Traveling with Breastmilk: A Guide to Navigating Air Travel and Airport Security as a Breastfeeding Mom


Those of us dedicated to exclusive breastfeeding know the challenges of just maintaining a supply while working away from home. Add business travel to the mix and you reach a whole new level of complexities. All the rules of pumping on schedule and emptying each breast each session apply even more strictly. This includes setting your alarm at night to pump when you normally do a night feed with your baby. You want to ensure your body knows there is still a baby to feed even when you’re away.

But what about logistics? How does TSA handle breastmilk? What essential items should I pack? How do I keep my milk from spoiling while away? Those were many questions I had to answer through trial and error. All the details wandered through my mind when I was preparing for my first business trip away from home.

I started out searching on the internet for tips. Some websites helped. Others had terrifying stories. I found a few that helped, but I still wasn’t prepared for some disasters like a 14 hour flight delay at DFW in the middle of summer. I lost my whole stock that trip. Each trip I took, I ran into a new peculiar problem that I hadn’t read about. After multiple trips in the last 6 months, I’ve put together a rather robust list of tips and tricks to make it through a 3-day business trip and bring home my liquid gold.

Here goes:

  1. Medela Freestyle – I highly recommend getting the Medela Freestyle pump. It is a compact pump you can carry with you in any bag you wish. If your job requires you look sharp and polished with matching purse and shoes, you should invest in the Freestyle pump. Because the pump motor is not attached to a bag like the Medela Pump-In-Style (PIS), you have a lot of freedom with your accessories. If style is not important and you don’t mind carrying a separate bag with you everywhere you go or you are able to stash your pump away between meetings, you can get away with the Pump-In-Style. I originally had the PIS backpack version and did one business trip and that’s it. It was very cumbersome to carry my PIS backpack, my laptop bag and purse, plus luggage. Interestingly, the motor in the PIS died shortly after that trip. I took that opportunity to get the Freestyle which worked out so much better because I could consolidate all my bags or re-arrange on the fly if I’m trying to carry on my luggage versus check it.
  2. Get extra ice packs and a large cooler bag – Both the Medela PIS and FS pumps come with a small cooler and hard case ice pack. This will not be enough for your trip. Buy extra freezer ice packs. You can get any standard ice packs. These are allowed through security. You can travel with 4, but I carry 6 for safe measure. Also get a large cooler bag. You’ll need to have a big bag to bring home all the milk you pump while you’re away. I do like to carry the small black bag and one ice pack in my purse with the pump and parts for out and about and leave the big bag and extra ice packs in my hotel room.
  3. Milk Storage – Pack at least 1 set of bottles and LOTS of milk storage bags (at least 16 per day you’re gone). The Medela breastmilk storage bags are specially designed to go with the Medela pump. I only use these when I’m pumping in the aircraft or at the airport. These bags are expensive and you use 2 bags each pumping session. I much prefer the Lansinoh breastmilk storage bags. It is a larger bag that stores more milk and it is double-zippered. However, the plastic is softer so you have to be gentler with them. With the Lansinoh bags, I pump into two bottles and then transfer the milk to a single Lansinoh bag. So, with Lansinoh, I only use 1 bag per session versus 2 Medela bags per session. However, with the Medela bags, you have the convenience of pumping straight into the bag instead of the extra step of transferring the milk from bottles to a bag. I find the Medela bags most useful if you have to stand in a bathroom stall to pump, or another similarly awkward pumping location. So the routine I worked out is to pump into a bottle when I have access to clean water and a convenient location. When I have no access to clean water or have to pump in an awkward position, I pump into the Medela bags, toss everything into my zippered storage bag and then head over to the nearest table where I can lay out all my parts and clean with the wipes and re-organize my purse.
  4. Medela Quick Clean Wipes – This is very important. The Medela wipes are specially designed to clean your parts when you don’t have access to clean water. When you pump on the plane, do NOT use the water to clean your parts. The water on the aircraft is not potable and will have bacteria that will remain in your pump. Use the wipes to clean your parts; you don’t have to wash with soap and water after cleaning with the wipes.
  5. Zippered storage bag – There will be times while traveling where you want your pumps disassembled for one reason or other. So, you carry an extra zippered storage bag to keep all your pump parts in one organized place while disassembled.
  6. Where to pump – Look for family restrooms. Many large airports have family restrooms that allow you to pump in privacy. In the aircraft, pump in the lavatory, you can drop down the diaper changing shelf to rest your bag and organize your pump and parts before you pump. Then cleaning is also easy. With the Medela quick clean wipes, you’ll need to store the parts disassembled so they can air dry between pump sessions.
  7. imageNursing cover – This is not necessary, but it’s great to have when you can’t pump in private. Once I was on a very late night flight and I was trapped in a middle seat and I desperately needed to pump or I would explode, but there was air turbulence so I could not leave my seat to pump in the lavatory for 15 minutes. Out came my nursing cover, all my pump parts and there I pumped in my seat between fellow travelers. Neither seemed to be bothered, in fact I think they pretended to be asleep to give me some “privacy”.
  8. Getting through security – A lot of improvements has been made by TSA to protect breastfeeding mothers’ rights, but you will still run into hassles. If you read the TSA website, breastmilk is exempted from the 3-1-1 rule, but you will still be subjected to additional screening. If you pack and declare your items correctly, the screening process will be much easier. Some airports have a family line; this line can be used if you’re carrying breastmilk that needs to be declared and inspected separately. It’s great to use as you’ll be able to avoid the long main security line. Try to consolidate all your breastmilk and ice packs into one cooler bag. Then put your cooler bag through security like any other bag. I always put the cooler bag last, so I can collect all my other belongings first before my cooler bag gets through the scanner and flagged for a bag check. You will always get a bag check. Just plan on it. Add extra time for this. And don’t be surprised when new TSA officials have no idea what to do with your milk decide to give you a pat down because you’re over the 3-1-1 rule. Technically, a pat down is unnecessary because breastmilk is exempt, but I’m always rushing for my flight so I can’t be bothered to ruffle feathers and miss my flight. When they bring you to the side for inspection you should re-iterate to the officer your bag contains breastmilk or ice packs for breastmilk. He’ll run a small swab along the outer edges of your bags, run a test and send you on your way. If the official is new, he might decide to swab and test your computer and all your other bags/items. Ice packs are also allowed to be sent through security even if you don’t have breastmilk with you. Just let the officer know why you have ice packs. Freeze the ice packs so they are solid when you go through security. I found that when the ice packs are solid, they didn’t run the extra swap test, but only checked that they were solid. I’ve also gone through security with all my breastmilk frozen and it made for much easier screening process, but not all hotels have freezers, so that is not always an option.
  9. Hotel – Be sure to book a hotel that has in-room fridge or freezer. Sometimes, you’ll need to request it at the front desk and they will bring one to your room. Find out ahead of time before you arrive. If the hotel doesn’t offer a fridge, find another place. Higher priced hotels like Hyatt Regency will charge you a nominal fee to rent a fridge. Others will provide it to you complimentary. I found moderately priced hotels like Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard by Marriott SpringHill Suites to be very accommodating with fridges and do not charge extra fees. Absolute worst case scenario, see if they have a freezer in the back office or the onsite restaurant and ask if you can store your milk there. You’ll have to have 2 cooler bags – one for your room and one for the hotel freezer. Be sure to have the ice packs stored in the freezer so they can be frozen for the trip home. Every morning you’ll have to bring the milk you pumped overnight to put in the hotel freezer. It’s cumbersome, but at least your milk will be safe.

