Air travel can test your patience under the best of circumstances. But having to deal with long security lines, the TSA, delayed flights, or lost baggage is the worst.
Traveling with breastmilk adds even more stress to flying. But don't worry, this guide has everything you need to know about how to travel with breastmilk.
The TSA & Breast Milk
I traveled from coast to coast with my infant when he was just eight weeks old. We have flown together several times a year since then. I've been through the toughest moments of it, and it's not so bad once you know the ropes.
The biggest concern for most mommies when flying with breastmilk is the TSA.
In this article, I will share how to travel with breast milk, my mistakes, and what I have learned. I'll go over the 7 need to know rules when it comes to the TSA and breastmilk.
My Experience with Traveling with Breastmilk
I've traveled with breastmilk (see our complete breastmilk guide here) and my electric pump and overall, I've had a great experience.
The airports that I've flown through have had very accommodating TSA officers and airline officials.
Fortunately, I've never had to argue with a TSA officer about how much breastmilk I could carry through security.
You do hear the horror stories, though. Some TSA officers or other airport security personnel may be unfamiliar with the TSA’s policies regarding breastmilk. Or, they may not follow them, so you need to know your rights and be prepared to stand up for them.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
2017+ Changes: The BABES Act Provided Relief
On December 16, 2016, President Obama signed the Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Act. This act is also known as the “BABES Act.”
This law gave the TSA ninety days to notify airport screeners of tsa breast milk policy regarding travelers with breastmilk and pumps.
Additionally, now all security screening training programs must provide training on the special screening procedures that can be used with breastmilk. 2017 was the year for all of the kinks to be worked out. If you're flying in 2018 and beyond, the process is much easier.
How to Travel with Breastmilk: 7 TSA Rules You Need to Know
So, what are the tsa guidelines for breast milk?
I am providing a summary below, but you should familiarize yourself with the TSA’s website. Print out a copy of their breastmilk policies pre-flight and keep them with you at all times.
Also, the tsa rules on breastmilk are always subject to adjustment and change. I will try my best to keep this article updated with the latest and greatest.
1. Breastmilk is not subject to the policy governing other liquids.
This rule states that all liquids must be less than 3.4 ounces and fit in one 1-quart bag. There is no stated limit to the amount of breastmilk that you can carry on the plane. In addition, it does not need to fit within a quart-sized bag.
However, these liquids should be declared to the TSA officer. Keep this separate from any liquids subject to the liquids policy (shampoo, contact solution, etc.) so there's no confusion for the TSA operators.
2. You do not need to be traveling with your baby to carry breastmilk with you.
3. Traveling with frozen breast milk
You can carry frozen ice packs and coolers onto the plane. However, if the ice pack is partially defrosted or slushy, it may be subject to additional screening.
4. Breastmilk will be screened by x-ray or another testing method.
Additional screening measures may involve testing with strips that detect explosive residue. You may be asked to transfer some milk into a separate container for testing.
You can ask the TSA to not xray breast milk. This seems to be a common area of conflict with TSA. So, see if you can find out how your airport handles requests for screening that does not involve x-raying the breastmilk.
5. You should also check out your airline’s written policies about traveling with breastmilk and breast pumps.
Some airlines have written policies and some do not. If your airline does have a written policy, you should print it out and keep it with you.
You may also want to contact customer service to determine if there is a policy that is not clearly stated on the airline’s website.
6. The TSA does not identify breast pumps as a medical device.
For the tsa, breast pumps are not considered medical devices and count toward your “carry-on plus personal item” allowance.
Some airlines may treat them as such, but you cannot necessarily rely on that.
Whenever we traveled, I took my pump as my carry-on and the baby’s diaper bag as my personal item. We then checked a bag with my clothes and the baby’s stuff. I can’t help it – I still over-pack for him.
Another time, when I traveled by myself, I still had to pump. I brought my suitcase as a carry-on and packed my pump bag.
I included bags for milk, pump parts, and my personal items. This method got everything on without checking bags or fighting over whether the pump was a medical device.
A third option would be to bring a manual pump as a inexpensive backup in case the airline makes you check your electric pump.
If you don't have a manual pump or need a travel pump that is very popular, check out NatureBond's Silicone Manual Breast Pump.
It's inexpensive so if something happens to it, no big deal. It also has incredible reviews!
Knowing how baggage is sometimes handled, I would do anything I could to avoid getting my pump checked. Make sure you have looked into airline policies and have a back-up plan that will keep the pump in your control.
7. International flights are a different story. If you are travelling outside of the United States, you'll need to do additional research for your destination.
The rules discussed above apply to the United States only. Carefully check regulations for other countries.
