What to Expect while Traveling: Flying with Breast Milk

When I took my first flight with my son (at about 3.5 months old), we went across the country to visit The Grandparents. Planning for our maiden voyage– which was six hours long plus transportation and airport time – was anxiety inducing to me!

How many diapers do I bring? Will he sleep? Should I bring cute packages of ear plug in baggies with cute message for the people around me like Pinterest suggests? Who has time to make all those baggies? But my biggest question was about breast milk.

At this point, I was pumping and bottle feeding 90% of the time which meant a long trip like this was going to require a decent amount of milk and definitely a pumping session or two. This all meant there was a lot of milk to manage properly!

My big take-aways below:

Know the Rules

Breast milk is exempt from the “limited quantity rule” of 3.4 ounces per TSA. Keep it separate from other liquids. In the very unfortunate circumstance that experience problems with TSA or an inexperienced TSA agent, call TSA directly: 1-866-289-9673

Have Extra

If you can’t/don’t breastfeed on-demand for whatever reason, be prepared for delays with extra breast milk, formula or a pump on-hand. Storing ‘extra’ isn’t ideal, but what is actually horrible? Running out of food your baby due to a mechanical delay. Even before I started supplementing with formula, I brought packets of it on-the-go just in case.

Know the Drill

TSA will allow you to bring however much milk you need through security. The process? Call it out before it goes on the conveyor belt so that the screener can put it aside for a check.

Note: I have had to wait 25-minutes during this step (until someone was free to check our milk supply by hand). Usually this is only a minor 5-minute delay but when planning for your airport time, give yourself some buffer.

An agent will come over to collect your milk and ask you to watch as they check it all.

Tip: Ask the TSA agent to put on new/fresh gloves before touching all your precious baby bottles.

The agent will take out ice packs and every single bottle. They wipe it all to check for explosives. Then, at most airports, they put it in this little machine that shakes the milk gently. I am not sure how it all works but I have never had any problems with that leaking or creating bubbles. After that, they give you your once-very-tidy-packed bottle totes and ice packs back to you in a heaping mess.

Be Prepared to Pump

Pack your hand-pump (and empty bottles or storage bags for that milk) or your electric pump for the trip. Throw in your breastfeeding cover-up for pumping if you feel so inclined, not all airports are equipped with an appropriate place for nursing mothers.

According to the FDA a breast pump is a medical device and is exempt from the carry-on limitations for airlines. However, not all agents and airlines seems to be on the same page about this so plan ahead by speaking with your airline or ensuring you do not have too many carry-on bags.

Have Icy Products

I have had an freezer-pack half-melted be thrown away at TSA, so make sure your products are buttoned up.

Pro tip: Thick ice packs last longer than gel packs, generally speaking.

Use bottle packs that are well insulated like this one that fits 6 bottles or this that fits 2 bottles. If you are going on a much longer trip, you may need to consider an actual lunch/picnic bag. You want to make sure the totes/packs you choose can be kept upright and protect the bottles from leaking and spilling.

Remember All Your Breast Milk Rules

Milk that is properly insulated with frozen cooler packs (and kept out of very warm environments) can last up to 24-hours – it should be offer and consumed within that timeframe.

Breast milk can stay at room temperature for 4-8 hours (ideally, less) before being consumed. If your baby is going to eat before 6 hours from now and your travel environments are not extra hot – consider keeping a bottle or two free from the ice pack shenanigans and offer those to baby first.

Frozen milk that you keep properly frozen can be put back in the freezer when you reach your destination or be thawed next in your rotation. Milk you travel with that has been thawed cannot be re-frozen. Previously frozen milk may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours after it has finished thawing.

Pro tip: Have hand sanitizer and wet wipes available so you have clean hands/fingers when dealing with bottles and feeding/pumping supplies!

If you are formula feeding on your travels, read my post here all about the easiest ways to deal with formula feeding through air travel (#8).

See my post here on more ways to keep your milk cold and protected!

Guidelines here for expressed milk are in relation to a full-term, healthy child. If baby is seriously ill and/or hospitalized or premature, you should discuss all breastmilk, feeding and traveling guidelines with your child’s doctor.