I have never been clear on the policy regarding ice, I simply threw out my ice before going through security and asked for new ice to put in a baggie from a food stand after passing through security. I also asked for fresh ice from the flight attendants mid-flight.”

 "The biggest concern I had while travelling abroad was refrigeration.  Those hotel beverage fridges are not cold enough to keep milk from spoiling.  The best setup I had (once) was a full sized fridge with freezer in one of those suites with a full sink - great for washing all those parts (I bought a small dish soap while there and brought my bottle brush).  I believe the hotel provided the upgrade for free to accommodate my circumstance (but they're so nice in Canada!), so it's worth asking. On that trip I used the freezer to freeze all the milk flat in bags as well as the small hard shell gel packs I brought and that kept the entire bag pack frozen or partially frozen for the entire trip back - about 11 hours.  It could have gone at least another 6 or 8 hours and been fine. The bags were tightly packed and well insulated.
On another trip I asked the front desk to use their freezer (since they only had those beverage fridges) which they obliged, but then, despite my written note attached to the bag to keep the cold pack unzipped, they stuck it in the freezer zipped and nothing actually froze overnight! I believe I triaged this by getting cubed ice at the airport and placing it in a few empty milk bags to make make-shift ice packs, which survived the trip home - Not ideal if you have long hours on the flight back, but you could in theory keep replacing the ice as it melted on the plane... bring extra zip locks and milk bags in case!
I also hand pumped (covered up in a blanket) in business class on an overnight flight and while it felt dicey, honesty nobody noticed!"

Need to get the milk home? Overnight Mail it!

"If you really want to make sure to conserve the milk I know you can also have it sent home via overnight mail on dry ice. I never did it myself but I know people who didn't want to waste an ounce and did this. A good hotel can help coordinate it."

Do you really want to keep the milk though?

"My only other thought is to consider what milk you really want to save. I found that pumping in public bathrooms and on planes wasn't the most sanitary, so I dumped my milk rather than bring it back. It killed me a little bit, but I was traveling to multiple cities and toting my milk around would have been kind of crazy... not to mention that cleaning in pump parts in your hotel room doesn't feel that sanitary."

 

WHAT TO BRING:

 

Some tips of what to bring:

“I have only flown domestic (several times) since my baby was born in June, and here they allowed water (I told them it was sterilized for the baby), breast milk, and pre-made formula.  Ice packs are ok too but you will get held up as they test everything.  I found that if i carried everything in one place (like the medela cooler bag) and told TSA about it beforehand, they were very accommodating.  My friend uses ice packs that don't have gel (maybe they're the ones you shake and then get cold).  Pumping on the plane SUCKS.  There's no other way but to tell the flight attendant and let people stand outside the bathroom and knock while you do it.  I bought portable medala wipes for cleaning pump parts when you don't have access to water - they're great.”

"I did travel a lot while I was still breastfeeding, and, it is totally doable - particularly with short trips. Pumping in an airplane bathroom is less than fun, but there are worse things I suppose. When I traveled, I brought the pump as well as the cooler and ice pack. I also bought a packit (a bag with a frozen pack built into it). When I would arrive at a hotel or office for a meeting, I'd ask to place the coolers in their freezer, and would keep the milk in the mini fridge with me ... I just felt more comfortable having it near me vs. in some random hotel freezer somewhere."

"When I travelled while pumping, I bought this cooler bag and a couple of Medela ice packs to store milk in transit, and refrigerated it whenever I could at hotels or anywhere else I'd be for a few hours at a time.  I found that I could fit more milk into the cooler using the Lansinoh pump / storage bags instead of bottle and they held up well on the flights."

"I find the Medela Freestyle the best as it's small, compact, efficient and the battery lasts several days so you don't need an outlet and can put the pump in your (large) handbag allowing you to maintain the carry on luggage limit."

