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Breastfeeding & Air Travel

Jul26

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesOh great and well-researched Amalah,

I just found out that in September I will be flying to LA for a “girls weekend” type thing, leaving behind my husband and our son. It will be my first weekend away from them and I’m sad/thrilled/excited/nervous. I’m still breastfeeding which is where it gets tricky- I’m not sure how/what to bring to pump.

A few of the details: I normally use a Medela Pump’n'Style while I’m at work. I’ll probably try to get by with only a carry-on bag + purse/camera, since it’s just a 2.5 day trip. I usually pump every 3 hours.

While I’m in LA is not a problem, but I’m not sure how to handle the pump on the plane. Should I take my fancy pump or should I go grab a $20 hand pump to bring? Put it in my carry-on roller or try to cram it into my purse? Will the TSA people think I am smuggling some kind of evil machine? Is it worth dragging all the milk back with me or should I just pump and dump it as I go so I don’t have to carry it back on the return flight and explain myself? (I’m not worried about bringing the milk back, I just want to keep my supply going strong) And how much breastmilk am I allowed to travel with?

I’m just looking for the simplest way to do this with the least amount of at-the-airport hassling. Have you pumped while flying? Or have a friend who did? I’d love to hear some other experiences with it.

xoxo,
Jamie

Okay, first things first: Here’s the Official TSA Policies on carrying breastmilk through airport security. Expressed milk is grouped with liquid medications, so there is no limit on how much you can bring back in a carry-on bag. Mothers traveling without their children are also allowed to bring their breastmilk on the plane (this is, sadly, a newish change to the policy, but is a policy nonetheless). You do need to tell someone at the checkpoint that you HAVE the liquids in your bag prior to walking through the x-ray, but contrary to crazy stories you may have read somewhere, you will NOT be asked to taste the milk (nor would your child, if you were traveling with your son). Keep the milk containers together and in an easy-to-separate-out spot, much like you do with your Ziploc baggie of toiletry liquids. (But do NOT put breastmilk in with the under-three-ounce stuff: It is a separate thing.) Say something like, “I’m a nursing mother, and I have breastmilk and a pump in my bag.” to someone at the checkpoint.

A security person MAY examine the milk — or they may just glance at it and wave you through. They MAY test it (for explosives, or whatever) — they may not. That remains a random sort of inspection. I have never personally flown while pumping (I just brought the whole kid), I do know many women who have traveled with both pumps and breastmilk and none of them have ever reported any sort of egregious treatment or suspicion happening at the checkpoint. So if you DO decide to bring milk back with you, I’m confident you can do it without fear of harassment at the airport. (Though if you are still nervous, print out that TSA page about breastmilk and bring it with you, just in case your rights are challenged.)

The same goes for the pump. If you’d rather keep your purse and camera with you, put the pump in your bag. (There are no rules that electric breastpumps must be separated out or presented for separate inspection, as far as I know.) The x-ray person might ask you to open your bag so he or she can examine it, but I GUARANTEE it will not be the first breast pump they’ve seen. Just be polite and cooperative and tell them what it is. You could also (if you have the same shoulder-bag design that mine did) pack all the parts and accessories in your luggage and use the pump bag as a purse, just so the actual mechanical part of the pump is already out and easy for security to check. Or, put the pumped milk in the bag with some ice packs, and pull both out of your carry-on for inspection before you walk through the scanner, just to make it super clear that THIS IS HARMLESS MILK THAT I DONE PUMPED FROM MAH BOOBS.

As for scrapping all of this and going with a hand pump? Your call. You absolutely 100% have the right to bring milk back and shouldn’t let fear of airport security make you feel like dumping it down the drain is the best option. But lord, AH KNOW. I hate airports more than anything and get a tremendous amount of anxiety whenever I have to deal with them. I’d probably buy a hand pump BEFORE your trip to make sure it works for you — at my peak supply I had an okay time with the Medela Harmony, but at any other time I never felt like it did a great job of emptying my boobs out completely. (Was better for relieving engorgement or for reducing the force of my letdown.) So if maintaining your supply is the whole idea, you might want to stick with the Pump-n-Style and just view it like traveling with a laptop.

