Breastfeeding & Air Travel
Oh 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.
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.Published July 26, 2010. Last updated October 29, 2017.