Traveling for work as a breastfeeding mom can be stressful – there is a lot to think about when it comes to traveling with your breastmilk, pumping on the plane, and managing your milk stash at your destination. Here is a complete guide to how to travel and pump breastmilk as a working mom!
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One of my readers, Melora, regularly travels for work and was kind enough to share her tips with me. I’ve incorporated them below!
Packing Up Your Breast Pump for a Work Trip
Because different things work for different people, it’s a good idea to figure out what will work best for you when you’re packing to make sure you don’t forget anything. Some suggestions:
- Make a checklist of everything you need (here’s something you can use as a starting point), and then make a fresh copy of it for each trip. Check off stuff as you pack it.
- Picture yourself pumping on the go and make sure you have everything you need to do it.
- Lay everything you need out so you can see it before you start to put things in the bag.
- If you have anything that you can’t pack until the last minute, put it near your bag or put a sticky note on your suitcase to remind yourself.
Here’s an awesome video of what Melora includes in her pump bag and how she packs it all up:
The TSA and Flying with a Breast Pump and Breastmilk
Your breast pump is a medical device and in most cases will not count as a separate carry-on item. However, it’s a good idea to print out your airline’s breastfeeding policy (here’s an example) and bring it with you in case there is any confusion with the gate agent.
Unless there is (for whatever reason) no other option, do not check your pump – if you have a long delay, you’ll need it, and it will be a huge hassle if it gets lost.
On your first flight, you probably won’t have any milk with you, so the process should be straightforward. You should be able to send your breast pump through the conveyor belt when going through security screening without issue.
If you’re bringing an ice pack on the plane to keep the breastmilk you pump en route cold, make sure that it’s frozen solid.
When you’re on your return flight, you’ll have breastmilk with you that will need to be checked by TSA agents. In most cases, each bottle will be opened and checked. Some suggestions for making this process as smooth as possible:
- Print out the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk and bring them with you.
- Tell the TSA staffer at the front of the conveyor belt that your bag contains breastmilk and send the cooler bag through the conveyor belt on its own. (Here are some great breastmilk coolers if you don’t have one.)
- When the cooler bag gets pulled aside, claim it and tell the TSA agent that it’s breastmilk so they know what process they need to do.
- The TSA staffer will then test each bottle. The fewer bottles you have, the faster it will be (so it might make sense to invest in bottles that hold a larger quantity for travel).
Make sure to give yourself a cushion in terms of time, in case there’s a delay.
Pumping on the Plane and in the Airport
Depending on the length of your flight and how frequently you pump, you might be able to get away with just pumping in the airport before you take off, or you might need to pump on the plane.
Where to pump in the airport? Many airports have mother’s rooms or Mamava pods that you can pump in. (I’ve also just found an empty gate with an outlet and pumped there.)
If your flight is more than a few hours, it might make sense to pump both at the beginning of the flight and at the end of the flight. (Pumping at the end may work well, as you won’t have to worry about pumping again for at least a few hours after you arrive.)
If you have a choice of a window or an aisle seat, a window seat might work best for additional privacy. Also, this way, you don’t need to stop pumping if your seatmate needs to use the restroom.
Here’s Melora’s process for pumping on a plane:
1. Put the breast pump on your lap
2. Put together parts and bottles and attach to the pump
3. Put nursing cover on and drape it over pump
4. Use pump light while pulling down nursing tank and getting flanges in place
6. Carefully pull off flanges, place bottles between legs, disconnect from the pump, and put the boobs away
7. Take off cover and put pump on floor
8. Carefully pour milk into one bottle and cover with lid
9. Use the nursing cover as your lap cleaning surface and use Medela quick-clean wipes to clean your pump parts
10. Pack everything away
Storing Breast Milk When You’re Staying at a Hotel
When you book your hotel, ask for a mini-fridge to use in your room. Make sure to tell them what it’s for, and it’s possible they won’t charge you since breastmilk is a “medical liquid.”
If you can’t get a room with a fridge, you can ask at the front desk if it’s possible to store milk in a hotel fridge. If that isn’t an option, here’s what Melora did in a similar circumstance:
One time I stayed in a hotel with no fridge. Oops! I went to another floor, filled a trash bag with as much ice as I could get, and buried the bottles into it in the sink. If that happened again, I would do the same but in a trash can set on/near the AC so I would have access to the sink!
Packing Up the Milk for Home
The best way to pack up the milk from your trip is in a breast milk cooler. Depending on how long your trip is and how much you pump, you may need more than one.
Travel with as few bottles as you can (as noted above, that might mean using larger bottles for travel).
Label your bottles with a sticker or a dry erase marker so you know the day it was pumped.
You can also travel with milk in breastmilk storage bags if that takes up less room.
If you’re able to freeze an ice pack in the hotel you’re staying in, that’s ideal. Otherwise, you can keep the cooler cool with ice from the hotel, airport, and flight attendants on the plane.
Making It Less Stressful
Melora recommends a few mindset shifts in the way you think about traveling and pumping to help manage the stress:
Mindset #1: Be prepared to lose everything you pump while traveling. That’s intially terrifying, but really puts it into perspective for me. If I consider the pumping I’m doing while gone just for maintenance to keep up supply, then everything I bring home is a bonus. I’ve never had to throw out milk, but I also don’t put pressure on myself to get it all home with high stakes.
Mindset #2: Nobody cares. All the stress and anxiety you feel while packing for the trip or pumping in public or requesting ice from the flight attendant, it’s just you. Think about the hundreds of people you see at the airport. Sure, there’s people watching and curiosity, but frankly everyone else is on their own trip. They don’t care. Let it go and go with the flow! This is about you, your kid(s), your trip.
She also suggests that you look at the first few trips as learning trips that are going to have some trial and error while you figure out the best system for you. Try and laugh off things that go wrong – in most cases, you’ll at least have a good story to tell.
One last note from Melora: “I’m so fortunate because so many women before me have paved the way for this to be relatively smooth. Thanks to those who came before me!” Thanks so much for your help, Melora!
Share your tips for how to travel and pump breastmilk as a working mom below!