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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20 Responses to “Breastfeeding & Air Travel”

  1. Camille Jul 26 at 3:34 pm Reply Reply

    I flew across country for work without my daughter and brought my breast pump (pump in style). I had no problems…it was treated like a computer (taken out of suitcase for inspection), and they looked at it more carefully once it went through the scanner. On the way back I had a bunch of milk with me (I was going to toos, but couldn’t bring myself to because I donate all the extra and I felt guilty about wasting it) and the only issue was that the guy got one of the milk baggies stuck in the zipper of the cooler bag. Luckily he realized what he did before he tore it, and actually got so flustered that he passed it off to a female agent. Personally, I wouldn’t bring a handpump….especially on a girl’s weekend! They work for me but the electric pump is waaaay mor efficient and less awkward and I’d rather just get the job done quickly.

  2. Courtney Jul 26 at 3:47 pm Reply Reply

    I did a few business trips (most no longer than 2 days) during the 12 months I nursed my daughter, and never had any major problems. I always brought along a printed copy of the TSA regulations. The pump itself did get suspicious looks on two occasions while going through the machine, and was manually inspected in detail, but that didn’t take too long. I say never toss breast milk if you can help it – you never know when you might need extra to tide your baby over during a growth spurt, and it represents a lot of work, you know? My other tips are to bring along a nursing cover in your bag so you can pump in the airport in privacy in dire situations (yes, I actually pumped on the floor of an airport while stuck at a gate for a delayed flight where they kept making announcements), and to make sure you have enough space and ice in your cooler for the milk. Sometimes the storage bags for milk allow you to fit more in the cooler than the bottles (though as PP pointed out, they’re also more prone to exploding, tearing, etc.). Hope that helps and good luck!

  3. Jessi Jul 26 at 4:18 pm Reply Reply

    I was away from my son for 5 days and took a hand-held pump. I had no issues using it. But I did have to practice using it for a few weeks before the trip (I was mainly using my PnS) to make sure I could pump efficiently (fast).

    One tip, if you are bringing back pumped milk like I did, make sure to have all excess water dumped out. I had my milk in 5 oz. bags, inside a gallon ziptop bag full of ice. By the time I got to the airport, most of the ice had melted. They didn’t like that, but still let me through. It really wasn’t a hassle at all.

  4. Elsie Jul 26 at 4:51 pm Reply Reply

    For the issue of what to do with the milk. If you don’t want/need to bring it back–DON’T DUMP IT! There are many many parents with adopted babies or who can’t bf for other reasons who would gladly come to you and pick it up.  You can find them easily through the yahoogroup  Milkshare.  You just say where you will be , how much milk you estimate having, and when to pick it up. You can then select who gets it–you’ll get several replies.  I did this when travelling and got to donate to a new mom of adopted twins.  Good luck!

  5. Michele Jul 26 at 5:06 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve only traveled without my son on a plane for a long day trip (about 16 hours away from him), but here’s what worked for me. I kept the pump (Medela Freestyle) and milk in my carry-on with ice packs. I explained what I had at the checkpoints and no one asked to see the milk. (On a previous trip with my son, my milk got tested for explosives, I think. The agent opened one bottle and held a test strip over it without touching the milk. It was quick and drama-free.) I opted to pump in airport bathrooms since my flights were very short. At Logan in Boston, I found an out-of-the-way bathroom with a big counter and used my nursing cover. At National in DC, I found a bathroom with a “nursing lounge” (really, just another stall with a bench and changing table) and pumped in there. I kept everything clean with Medela wipes. +1 for bringing your PIS instead of a hand pump. On a related note, I definitely recommend a hands-free pumping bra if you don’t have one already (Simple Wishes is the one I use).

  6. Nanette Jul 26 at 6:22 pm Reply Reply

    Just wanted to add that while I didn’t have problems traveling w/ my PIS, the blue ice pack that comes with cooler was an issue on the way to my destination. They wouldn’t let me take it on as carry-on — I had to check it and my carry-on bag as that was the only bag I brought. Maybe it was a fluke requirement and lame TSA agent, but it’s something to keep in mind. (I don’t remember what happened on the way back. I think I may have checked my milk with my checked bag.)

  7. Alissa Jul 26 at 7:54 pm Reply Reply

    If you’re going on a LONG trip, especially with no layovers, you might need to pump on the plane.  I ended up having to after poor planning on my part at the airport, and a red-eye flight from San Fran to Baltimore.  The flight attendants were delightfully helpful and allowed me to use the first class coffee prep area to pump (I didn’t want to take up a bathroom for 20 minutes).  It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done – sitting on a metal box surrounded by coffee and snacks, in turbulence, with nice flight attendants checking in every now and then to be sure things were ok.  But have a sense of humor and roll with the punches and everything will be fine.

