Traveling with Breast Milk

When my little man was just shy of four months old, I had to go on a four-day, three-night, work trip from New Hampshire to Colorado. We were exclusively breastfeeding, and I knew to maintain my supply, I would have to pump while away.

I had debated what to do with the milk I would pump while on the road. I had a stash at home he could eat while I was away, but if I didn’t carry these four days worth of milk home, my freezer stash would be severely depleted. Four days worth of milk would be a sizable volume, not something I was comfortable simply dumping down the drain. Should I carry it home? Should I freeze it before travel? Should I freeze it and check it? Should I ship it overnight frozen?

I did some research, called my local lactation consultant, and made the following decisions for pumping and storage during my trip:

  • My LC suggested not freezing the milk. Her reasoning was: If you freeze it and it thaws in transit, you only have 24 hours to safely use that thawed milk. I would be bringing home dozens of ounces, much more than would be consumed in 24 hours. There would be no guarantee it would stay frozen on the long flight and layover home.
  • Shipping wasn’t the optimal choice as I could not guarantee the storage temperature of the package in transit, even if packed with ice.
  • I opted to pump and refrigerate my milk while on the trip, and I stored my milk in water bottles. I felt a screw top would be more secure on the flight home than a typical, zip-top milk storage bag, and would be more resistant to any pressure changes that may have occurred.
  • I called the hotel before I checked in to see if there was a refrigerator available in my room. I’m not sure if this is a hotel-wide policy, but the hotel I stayed at has a handful of small, dorm room type refrigerators, that can be delivered to a room for any “essential purposes”, specifically medications that need refrigeration. They agreed my request was an essential purpose, and delivered a fridge to my room.
  • I wasn’t very clear on the TSA’s stand on gel freezer packs, and didn’t want to take the chance that they would be confiscated. I packed three empty Ziploc bags in my little portable cooler, and went through security that way. As soon as I was through security, I went to an airport bar and asked for ice. The bags of ice made it fairly intact to my layover, where I emptied them and requested fresh ice.
  • Check airport bathrooms for outlets. I was nervous that I might pump through my battery pack fairly quickly. While on a layover, I noticed there happened to be an outlet right outside a handicapped bathroom. I plugged in, and sat on the floor, and pumped. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for a cranky old lady to pound on the stall door and tell me to get off my damn phone. She felt pretty bad when I came out of the stall carrying my pump and milk.

Image by ECP under Creative Commons License

  • On my flight home I had close to 80 ounces of milk, in water bottles, in my cooler. I got to security and declared I was carrying breast milk and it was in a quantity greater than three ounces. The FDA has declared breast milk as “medically necessary”, and it is exempt from the three ounce rule, but it does have to be declared. I am sure the procedure will differ from airport to airport, but my experience was seamless. He asked if it was for an infant. I got a good internal laugh out of that one. Who else would it be for? I said yes, and that was the end of it. I put it through the x-ray machine, went through security, then went to the bar to fill my Ziploc bags with ice.

As soon as I returned home, I separated out my milk into little man-sized servings. I put three days worth in the refrigerator to use the rest of that week at daycare, and froze the remaining milk I had, but put it in the front of my stash. I wanted to use the milk from my travel first instead of freezing all of it, sticking it in the back of the freezer per the date pumped, and having it sit there while I worked through the milk from my stash pumped prior to the trip. The milk from my trip had already been in the fridge for a few days, and I knew the milk in my freezer had been freshly frozen and stored 100% properly.

Check out TSA’s guidelines for flying with liquids for baby, including pumped milk and formula. 

Has anyone ever flown with pumped breast milk or pre-mixed formula? How was your experience?

15 Responses to Traveling with Breast Milk

  1. So glad to hear you were able to get through airport security smoothly!

  2. I haven’t needed to travel away from my baby, but I’m SO glad to know it’s ok to take milk through, and that each individual bag doesn’t need to be tested!

  3. Thank you, thank you! I’ve been scouring the web for tips on how to do this. I travel for work, and starting when my baby is 2 months old, I’ll be back on the road one week a month. I’ve been trying to figure out what I am going to do, and this was so very helpful. Thanks again!!

  4. Im confused…maybe i just read wrong. But i thought you could only leave breastmilk in a fridge for 24 hours until it loses its nutritional value?

  5. What kind of water bottles did you use?

    • Hi Sarah,
      Honestly, what I had done to make things easier was buy regular Poland Spring water bottles, pour the water into glasses, and then poured my milk right into the water bottle. That way I didn’t have to lug ALL my pumping bottles with me, especially since I only had enough bottles at home to accommodate *maybe* 20 oz worth. By using a new water bottle, I was confident it was clean, and would only have to bring home bottles that I had filled.

  6. extremely helpful!!! Thank you as I am traveling tomorrow and will be away three days and again on a few weeks for four days. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. So sad I did not see this a month ago. I dumped a weeks worth of milk while on a work trip.

  8. Hi!
    I am about to leave on a work trip, with my 3 month daughter. My mother is meeting us and going to take my daughter to her home while I am working for 4 days. I understand how to pump while she is gone and store and bring back home- but what i need to figure out is how to bring my frozen stored milk with me so my mother has milk for those 4 days. any tips, or links? I have a lot of frozen stash, but i don’t know the best way to transport etc. Thankfully this is a short flight about 2 hours.

    • Hi Katie! It’s a little bit tricky when you want to keep the milk frozen all the way to your destination, since there’s always the risk that a flight delay or some unforeseen situation could cause your milk to thaw prematurely. First things first, if your milk does thaw a little bit, if it’s still slushy, it can be refrozen.

      An insulated, carry-on cooler with lots of bags of ice would probably be your best bet with frozen milk. If your ice starts to melt, you can dump it at security and ask a restaurant or bar that’s past security to refill them with fresh ice. Technically, gel ice packs are supposed to be allowed through security, but I’ve heard of some moms getting theirs confiscated since it’s a “gel.”

      Since frozen milk that has been thawed needs to be consumed within 24 hours, you could consider bringing milk that hasn’t been frozen yet (if you have some). It can be refrigerated for a few days and packed in a cooler.

      If you wanted to try shipping milk to your mom’s packed in dry ice, that would be an option too. You can’t bring dry ice in a carry-on on an airplane, but you could pack a small cooler with a small amount of dry ice and ship it. TSA may allow a small amount of dry ice in a checked bag, but I’m not sure how much. You’d have to call to find out.

      Best of luck!!

  9. Hi Katie!
    I think Alex has a lot of great points. The flight may only be 2 hours, but there’s the drive there, checking in, boarding, etc to think about too. How far is your mother’s house from where you’ll be working? Will she have access to what you’ll be pumping while you’re working?
    Pumped and put right in the fridge without freezing is good for 3-5 days. I’d bring frozen milk for the first two days only, and supplement with freshly pumped and refrigerated milk from the two days prior to your trip to ensure everything is still viable.
    A small cooler with ziplock bags filled with ice from airport restaurants worked well for me, I didn’t want to risk having my gel packs taken away. Best of luck to you on your trip!

  10. Pingback: Flying with Babies & Toddlers - Airport Security Mama Say What?! | Mama Say What?!

  11. Thank you SO much for posting this! I was literally just in tears on the phone with my husband worrying about how I am going to travel for an upcoming work trip.


    • I’m so glad you found this post resourceful. Traveling is tough. I avoided work trips while breastfeeding because it is overwhelming and I wish I handled breastfeeding and pumping in public better. Good luck on your trip, mama!

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