For example, in the UK, you can only travel with larger amounts of breastmilk if you are traveling with your child. Make sure you research this issue thoroughly before flying internationally with breastmilk.
Travelling Without Your Baby
If you'll be travelling and away from your little one for an extended time, it's important to understand what the impact will be on your breastmilk production and whether it will dry up your milk (see our guide here).
Packing and Transporting Your Breastmilk
There are several ways to pack breastmilk for air travel. You can pack it the same way you would for a long drive to work.
Place the milk in tightly sealed containers (bottles or breastmilk bags) in small cooler bags with plenty of freezer packs to keep the milk cold. Then place the cooler bags in your pump bag. Once the cooler bag is closed, open it infrequently to maintain the cold temperature.
Most pumps come with at least one cooler bag. You can also purchase additional ones cheaply.
If you need additional cooler bags, I recommend checking out Skip Hop's Double Insulated Bottle Bags. They have some super cute options, they're inexpensive, they can handle abuse, and have excellent reviews!
You can also bring the milk in a larger cooler bag or hard cooler separate from the pump. This will likely be counted as a separate carry-on, so plan accordingly.
Your cooler bags can be filled with ice or freezer packs to keep the breastmilk cold. Using a larger cooler will allow you to carry larger quantities of breastmilk for longer trips.
Alternatively, you may be able to check breastmilk in a container packed with dry ice. There are very specific TSA regulations about the weight and packing for containers involving dry ice.
Contact your airline to make sure that you comply with airline regulations before travelling with dry ice-packed breastmilk.
The main thing is to have a means of keeping the milk cold for the whole flight. We made it from coast to coast with just freezer packs in my pump bag.
However, longer flights may require much more substantial cooling to keep the milk cold enough.
If you are traveling out of country, check with the airline for any regulations in the country you are visiting.
Freeze the Breastmilk Before You Leave
Traveling with frozen breast milk is a great idea! But a lot of mommies wonder how to keep breast milk frozen while traveling. The biggest factor to consider is how long will your flight be and how long will you be away from a real freezer. For normal flights, a freezer bag with ice is enough. For long flights, you'll need to think about other options.
Regardless of the size or type of container, breastmilk will stay colder for longer in the cooler if it is frozen prior to travel. However, on a longer flight breastmilk may begin to defrost.
If it starts to thaw, it should not be refrozen. Keep this in mind as you decide how to transport it.
You may decide to ship the breastmilk instead of traveling with it, however this can be expensive.
5 Expert Tips for Flying with Breastmilk
Here are some additional useful tips for traveling as a breastfeeding mom. I can think of a few times when I wish I had known some of these in advance.
1. Pumping while traveling: think about other supplies you will need.
When you are pumping at home or at work, you are in a routine and have your supplies easily available.
That can get trickier on the road, especially if you're pumping while traveling. Do not forget to pack some of those extra things you use often.
You might need parts, breastmilk bags, a Sharpie for labeling, soap, bottle brush or pads.
A product that is very convenient while travelling is Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump & Accessory Wipes. Having a bag of them on hand can make your life a lot easier!
You can quickly clean your pump and accessories and not have to worry about your little one getting sick from all of the gross bacteria you encounter.
They're also a super cheap convenience.
2. If you are staying in a hotel, check ahead to make sure your room has a freezer.
That may affect not only your ability to freeze newly pumped breastmilk, but also to refreeze freezer packs. Trying to scramble for cold freezer packs just before the trip home is stress you do not need.
3. Find out if the airports you will be passing through have places for mothers to pump or nurse.
Some airports have entire rooms dedicated to this. Some have “nursing pods.” Yet, others have basically nothing. Consider bringing a battery pack charger for your pump as it can be difficult to find somewhere to plug in your pump.
If there is not a dedicated pumping space, you may end up pumping out in the open to find a nearby outlet.
You can also use a manual pump to avoid this. Similarly, if you have to pump on the plane, think ahead about how you will handle this.
4. Babies have a really hard time with the air pressure changes on takeoff and landing.
Keep a bottle ready or plan to nurse during those periods. The sucking and swallowing will help the baby’s ears deal with the pressure changes. Planning for that will hopefully save you a lot of screaming from baby and looks from fellow passengers.
5. Keep a close eye on your own nutritional needs.
It is easy to get dehydrated or not eat enough when traveling, be sure you drink plenty of water and eat snacks to keep yourself well-nourished. When you bring breast milk on planes, don't forget enough water for yourself!
Tsa travel with breastmilk can be stressful; however, once you understand the rules, it's not a big deal. It's a matter of knowing the rules and knowing your rights. Be a proud mother and educate yourself before you start flying with breast milk.
I hope this article helped to get you up to speed on everything you need to know. I wish you and yours the best! If you liked this article, please share!