    I, personally, didn’t want to have to deal with carrying milk.  And I was going for a wedding, so I definitely had alcohol in my system.  It was not worth it for me to save the milk.  I pumped and dumped, and then didn’t worry as much about keeping my pump parts clean, or sterilizing my bottles, etc.  Way easier.  But I am a lazy slacker…

  8. Ally Jul 26 at 8:45 pm Reply Reply

    I went on a cruise a few months ago while I was still nursing. I bought one of the medella hand held pumps and it was awful. I should have tried it before I went on the trip to see if it would work. I was never able to produce milk from it and ended up having to hand pump the entire trip. I dumped the milk because we were traveling around so much, and I didn’t have any way to store the milk. I didn’t have any problems brining my pump on the plane, but it was very awkward pumping while on the flight. I couldn’t just sit in the bathroom and I was in the middle seat. There wasn’t any good options for the situation. 

  9. Crystal Jul 26 at 10:55 pm Reply Reply

    I traveled with a pump, but my daughter was with me (for many long and involved reasons we never had a bf relationship) so I never had to worry about traveling with more than the amount of breastmilk we needed with the plane.

    I just gave the heads up to the TSA guy that I had a breast pump and milk and in both airports (to and from) their interest level dropped and they mostly wanted me to take my cootie girly things back.

    To be clear, inspecting the milk and testing the milk doesn’t actually give them the right to OPEN the milk.

    Also remember a cooler and a fridge for your hotel room if you’re going to be storing milk and bringing it back. But i you have the supply to afford it (I never did) just dump it or if you’re comfortable go on milk share and look for a person to donate your pumped milk to before you leave.

    Best of luck.

  10. Kathleen Jul 26 at 11:57 pm Reply Reply

    If you go through the “family traveler lane”, even without your kiddo, security will pretty much know what you’re doing – they’ve gotten really good at understanding the different needs in those lanes. (I ALWAYS have an over-3-oz thing of Benadryl – never a problem, just follow Amalah’s list above).

    For the record – I’ve never carried my breastpump, but I have carried a scientific vacuum pump for work in my carry on – TSA always assumed it was a CPAP machine – I think they swabbed it for explosives once out of about 10 flights, looked at it a couple of other times.

  11. Keli Jul 27 at 9:30 am Reply Reply

    One thing I don’t think has been mentioned…if the TSA inspector does not put on new gloves before inspecting your pump you have the right to request new gloves. I wouldn’t want old gloves which have just patted down some guy’s crotch to touch and inspect my sterilized pump parts! :)

  12. Pamela Jul 27 at 10:08 am Reply Reply

    I travel a lot for business and always took my pump as an additional carry-on. So, laptop/backpack + camera bag + pump (medela PIS)

    No one ever said anything to me about having 3 carry-ons and I travel about once a month.

    As for milk, If you don’t have your milk with you, you might get hassled about any kind of cooling apparatus (ice packs, gel packs etc.) and you might have to check those, but if you have your milk with you, then it shouldn’t be a problem (at least I never had a problem.)

    One thing I did see, though, was that I think it was Delta that doesn’t want you to bring ice cube type ice to keep breast milk cold.

  13. rebecca Jul 27 at 10:29 am Reply Reply

    I traveled frequently for business and encountered almost every situation thinkable with the pumping.

    What I did, was check my Pump in Style, and carry the Medela hand pump with me. I personally loved the handpump and it was all I ended up using. I used the little plastic baggies and scotch tape to secure it around the pump. I carried sanitizing wipes, tape, baggies, and a few paper towels and all fit into my purse. But it didn’t produce the same amount of milk as the PiS, no question…

    One thing to keep in mind is to lower your expectations about how much milk you will produce. Inevitably you will be caught in situations where you cannot (or do not want to) pump. You may even find yourself in a situation where you have to dump. If you are expecting to come home with the next 3 months worth of milk supply for your baby, you may end up disappointed.

    I always tried to be flexible with the goal of SIMPLY MAINTAINING MY SUPPLY… and doing the best I could with pumping and bringing milk back. Made my life much easier.

    For me, I also had to plan on some serious nursing time when I arrived home to get me back on schedule and get my supply back up. That was actually really nice after being away!

    The only problem I encountered was overzealous TSA agents at a small airport who made me open 5 random milk bags for testing with a strip (thus contaminating the milk) and I swear I almost got arrested in protest :).

