Being a new mom comes with a slew of obstacles. My most recent experience was learning to navigate the red tape of flying, and being a mother who breast feeds her child. I read countless articles to prepare myself for what being away from my baby would be like, so it was important to me that I was well versed on the TSA guidelines about traveling with breast milk. Though my first experience could have been better, it wasn’t horrible. Here are ten important tips about traveling with breast milk that I wish someone would have told me!
During a recent 2-day work trip I was faced with the arduous task(s) of being absent from my daughter, having to pump every 3 hours, and giving the side eye to multiple United Airlines employees. As a 35 year old jet-setter (lol), I am well-versed in the rules of airport travel. My liquids are 3 oz. or less, my electronics are out and placed in their own bin, my shoes and belt are off and my pockets have been emptied. Additionally, I’m pretty certain my head wrap will be touched, bobby pins questioned, and for whatever reason asked if I have something metal in my neck!
What I wasn’t prepared for was carrying around a cooler of liquid gold, tons of tiny bottles in my bag, and a hands-free battery operated breast pump. Below are some important tips new moms should know when traveling with breast milk.
1. Don’t assume that the TSA Agents now the rules. Print a hard copy of the guidelines.
Many TSA Agents are not aware of their policies with regard to traveling with breast milk. That was probably the most frustrating part about the entire experience. Luckily, one of the first articles I read suggested that I print a hard copy of the guidelines. This was the BEST TIP! Frankly, it allowed me to confidently give Omar the side eye while I informed him of what he was, and wasn’t about to do with my breast milk.
2. Your hand-held pump is considered an electronic. If you’re carrying it on the plane, be prepared to have it out and visible.
Those blue gloves worn by the TSA Agents are filthy! My main airport goal is to keep them from touch ME and my belongings; especially my breast pumping equipment. Keep your equipment sterile by putting it and its cords in a large zip-lock bag, and at the security check place the bag in the same bin as your laptop.
3. Find out what amenities your hotel offers. You will need access to a fridge and an ice machine.
You will need access to a refrigerator (a freezer is a plus) to keep your breast milk cold while traveling. Most hotels offer an upgrade for such requests at no charge if rooms are available. Call your hotel and confirm before you book. Also, confirm it’s a storage fridge and not a mini bar. In the off chance your hotel doesn’t offer this amenity you will need to rely on a trusty air tight cooler filled with ice or frozen ice packs.
4. Bring breast milk storage bottles and bags.
The amount of bags and bottles will differ for everyone. I packed too many bottles. Storing your freshly pumped milk in storage bags allows you to only really need four bottles. After each pumping session I would empty the bottles into labeled storage bags, and put them in the fridge. Also, It’s much easier to travel with the bags in your cooler than bottles. The bottles take up a lot of space in your cooler, while the bags have the ability to lay flat.
5. Declaring your breast milk.
When going through security always declare your breast milk. If your milk is frozen solid the TSA agents will visually inspect the milk. Be sure to request that the TSA agent puts on clean gloves before touching your cooler. If your milk is thawed or in a semi-solid state the TSA agent will have to do a special test on each bag, or bottle. They will wipe the bottle with a piece of paper and put the paper in a machine that tests for explosives.
6. Flying with bags of ice vs. ice packs.
Due to the fact that I didn’t have access to a freezer, my ice packs thawed quickly and I was left to rely on zip-lock bags of ice. What does Ice turn into when it melts? Water! This means that there is a possibility that between the time you pack your cooler and actually arrive at the security check at the airport, your ice will have melted. Prior to departing my hotel I filled four zip-lock bags with ice and lined my cooler. When I arrived at airport security my bags of ice had melted. My bag was flagged and I was pulled to the side for a bag search. The TSA agent informed me that the now bags of cold water could be an issue. He then calls his supervisor over for review, and approval. The supervisor came over, quickly looked at my cooler, and told me that everything was fine.
Unfortunately, the TSA Agent didn’t properly close one of my ice bags and it leaked all the way to my gate. A nice lady on the train stopped me and said “dear, you’re leaking!” I instantly looked at my boobs! She was referring to my suitcase though. Luckily it dried and everything was fine. Double bagging your loose ice is a genius move.
7. Pumping at the Airport.
Most airports have rooms dedicated for animals to relive themselves, but no places for mamas to pump. As a matter of fact there are only 15 airports in this country with dedicated lactation spaces. The only other is a family restroom or restroom stall, which are both quite unsanitary. If you can time the flight just right, I suggest you nurse, then pump before heading to the the airport. Toss a couple sets of nipple shields in your carry on. Depending on the length of your flight you may be a bit engorged by the time you make it to your hotel, but it beats pumping in an airport restroom any day.
8. Returning home with breast milk.
You may fly with an unlimited quantity of breast milk per TSA rules. My bags were filled with 7 oz. each to cut down on the amount of bags I had to returned home with.
9. Shipping breast milk.
This option is useful if you’re going to be away from your baby for a long period of time. It’s quite costly, and by far more expensive than traveling with breast milk. You can ship breast milk on dry ice via FedEx. Dry ice, a Styrofoam cooler, and a box for shipping can be purchased locally. Possibly even delivered directly to your hotel. A quick google search help identify a local supplier. Be warned, the temperature of dry ice can make plastic breast milk storage bags or bottles very brittle, and they can break during transport. Seal your bottles in zip-lock bags and then pad them with crumpled newspaper inside your cooler of dry ice. You can print out a FedEx shipping label online.
*The US Postal Service does not permit dry ice in the mail. Although this is a much cheaper option, there is real risk that your milk will thaw en route.
10. Be sure to check out the official TSA guidelines for traveling with breast milk.