You have to be away from your baby, but you want to protect your breastfeeding relationship, so you commit to pumping and bringing home your milk. On a day-to-day basis, this isn’t so difficult. You can use refrigerators and coolers with ice packs and bring home your freshly pumped milk each evening. But what if you have to be away from your baby for a few days or longer? Maybe you’re going on a business trip or you’re headed for a much-needed weekend away with your friends. Either way, you know that bringing home your milk is going to involve more challenges than usual. Figuring out the logistics of traveling with breastmilk can send even the most confident pumpin’ mama into big ball of anxiety. But wait! We’ve got your back! Balanced Breastfeeding mamas Jayna, Angela, and Franchessa have compiled the following tips for making your trip a milk-makin’ success.
First, make sure you pack everything you’re going to need to pump and save your milk. Use this as a packing checklist:
- Pump, power cord, and battery backup and/or car charger
- Batteries (at least two sets as the battery pack eats through batteries quickly)
- Tubes, valves, membranes, shields (more than one set if you have the space to pack)
- Bottles, caps
- Freezer bags (these are good because they take up less room when packing)
- Cleaning supplies: wipes or steam bags
- Nursing cover
- Cooler, ice packs (Opt for heavier duty ice packs that really last! The “gel” ice packs usually melt very quickly.)
Pumping and Flying
If you are traveling through an airport, remember that your pump is not a carry-on; it is a piece of medical equipment. So if you are only packing carry-ons and not checking any bags, you can have your carry-on, your purse, and the pump. Alternatively, if you don’t want to lug around three different bags, you can consider your pump (in its bag) as your purse and just not carry an actual purse.
If your flight is longer than two hours, chances are that you will need the pump with you instead of placing it in your checked luggage. Consider placing your pump in a large duffel bag or book bag, so you can pack other items (bottles, extra parts, nursing cover, US Weekly magazines, etc.) around it. Pack at least one set of the items above with you and keep spare parts in your second carry-on or checked bag.
“This isn’t an explosive device, I promise!” Getting through security is a nerve-wracking part of the process, but despite the impression often given by viral social media posts, many mamas have found that TSA is usually pretty cool; they see this all the time! In advance, be sure to review the guidelines, and consider printing them to carry with you, just in case you meet a rookie agent who gives you a hard time. Be sure to take the pump and any bottles (empty or filled) out of your bag, and place these items separately on the conveyor belt for screening.
Again, print the guidelines and take them with you. Chances are you won’t need it, but it’s worth having them just in case.
When going through TSA, be sure to tell a TSA agent that you have a pump and/or milk.
Someone will screen your pumped milk on your return home, which means that a very nice person (normally a woman) with gloved hands will take any pumped milk that is more than three ounces and put it in a box to be sure it’s not a bomb. If you pack your milk in amounts of fewer than three ounces, TSA doesn’t need to screen your containers.
Don’t let anyone take your milk out of your sight. They shouldn’t, but it’s best to be safe. As you are putting yourself back together, they can wait for you to put your shoes back on before they take your milk to the designated area for screening.
Here are some tips for practical pumping: You’ll notice pretty quickly that there are little to no accommodations made for pumping mothers during air travel, though some airports are beginning to design spaces specifically for mothers and babies. In the terminal, your best bet may be to find a family restroom where you can lock the door and pump in privacy (although you will likely deal with frequent knocks during the 20+ minutes you’re in there) or set up in a secluded corner in the waiting area, and use your nursing cover to help with discretion. The good thing about family restrooms is that they are normally the cleanest in the whole airport, so if you do choose to pump there, it’s not horrible.
Either way, you’re likely the only person who knows exactly what you’re doing, so sit back, relax, and pump away. Besides, you’re never going to see these strangers again, so who cares if someone figures it out?
If you need to pump on the plane, this is where a battery pack comes in handy. Your nursing cover will once again allow you to set up and pump discreetly, and you may want to consider getting a window seat if you’re worried about exposing any “side boob” to passengers in the aisle across from you while you’re getting settled. If you can do so, wait until your seatmate falls asleep, so that’s one less person you need to worry about giving you grief.