    Keep in mind if you need to pump on the plane, they frown on you going in an occupying the bathroom for 20 minutes without letting them know what’s up…

    Also, hotels will usually empty the minifridge in the room if you call ahead and tell them you are nursing.

    Good luck!

  14. Heather Jul 27 at 10:53 am Reply Reply

    I traveled for a week when my daughter was 9 months old and breastfeeding. I brought my electric pump with me as a carry on, and ended up pumping twice at the airport. I always used the family bathroom. I also made sure I had batteries as a backup in case I couldn’t find a plug.
    I ended up dumping the milk, just because there wasn’t really a way to store the milk while we traveled. But I’d suggest making sure to bring stuff to clean the pump parts. I didn’t really think of it, and it was a pain trying to rig up stuff that worked and could scrub all the little parts.

  15. Portia Jul 27 at 1:54 pm Reply Reply

    This is why I love this blog! I am so thankful to read all of the great responses here. My son is eight months old and I am going to have to start traveling for work soon and I have agonized over how I was going to pump and travel and still maintain my milk supply as well as avoid my boobs exploding while on a plane. Thanks to Amalah and all of the great responses here, I feel confident enough to travel (Ok. Well leaving my darling baby with my husband – ALONE – that’s a bit scary but I’m working through that :-) ). Thanks a million, ladies.

  16. Claire Jul 27 at 2:53 pm Reply Reply

    I too traveled while pumping, and found that once I mentioned the words “breast pump” or “breast milk,” the TSA men just wanted me to get through the line so they wouldn’t have to touch any of it. It was almost humorous.
    I never had to pump while in transit, but I would definitely take the electric pump so that it won’t take as much time away from your friends over the weekend.
    Also, I was worried about bringing the plastic ice pack back with me, so I refridgerated my milk in bags all weekend, froze the ice pack, and also brought baggies, so if the TSA agent made me throw away the ice pack, I could go to a restaurant after security and get some ice, thus keeping my milk cold. Because I was only gone for short trips, I didn’t bother with freezing my milk, because I wouldn’t have wanted it to thaw at all while I flew, and you can keep it refridgerated before freezing for a number of days. Hope this helps!

  17. Delora Jul 27 at 5:05 pm Reply Reply

    I traveled with both baby and pump last week and had no problems. I’d brought a bottle of expressed milk in my carry-on (just in case, and it was a few days old, so would have had to dump it anyway), and just alerted the TSA agent I had it. She whisked it away and put it into a little box for testing.

    While at the hotel, we had a fridge in the room, so my late-night pumping session (after baby was asleep) got frozen in bags. I’d packed some hard-shell ice packing, thinking they’ll have less objection in security than gel-packs, and had no problems with those going through. All my frozen milk and ice packs fit into one cooler, so I ended up just stuffing that in my checked bag. It was slushy when I got home, so used it within the next day or two.

  18. Momof3 Jul 27 at 7:10 pm Reply Reply

    The best way I ever heard about getting milk home after pumping  while away (as in a cross country flight, with stops, a cooler with ice is not going to keep it cold enough to keep bacteria away) is to have the hotel arrange a small delivery of dry ice to your hotel just before you depart.  This will freeze your milk and you can use it without worrying about it getting too warm while traveling.  There is no way I would bother with a hand pump if you don’t usually use one.  They take way longer than a P.I.S. and when you’re trying to have a fun weekend with minimal time spent pumping.

  19. Susan Jul 27 at 7:42 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely print out the TSA guidelines – if there’s anything these comments prove, it’s that each airport and each agent “interprets” the rules differently. I have had had to open bottles of breastmilk for testing (WHILE juggling a squirming infant – and no, the agent couldn’t open the bottle, I had to do it) in Denver and Kansas City, and been harassed for not specifically identifying a liquid filled teether that I forgot were in the diaper bag. I have also had homemade baby food opened and tested, though sealed 5 oz jars of storebought baby food were ignored.

    I only flew two short flights while pumping/bfing, so I put the pump in my checked luggage. Each time there was a note in my suitcase that it had been searched (but that may have been because I also travel with a baggie of white powdered laundry detergent…!).

  20. Jamie Jul 29 at 10:04 am Reply Reply

    Hi ladies!
    Original question-asker here. Thanks so much for all your experiences and advice. I think I’ll definitely stick with my pump in style since that’s what I’m used to and print out the TSA guidelines for my bag.

    And thanks to all that mentioned Milkshare. It’s an amazing program but given that I will be on girl weekend… I doubt that milk will be alcohol free enough to pass on to a baby.

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