Traveling with Breast Milk

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As a breastfeeding mom who has sometimes had to travel without my kids, I’ve learned that a) it’s a giant pain (but doable!), and b) there’s not a lot of info out there on how to do it. Depending on where you’re going, it also may not be common to travel with breast milk without your baby along – I’ve heard personal comments and read others online along the lines of, “why on earth would you need to have milk if you don’t have your baby with you? Very suspicious!” – which is extremely frustrating as a mom who has worked so hard at pumping and needs to replenish my stash from my time away! After going through this ordeal a number of times between both of my kids, I thought it would be helpful to post about the tips I’ve learned along the way.

Flying domestically within the US

You’re in luck! TSA will never give you any trouble getting your breast milk through. If you’re carrying your milk with you, you should definitely build in extra time – technically, they are supposed to test each and every bag that has more than 3 oz in it – although it definitely depends on the agent. I’ve had several agents just wave me right on through. If they do test your milk, they just test the vapors with a little strip, and then possibly put it in a little machine if it fails the vapor test for inexplicable reasons. Aside from the slower process, no one should give you any resistance whatsoever (except possibly silly comments … “Oh wow, you must have been on a LONG trip to have all this milk!” … umm, no, I was gone 24 hours, but, uh, thanks for noticing my supply?).

Transporting your milk: 

  • Carry it with you – This has always been my go-to option for domestic travel. My usual strategy is to fill up my cooler bag with ice from the hotel ice machine, and then if I have a connection, I’ll switch out my ice at a soda machine in the airport. Alternatively, you can use freezer packs, but note that they must be fully frozen to get through TSA. If you don’t have a freezer in your room, you can try asking your hotel to freeze them for you.
  • Ship it – I have never personally used this service, but it sounds like Milk Stork makes shipping your milk back very easy – and if you are traveling for work, it may be reimbursable.

Traveling internationally

This is where you can really run into trouble since laws about carrying milk differ by country. In Ireland, I breezed right on through security with a ton of milk just as though I was in the US.  In Mexico, I was nearly forced to dump out days’ worth of milk – luckily after talking to a whole series of people someone finally took pity on me. I was told that whether breast milk is exempted from the liquid restrictions there depends on the airline – my airline, unfortunately, did not have this exemption in place. I heard someone else lament about being forced to dump all of her milk in Paris. In Jamaica, it looked like a big gamble to get it through, so I decided to check my milk instead. As for shipping, I haven’t found an easy way to ship internationally, and possible delays in customs seem risky so I’ve stuck with the two options below.

Transporting your milk: 

  • Carry it with you – Do your research ahead of time to make sure the country you’re traveling to will allow you to carry breast milk without your baby present. From my experience, it can be difficult to find definitive answers, and I wish I had better advice on figuring this out!
  • Check it – We all know checking luggage is a risk, and checking precious pumped breast milk is certainly nerve racking! But if you’re traveling out of a country that doesn’t allow you to carry on all that liquid, this may be your best bet. My strategy was to 1) ask the hotel to freeze my freezer packs for me since those last a lot longer than ice, and 2) attach a doctors note as an added precaution – that might be overkill, but I thought it should at least be labeled as breast milk rather than just checking a mysterious liquid. I packed my cooler inside of a suitcase, but I’m sure you could check it on its own as well. Luckily, my milk has arrived safe and sound (and cold!) using this strategy.

Packing List

This long list makes me feel a little crazy! But depending on your travel situation, these are some items that might be useful:

  • Pump & pump parts (kind of important!)
  • Storage bags – Also an obvious must have! Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the Kiinde system that allows you to pump right into the bag (here’s the larger & smaller starter kits and the refill bags)
  • Manual pump – Since I have an old school pump that needs an outlet, for long flights, I bring a manual pump too so I can pump right on the flight
  • Car charger – I always bring one if I’ll be using a rental car. I have this one for the Medela Pump in Style
  • Sterilizer bags – If you’ll have access to a microwave in your hotel, sterilizer bags are very handy while traveling
  • Large cooler bag – I like using a bag like this one since you can just flatten it and throw it in your suitcase on the way over
  • Small cooler bag – I like to bring a small bag like this one along too that I can use when my big bag is packed away or when out and about on the trip
  • Freezer packs – Like I mentioned above, I usually just go with ice if I’m carrying my cooler bag, but sometimes I use heavy duty freezer packs like these or these – again, note they must be frozen solid to take through security

What has your experience been? Please feel free to reach out if there are tips or products that would be helpful to add!

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