"I was just away from my daughter for two days this past wknd and the pumping while traveling situation is definitely tricky! A few things I learned along the way: 
1. Make sure you take the battery pack for your pump in case there are no outlets on the plane (I totally forgot)! 
2. I think pumping when you get on the plane should be fine or before at 4am - whichever is less stressful 
3. Re the time diff - I think (as far as I understand it), it’s just about staying consistent with the schedule and pumping often enough vs at a set time if it can’t be helped. I was told by lactation consultants the max you should go b/w pumpings is 5 hrs so I try to stick to that rule if I can’t do every 3 hrs like I do at work. I waited 5 hrs bw session while away from the baby last weekend so I could do things and was fine! 
4. Regarding what to do will the milk to keep it cool.
A few ideas: on the plane, the flight attendants were kind enough to give me bags of ice when my ice pack got too warm. Also hotels are super nice and kind about putting milk in the fridge and ice packs in the freezer. Can you potentially just go to a hotel and pretend you are a guest who hasn’t checked in yet and leave your milk there till you head out? A little bit of a crazy idea but it could work! I am not sure about the time difference over night but considering it’s only 3 hours as long as you pump right before bed and when you wake up I think it should be fine bc it’s still the same number of hours? Not sure but am very curious so let me know! Good luck being away from the baby! It’s hard but nice to get some extra sleep! Oh also don’t forget to bring freezer bags for milk, I used those instead of bottles since it’s was a few days I could fit the bags more easily in the cooler for transport!"

"I was able to bring back every drop of milk (that wasn't compromised by adult fun...)! The flight attendants filled up the freezer bags I brought (thanks to your tip!) with ice, and then I ended up connecting with a friend's sister when I landed in San Fran and she let me put my milk in her fridge while we wandered around. I froze that milk at the house we were staying at and all the rest of the milk I pumped, and it ended up staying mostly frozen all the way back to Brooklyn with my cooler bag and a little more airplane ice.  I pumped before I left at 4am and I'm glad i did because it left my mom an extra couple of bottles in the fridge. But I had to pump SO many times the first day because we were up for 22 hours. Saturday I pumped every 5 hours and then Sunday I only pumped 3 times because of travel logistics. Time difference had no effect strangely and I didn't wake up to pump. And 2 days back, seems like things are mostly back on track. I have pumped like 1-2oz less in the afternoon at work, but I hope that goes back up when I'm able to nurse Marco for a few days coming up this weekend."

"I just got back from a trip to San Fran. Here is what I did. I pumped before I left, then at the airport before flight. I brought a cooler and ice pack and didn't have issues at security, just make sure it's still frozen. I didnt pump until I got into my hotel at Sanfran like 8 hours later. I was ok, just pumped extra.   If it will be a while till you get to hotel, grab a ziplock and ask someone to fill with ice when you get into town, that will buy you some extra refrigerator time.  I didn't go crazy trying to wake up early. I just tried to pump when I woke up and 5x a day like I usually do. I was ok but I know everyone is different. Good luck!  Pack a large cooler big enough for the milk and pump parts, bottle brush, bottle soap, microwave steam bag if you have one, really good milk storage bags and extra ice packs and well as some zip locks. Of course your pump with a hopefully fully charged battery and cord."

Check ahead of time, allow extra time, and pack supplies like liquid soap:

“I have pumped and flown a lot, but not to Asia, and I never had a problem with anything. I would call your airline so you are prepared (also bring a copy of TSA guidelines with you), but bring everything you want to.  I have been able to carry on ice packs and ice. You could probably get good water once you are past security like Fiji, but if there are special bottles of infant water I would bring that. I have also brought frozen food and milk through security and on board (they can do a vapour test).  Bring a little bottle of shampoo or liquid soap with you, although on a flight to asia the bathrooms are probably fabulous, as the soap is not always good for cleaning pumping parts and several big plastic bags for the wet parts. tell a steward that you are pumping in the bathroom before you go in so they dont freak out that you have been in there a long time.”

If you are pumping, bring batteries!

“I brought my pump on the plane to LA but didn't realize I had to use the battery adapter because there are no outlets.   I thought there used to be one for men's electric razors or something in the restrooms, but there aren't so I guess I "misremembered" that. I know this is obvious to almost anyone, but I since I made this mistake recently I thought I would post it. As for the pumped milk, I brought ice from the hotel and an ice pack.  They tested the milk at security but otherwise it was fine.”

"Get a battery pack or even better a smaller battery driven pump. I had success with the Evenflo. Even used it in my seat! (when I had the row to myself), the sound of the engine drowns out the pump. A battery driven pump is also better for airport layovers, I haven't found that any in the States have pumping facilities, so the bathroom is the only option. And likely do not have well-placed outlets for pumping."

