Flying as a breastfeeding mother can be stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before. The first time I traveled with my baby as an exclusive pumper, I was so nervous about how I would manage pumping breast milk on a plane. Where should I pump, and would anyone notice? Is there anything special that you need to do when flying with a breast pump?
Here’s what I learned, and what you need to know about flying with your pump, traveling with breast milk, and pumping breast milk on a plane.
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Flying with a breast pump
TSA breast pump policy is that breast pumps can be carried on or checked. However, I would recommend that no matter how short your flight is, if you are flying with a breast pump, carry your pump on.
Most airlines will consider it a medical device and not count it as a carry-on. (You can google “<your airline> breastfeeding policy” – here’s United’s as an example – and see if you can confirm the guidelines for your airline. If you find a written policy, print it out and bring it with you just in case there is any confusion at the airport.)
Even if your flight is half an hour long, or if you have a serious aversion to pumping in an airport, or if you don’t have room for it with all of your other stuff, it’s still a good idea. You never know when your flight will be delayed or your bags will be lost.
How to fly with breast milk
Breast milk is considered a medical liquid that is not subject to other restrictions on quantities of liquids, and you’re allowed to carry on a “reasonable amount.”
When you go through the security checkpoint, take the cooler out and send it through the conveyor on its own. Tell the TSA screener that you are traveling with breast milk.
It’s common for TSA to open the bottles and test the milk; if you don’t want them to do that, you can ask them to use “alternate screening procedures.” (My guess is that these procedures will take longer, so leave additional time to go through security if this is what you’d prefer.)
Make sure to print out the TSA guidelines and bring them with you in case there is any confusion with your screener about the rules.
If you’re keeping your breast milk cold with an ice pack, make sure that the ice pack is frozen solid when you leave for the airport. I have had TSA screeners want to treat a thawed ice pack like a liquid, which is a hassle. Another option is to bring a baggie to put ice in (you can ask for it at restaurants inside the terminal or from the flight attendant).
How to pump breast milk on a plane
If you decide to pump on the plane, in most cases, you can pump in either the restroom or your seat. (Again, if your airline has a policy on their website that explicitly states this, print it out and bring it with you.)
To pump in your airplane seat, pull everything that you need (breast shields, bottles, pump parts, caps for the bottles, a zip-top plastic bag for used pump parts or wet/dry bag, your pump, hands-free bra, and your cover) out of your pump bag.
Then, put on your cover, set up the bottles and pump parts (if you think you’ll be self-conscious, have all of your pump parts put together and attached to the bottles ahead of time in your bag, so that all you need to do is attach the breast shields to the pump parts and start pumping), and start the pump.
Fortunately, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to hear the pump due to the noise of the plane. Just act like you know what you’re doing (fake it until you make it, if necessary)!
The other option is the plane bathroom. If you decide to do this, wait until there isn’t much demand for it, and have everything ready to go ahead of time so that you can hook and unhook yourself quickly. It’s also not a bad idea to let a flight attendant know what you’re doing.
Feeding your baby on the trip
In most cases, it will make sense to feed your baby freshly-pumped breast milk so that you don’t have to deal with warming bottles.
If you do need to warm milk, you can ask for a half-full cup of hot water and put the bottle in that for a minute or two to warm. You can also use a mobile bottle warmer like Baby’s Brew.
Pumping breast milk on a plane with your baby
If you’re flying with your baby and need to pump, here are a few scenarios and some options for handling them.
Scenario #1: You are flying with your baby and another caregiver (i.e., your partner, a grandparent, etc.)
This is the easiest scenario, as you have someone else to hold the baby while you pump. If your flight is on the short side (less than however long you usually go without pumping), you can either plan to pump before you get on the plane or on the plane itself.
Many airports now have designated nursing and pumping areas – check here to see if the airport that you’ll be flying out of has one. If not, your options if you decide to pump in the airport are the women’s restroom, a family restroom, or empty gate area.
If I had my choice I would choose the family restroom, but I’ve pumped at a gate with my baby (action shot below) and it went fine – no one paid any attention to me. I just used a nursing cover and acted like I knew what I was doing.
If you decide to pump on the plane, then you can assess your seatmate situation and decide whether you’d prefer pumping in your seat or the restroom.
Scenario #2: You are flying by yourself, and your flight time is less than you would usually go between pumping sessions.
How to handle this depends a bit on whether or not your baby has a seat. If you bought a seat for your baby, you have most of the options as in the first scenario, with the exception of pumping in the airplane bathroom. (Trying to juggle both a pump and a baby in the restroom would be pretty challenging.)
If you choose to pump in your seat, you’d most likely want to wait until your baby falls asleep in her car seat, so that you don’t have to quickly unhook yourself to take care of a crying baby.
If your baby is a lap child, probably the easiest thing on a short flight would be to find a quiet place in the airport and hook yourself up to pump right before boarding the plane. Then do the same right after you get off of the plane. It might be a good idea to bring a blanket for your baby to lay or sit on while you pump, depending on her age.
Scenario #3: You are flying by yourself, and your flight time is more than you would usually go between pumping sessions.
In this scenario, I would strongly recommend buying a seat for your baby. The best way to handle this is to get your baby to sleep in her car seat and then immediately pump in case she wakes up before you would expect.
If it’s a really long flight, it’s a good idea to pump every single time she falls asleep in case she gets fussy later and you don’t get another chance to pump. And if you get desperate, see if you can find a grandmotherly type to hold the baby while you pump. It might not be ideal, but it’s also not like they can run off with your little one!
Have you had to pump on a plane or fly with a breast pump? Share your experience in the comments!References
- Transportation Security Administration. “Traveling with Children.” https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children#quickset-traveling_with_children_1
- Ewen, Nick. “What You Need to Know Before Carrying on a Medical Device.” https://thepointsguy.com/2017/09/tips-carrying-on-medical-devices/