If you’re going to take a trip while you’re exclusively pumping, you’re going to be traveling with breast milk! Below I’ve laid out everything you need to think about when traveling with breast milk (and your baby), whether you’re driving or flying to your destination, and whether you’re traveling with frozen breast milk or fresh.
Traveling With Breast Milk by Car
Most of what you feed your baby will be the milk you pump on the trip, but it’s not a bad idea to bring a little extra milk as well, in case of a spill or other mishap.
How to pack your breast milk
If you just want to bring a few extra bottles, you can pack it in a small breast milk cooler for travel. You might want to bring two – one for the milk you pack and one for any extra milk you pump on the way.
On the other hand, if you need to bring a larger amount of milk, you can pack the breast milk in a larger cooler for the trip – the kind of cooler you might fill with drinks at a BBQ. You will want it to stay as cold as a refrigerator (or a freezer, depending on what kind of milk you have), so pack it full of ice. You can use a thermometer like this one to monitor the temperature during the trip – it tells you whether the cooler is in the “refrigerator zone” or the “freezer zone.” If you are traveling with frozen breast milk, you may want to use dry ice if your drive is on the longer side.
Pumping on the trip
For the trip itself, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough sets of clean pump parts and bottles to get you through one day of driving. Pack each set – flanges, valves, connectors, bottles, and caps – in a gallon-sized ziploc bag so you can just pull it out when you’re ready to pump.
Alternatively, you can wash them on the way – just make sure you have a good plan for how to do that. Restrooms are obviously less than ideal for washing pump parts because of bacteria, but if you bring a wash basin, dish soap, bottle brush, and clean towels to pump your pump parts on after you wash them, it will be compliant with the CDC guidelines for washing pump parts.
You will also need either a car adapter or a charger for your pump, if it runs on a battery. Make sure that your pump is fully charged before you leave, and if necessary, charge it when you stop during the drive. If you sit down to eat in a restaurant and explain that you need to charge a medical device, the staff will likely accommodate you.
Feeding your baby on the trip
While you’re driving to your destination, it might be easiest to keep your most recently pumped breast milk out at room temperature, and then feed that to your baby. (Fresh milk can safely be kept out at room temperature for about 4 hours.) This way, you don’t need to worry about warming breast milk while traveling.
If you do need to use milk from your cooler, your best bet is to bring a small bowl with you (I just use a plastic one like this), run very hot water in a restroom sink, and then put the bottle in the hot water to warm. This will warm the milk much faster than running the bottle under the tap. You can also ask a restaurant for hot water in a cup – just make sure that when you go to put the bottle in, there’s enough room so the water doesn’t overflow onto your hand.
What if your baby isn’t traveling with you?
If your baby isn’t traveling with you, you can bring an empty picnic-style cooler on the trip and use it to transport the milk home. Just pick up ice before you leave, add the breast milk when you’re ready to go, and make sure to check the temperature every now and then in the cooler to make sure it’s cold enough.
Unless your drive is fairly short, I would refrain from freezing the milk at your destination and instead wait until you get home, if possible. If the frozen milk thaws on the way home, you’ll need to use it within 24 hours, so there is less likelihood of a mishap with fresh milk.
Traveling with Breast Milk by Plane
One good thing about flying is that your breast pump is considered a “medical device” and therefore doesn’t count as a carry-on, so you can plan on packing your luggage as you normally would.
Packing your milk
For passengers flying in the U.S., while there is no defined limit to how much breast milk you can bring with you, the TSA website references a “reasonable amount.” Leaving “reasonable amount” up to an individual TSA officer would make me nervous, so if you need to bring a substantial amount of breast milk with you on a trip, I would probably opt to either ship it ahead to your destination or check it. This is a great tutorial on how to ship breast milk with dry ice; if you need to check it, you could try using a large cooler like this. Make sure you check with your airline ahead of time, though, just to make sure there are no surprises at the airport.
If you’re bringing just a few bottles, store them in a small cooler bag with an ice pack, similar to the one I mentioned above. Make sure that the ice pack is frozen solid when you leave for the airport; if it’s not, it might be treated as a liquid and be subjected to additional screening.
Going through the security checkpoint
If you’re carrying on breast milk, be sure to take your milk out when you take out your other liquids, laptop, etc., during the screening process, and make sure you tell the screener that you’re traveling with breast milk and that you have a pump. They will likely examine the milk by x-ray.
It’s a good idea to print out the TSA guidelines to bring with you, in case your screener is not familiar with how breast milk is screened. (For example, one mom was forced to pump in an airport bathroom, because her screener thought that empty bottles were not allowed.)
Flying with and without your baby
If you’re taking a trip without your baby, your options to get the milk you pump while on your trip home are shipping it or checking it, as described above. If you decide it’s not worth the hassle of doing either, you can donate it to a mom in the location where you’re staying (most metro areas have an Eats on Feets Facebook page that you can post on), or you can dump it.
If you are flying with your baby, here is a primer that I wrote up on the logistics.
Managing Your Milk At Your Destination
Pumping at a location where you don’t normally pump, without the comforts of your pumping station and setup for storing milk and washing pump parts is one of the more stressful things about figuring out how to travel with breast milk. Here is what you need to think about, whether you’re staying at a hotel or in a home.
Storing your milk
Before you leave, you’ll want to ensure that there is a fridge that you can use at your destination. If you’re staying in a hotel, call and ask ahead of time if a mini-fridge can be provided for your room, and tell them that you need it to store breast milk – it may be provided at no charge as breast milk is considered a “medical liquid.” If you need a freezer, don’t be afraid to ask at the front desk if you can use the hotel freezer. (Or call ahead and ask.) Make sure to seal your breast milk into a single container and label it.
If you’re staying as a guest in someone’s home, it might be a good idea to ask ahead of time to make sure there’s some space in their fridge or freezer that you can use.
Dealing with washing everything
In addition to fridge space, you’ll also need room to wash your pumping gear and bottles. Ideally, there would be a kitchen counter and sink where you could do that, but in a hotel the bathroom will work. You’ll want to have a wash basin, dish soap, bottle brush and clean towels to put your pump parts on to dry.
Packing for the trip home
Finally, for the trip home, if you’re using an ice pack for the trip, you will want to be able to freeze it solid before you leave, both to keep your milk cold and to avoid extra inspection from the TSA if you’re flying. If you’re in a hotel and the mini-fridge has small freezer compartment, that might work. Alternatively, ask at the front desk if you can use their freezer.
What other tricks do you use when you travel with breast milk? Feel free to add ideas below in the comments.References
- Kellymom. “Human Milk Storage.” https://kellymom.com/store/freehandouts/milkstorage01.pdf
- Transportation Security Administration. “Traveling with Children.” https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children#quickset-traveling_with_children_1
- Only the Breast. “How to Ship Breast Milk.” https://www.onlythebreast.com/buy-sell-donate-breast-milk/bags-and-bottles/