Cleaning your pump while traveling can be a hassle. Remember that pump parts are essentially “good” for about four hours, the same as your unrefrigerated milk, so if you pump twice in a four-hour time span, you don’t necessarily have to clean in between. If you take advantage of the family bathroom setup in the terminal, use the sink while you’re in there and give the parts a good rinse with warm water before returning them to your bag. Otherwise, use wipes to clean the parts until you have the opportunity to use water and soap or use steam clean bags if you have access to a microwave.
Saving Your Milk
Do you plan to keep the milk you pump while traveling? Go you! Remember that some ice packs melt quickly, especially in hot airplanes, so consider keeping the pumped milk and ice in a checked bag or the carry-on you place in the overhead bin. Even better, ask your flight attendant if you can store the milk in the plane’s refrigerator; just don’t forget to retrieve it before you leave!
If you are staying overnight in a hotel, request a refrigerator or freezer for your room; most hotels can accommodate this request easily, especially if you explain why you need it! Store the milk in the fridge and stick the ice packs in the back of the freezer so they can refreeze. Do not freeze the milk, since it will not stay frozen during your travel home and you’ll limit its usage (see below for tips for traveling with frozen milk). Be sure to pack heavy duty, hard ice packs. Although they are bulkier, they last much longer than any of the softer “gel” type ice packs.
You may decide that it is actually best to freeze your milk during your trip. Some donor milk is delivered frozen and some mamas may be away for long enough that they need to freeze their milk so their babies can still drink it later.
Check with the airline about cooler requirements. For example, Southwest will not allow Styrofoam coolers. Buried on their website are the guidelines for Southwest on traveling with frozen items. Their dry ice limit is five pounds, while TSA’s is five and a half pounds. There is always the chance that no one will weigh your dry ice, but it is important to consider both TSA’s guidelines (linked above) and those of the airline you are using, as they may not be exactly the same.
Freeze your milk flat in the bags so that it stacks more easily. Line the bottom of the cooler with ice packs, stack the milk bags, then add one layer of newspaper or similar light barrier on top. On top of the sheet of newspaper, place your bag of dry ice. If there is a gap between the dry ice and the top of the cooler, place more newspaper on top of the dry ice to minimize the empty space so that the bags of milk won’t move around, as the bags can be slightly brittle from the low temperature of the dry ice.
There are some other points to note about dry ice: Dry ice can be bought at grocery stores, so you can pick some up on the last day of your trip. Call the store before going just to be sure they have some in stock. Once you have removed the dry ice from the store’s insulated freezer, it will begin to evaporate. Once the dry ice is completely evaporated, you have at least six hours before the milk starts to thaw. Keep this time frame in mind and consider the length of your flight when planning to travel with frozen milk.
Your cooler of milk will count as a carry-on item. An airline agent or TSA agent should designate your cooler with a sticker to indicate that there is dry ice inside. When you go through security, be armed with your knowledge of what TSA and your specific airline allow. This will help if any agent gives you difficulty about your frozen breastmilk stash.
Remember that frozen milk, ice packs, and coolers are heavy! Purchasing a luggage cart and bringing it with you to the airport may help you wheel your carry-on items on and off the plane.
Traveling with Others
If you are not traveling alone, discuss your plan to pump with any travel companions ahead of time. You will have to take breaks throughout the day (just as you do at work normally) to stop and pump. If you have plans to visit any facilities to conduct your business, you may have to ask for altered schedules to be able to pump.
If possible, call the facility or company you are visiting to ask about mothers’ rooms on-site or to plan to pump in your rental car. (Most cars are tinted in the backseat, but you probably still want to bring your cover.) Do what you can ahead of time to eliminate the need for last minute schedule changes. It will also save you from daily awkward conversations explaining that you have to go pump. Make a code word like “taking care of business” if you need to!
Ship Your Milk Home
Another option for getting your milk home to your baby is to ship it home independently of your own travel arrangements. Companies like Milk Stork can help you plan the best way to make sure your milk gets home safely and still in usable condition.
Maintaining Peace of Mind
Last of all, do your best to relax! You’ll pump better if you are relaxed, and if you are away for fewer than three days, no misstep is likely to reduce your milk supply. So if you miss a pump, don’t sweat it. If this is your first opportunity to “sleep through the night” since baby was born, sleep. Your body and mind will appreciate the additional rest!
Traveling can be stressful even without pumping, and yes, there are many extra considerations that a pumpin’ mama must make before she travels. Having a plan ahead of time will cut down on the added stress of finding time and space to pump and figuring out how to get your liquid gold home to your baby.