 "Last piece of advice: make sure your pump runs on dual voltage (just in case). I had the Spectra which worked like a dream on 220v and 110v. I also brought a backup, battery powered pump and extra pump parts. It was a lot to tote around, but I didn't want to worry about my pump breaking and my breasts exploding in a foreign country."

 

SECURITY

 

On getting through security and dealing with TSA:

"Everyone was always very accommodating, and I never ran into any problems.  Then, for the flight home, I would have frozen packs ready to go! I also never encountered a problem traveling with milk - although I have heard of women having issues when their baby is not with them. But personally, they never cared, and if they stopped me - I just explained the situation, and they sent me on my way."

"TSA was surprisingly lovely about it...as were foreign airport screening agents when I was out of the country.  Never had a problem."

"One thing I had to do to get through the airport/TSA without baby but with a freezer pack was have some milk (at least 1 oz) with the freezer pack because it's liquid. Breast milk is considered medicine which is why it is allowed through.  So instead of leaving with empty bottles, put an ounce in a bottle to ensure your freezer pack won't get confiscated. Also, when pumping on a plane, make sure you tell an air hostess as people get annoyed when someone is in the bathroom for 20 mins, made that mistake eek!  It's highly likely you will find yourself pumping on the plane because when you travel you're only down time is the plane ride."

Consider TSA precheck:

"One more tip - I haven't had to travel for work, but if it's something you do frequently I'd  suggest signing up for TSA Pre check. I found the process pretty easy to schedule (I got an appointment at the downtown Brooklyn location). The pre check line at JFK was super easy - no more taking off shoes or removing liquids or computers, and maybe five people ahead of us in line. The time I used it I was traveling with my son and we didn't need to dump his water or pull out the liquids we had packed for him either. If traveling with milk and ice packs it's sure to make things easier. Just ask someone at the airport where the pre check line is - sometimes it's not well marked (and not all airports have a dedicated line).
I did it because my partner was signing up since his work paid the fee for him, and I didn't want to be left out. It costs $85 and I think it lasts 3 years, so if you travel by plane a lot for either work or with the family it might be worth it - one less headache!"

On security abroad:

"Oh and the milk always went through security just fine, but you need to check the country's airport policy.  For instance, I could not save any milk from my trip to the UAE because they don't allow milk without the baby present (and there's a limit on the milk allowance even in that case) and they don't have milkstork there."

 

AT THE AIRPORT AND IN FLIGHT:

 

"For pumping at airport, I looked for family/handicap bathrooms. Those usually have separate entrance with locked door, nobody waiting in line, always an outlet and a sink on which you can put things. Some airports also have "nursing" stalls in bathrooms which are a large stall without toilet but with seat and table and outlet. I searched online before flying to know where these bathrooms were at each airport."

Pumping in the tiny plan bathroom was pretty uncomfortable, but at least the door locks and there is an outlet.”

"I've done the pumping thing while on a work trip to Helsinki. The bathroom on the plane, though cramped, works to pump and I think has an outlet. The flight attendants are typically very sympathetic. Then in the airport I also used a bathroom & battery operated pump. But I know that might not be comfortable for everyone. You can also ask the airline if you can use their lounge, perhaps there's a lockable room with an outlet?"

"n terms of pumping in the plane, I asked on my 1st flight if I could use the electric pump: no issue. I stayed at my seat and covered myself with a large scarf.  On my last trip I actually used my manual pump and I found it much easier because it's smaller and it was one thing less to carry.  The plane was not full and the seats behind us were free to I also moved there and used my big scarf as a curtain instead of covering myself... it worked very well.  I would though advice to be careful with the electric pump and the voltage difference between Ireland and US: you may "kill" the power cord if you don't have the transformer (not only the plug adaptor will do).  I don't recall pumping in the airport... but if I did I would just look for a quiet / isolated spot.  Pumping in the bathroom is too depressing for me - ahah!!  Our baby always travelled with us, so I can't comment on storage or shipping..."

"I pumped on a trip to Brazil. What worked well for me when pumping on the plane was to wear a long blanket-like cardigan. I went to the bathroom to put on my strapless pumping bra and felanges, and then went back to my seat and hooked everything up under the cardigan. NO ONE noticed I was pumping at my seat and it was way more comfortable than pumping in a bathroom! When I was done, I unhooked and went back to the bathroom to remove the pumping bra, etc."