Traveling for work is hectic enough as it is. I hope with these tips, you’ll have one less thing to worry about and you’ll bring home your milk for a happy mom and baby reunion.

Happy travels!

Cindy Gainsforth, Road Warrior

6 thoughts on “Traveling with Breastmilk: A Guide to Navigating Air Travel and Airport Security as a Breastfeeding Mom

  1. Cindy – this is a fantastic post. The first two times we were to travel with our kids, we opted for train rather than plane, because we didn’t want to deal with the headaches of pumps & breastmilk going through airport security and all of the other hassle that goes along with it. Thanks for that write-up!!
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  2. Wow Cindy – I just had never thought through any of those types of logistics before. Really informative – thanks for the hatting.
    My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but it’s on the not too distant horizon, so my mind is definitely starting to think with these types of things.
    Thank you for this post and the other tips and mistakes when traveling with small children – they will no doubt come in very handy in the future :D!

  3. This is all fantastic advice! I will be traveling out of the country in a few weeks and I’m thrilled to have come across your post. I have been debating the entire trip but this definitely puts my mind at ease and gives me tons of ideas about how to conquer this very difficult task.

    I breastfed and pumped with with my first child for 13 months but never traveled without her. This is a whole new experience…our second will only be 4 months old at the time of our trip. I have a large supply in the freezer for her while we’re away so that’s not an issue. I am a bit nervous about her wanting to nurse upon my return…we’ll be away for 5 days.

    Thank you again for the wonderful post…I am printing it out now!!!

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