"Airport lounges are also the nicest places to pump - highly recommend."

 

GENERAL ADIVCE:

 

"Not sure about bringing infant distilled water. Again we just buy bottled water after security."

 

"I found I had to pump 5-6 times in 24 hours to maintain my supply (and comfort) which was really the main concern. Getting the milk home fresh was a bonus."

 

EMERGENCY PLANNING AND ALTERNATIVES

 

Just in case, bring formula for emergencies:

“Even if you're exclusively breastfeeding, you may want to pack some formula for emergencies. We brought some formula in a plastic bag and a Playtex drop-in bottle with lots of extra liners since it's hard to wash a bottle on the plane.”
I've never had issues bringing through any pumped milk and I packed it with those cold packs in an insulated lunchbox sort of thing. As far as food goes I've never had issues bringing baby food on board but you might want to get a few earth's best jars just in case and yes probably test run a few to make sure he likes them. (note my daughter had only ever eaten homemade baby food and she had ZERO issues with those jars). Also - the jars are just so much more practical when traveling.
As far as water and formula - I think your idea of anything sealed  is a good one but again I lucked out with an agent once that let me keep our daughter's water bottle full going through security as he could visibly see I had a thirsty daughter who wanted to drink. If not just get some bottled water once you are through security - they must have some in their store rooms that isn't cold.

Have a back up plan - make sure you know how to pump yourself, if you need to:

"Also, if you haven't done it already, I'd suggest learning how to express by hand. I found it really helpful when I HAD to pump to relive discomfort but for whatever reason couldn't use a pump. A few squeezes can relieve the pressure. And if you can aim into a bottle/bag, bonus!"

Alternatives:

"A cautionary tale - a wee miscommunication at home meant we ended up at JFK recently without milk for a long flight.  We combed every available store and could find none for sale.  They sell sweetened Nestle's milk everywhere (AKA, candy milk), but no straight-up whole milk.  In a panic, we bought a carton from Wendy's and found a self-serve coffee place and filled a large cup with milk (hold the coffee).  Once on the plane, got a carton of skim milk from the flight attendant, but it was far from ideal.  Lesson learned."

 "I've flown with shelf stable boxes of Organic Valley whole milk several times and I've had no problem.  (I recommend those in general for long days out and about when you don't want to haul freezer packs, etc). The TSA agent may insist on opening the box which obviously defeats the purpose, so if you tell them not too they will just insist on a pat down which I was fine with.  In general the rule is that you can carry on liquid (food or beverage) on the plane as long as it's meant for your child."

"I use powder milk for flights. There are specific ones for toddlers (between 1 and 2 years), I bought Similac. That way I know it will never go bad. You can carry the entire can and water (it's better in baby bottles)."

"Whatever you do, try it out on your kid first because different types of milk taste different and I don't know how prepared you want to be for rejection.  We had a really hard time with this because Rafi is lactose-intolerant and we thought we'd need lactose-free whole milk for the whole trip, so we bought the Nestle powder milk (it's called Lido, and the can is in Spanish, I'm not sure if there's an English version).  He loved it, because it's nice and sweet, and it turned out (even though we were informed otherwise) the lactose-free whole milk flowed freely in Jamaica so we were fine for the trip.  We also had no trouble getting the liquid food pouches through security, we brought tons of those."

 

MORE RESOURCES

 

More on Park Slope Parents:

Shipping and Traveling with Frozen Breast Milk

Traveling with Baby

PSP's Ultimate Travelling Checklist

 

Other important tips:

Be sure to follow CDC guidelines about How to Keep Your Breast Pump Clean

 

Resources from around the web:

"A friend of mine, Jessica Jackson, wrote a book called "Work. Pump. Repeat."  while she travelled internationally for business pumping her first year.  It's full of useful tips and guidelines about traveling through airport security.  She also has a blog on her website that has some good gems. (Search airport security and there's a great post called The Mile-High Milk Club. It's a good place to start!"

"I actually came across this info last night when I was looking up some travel tips as we are about to take our first trip with our 7 week old.
Hope this helps a bit."