If you're a breastfeeding or pumping mom -- or you do both -- you may have a lot of questions about how you'll do this while traveling with or without your baby. Find out about pumping and breastfeeding on planes and in airports, how to store breast milk at your destination, and how to get it home safely.
How should I transport my breast milk and keep it fresh while traveling?
When you're moving from place to place, the best way to store breast milk is in sealed containers kept in a small, insulated cooler with frozen ice packs.
For containers, many moms like to use pre-sterilized, sealable bags that are specially designed for storing breast milk. You can also use hard plastic or glass containers -- just make sure whatever you use is clean (wash with hot, soapy water, rinse well, and air dry) and tightly sealed.
You may want to put only a small amount of milk in each container – 2- to 4-ounce portions – so you'll have a single serving ready to feed your baby. If you'll be freezing your milk, leave about an inch of room at the top of each container to allow for expansion.
In a cooler with ice packs, your milk will stay fresh for 24 hours. You'll be able to give it to your baby that day or the next, or take it to your destination and stick it in a fridge or freezer for longer storage.
If you won't be using your milk right away, label whatever container you use with the date so you'll be able to check its freshness. Breast milk stays fresh for three to eight days in the refrigerator, for six to 12 months if it's frozen, and for 4 to 6 hours at room temperature, according to La Leche League.
(Note that if it was frozen and thawed during travel, you need to use it within 24 hours – for safety's sake, you can't refreeze it at your destination.)
Will airport security give me a hard time about transporting breast milk?
With changes in airport security limiting the amount of liquid that can be carried on planes, many moms have concerns about traveling on an airplane with pumped breast milk. After all, as any mom who's ever pumped knows, the stuff is like gold! Once you've gone through the effort of pumping it, you don't want to lose it.
It didn't help that shortly after the regulations on carrying liquids changed, some traveling moms were forced to test their breast milk by tasting it or even dump it all out at the security checkpoint.
Since then, the Transportation Security Administration has pledged to be more accommodating to mothers. Now its guidelines say that moms can carry on breast milk in quantities above the 3-ounce rule for other liquids. This is true whether you're traveling with your baby or not, and you won't be asked to taste your milk.
"We're not hearing those horror stories anymore about moms having to dump their breast milk," says Shelly Rivoli, a mom of three, travel expert, and author of the book Travels with Baby.
But make sure that as you go through the security checkpoint, you keep your breast milk separate from your other liquids and let the security officials know that you're carrying it on. It won't need to be in 3-ounce containers like your other liquids, but security officials may ask to look at it more closely.
The total amount of breast milk you're allowed to carry on is still unspecified – it's up to the discretion of the TSA screener. The guidelines are vague on purpose, to help keep security standards high.
"They do it that way so they can review [the milk] on an individual basis. When a mom comes through with milk they'll probably have a quick conversation with her. They might also ask about her itinerary, so if she's been gone a day and has a huge quantity of milk, they might question it," Rivoli explains.
One easy way to bypass this process is to check your breast milk in a small insulated cooler with frozen ice packs if you won't need it in flight. The storage compartments in planes stay quite cool, so your breast milk will be fine for the duration of a domestic flight.
Note: If you plan to pump during the flight, your breast pump is considered a personal item and can be carried on like a laptop or a purse on most airlines. But it will count as one of your two carry-ons unless it's small enough to fit inside one of your other carry-on items. It's a good idea to call your airline ahead of time to confirm their policy.
Can I pump or breastfeed on a flight?
Yes, you should be able to pump or breastfeed on your flight, but you may have to take special precautions to be discreet. If a fellow passenger complains about feeling uncomfortable, flight attendants may ask you to cover your chest with a blanket, or they may reseat you or the other passenger.
Debbie Dubrow, a mom of two and founder of the blog Delicious Baby, about traveling with kids, advises breastfeeding moms to head off problems before they happen.
"As soon as the person sitting next to me shows up I let them know that I'm going to be breastfeeding, and if they're not comfortable with it we can talk to a flight attendant and arrange a move," says Dubrow. "That way they're not taken by surprise when the flight's taking off."
For added assurance, you can check ahead with your airline to ask about their policy on breastfeeding and pumping on planes, or check out one mom's summary of various airline policies.
Of the many moms we talked to for this article, none reported being harassed or bothered while nursing or pumping on a plane. In fact, many said that flight attendants took extra steps to make them comfortable, letting them nurse or pump in flight attendant areas or offering to store breast milk in airplane refrigerators.
You may want to pack a small blanket, a light shawl, or a product like the Hooter Hiders to shield your chest from view while you're breastfeeding or pumping. You can also book a window seat, which will give you slightly more room and privacy.
Another option is to breastfeed or pump in the airplane restrooms. This works for some moms who prefer additional privacy, but it's not a very comfortable option -- and, some moms say, not very sanitary or pleasant.
If you plan to pump or breastfeed in flight, keep in mind the best times to do so. If you're pumping you may have to wait until after the captain has allowed the use of electronic devices after take-off. If you're breastfeeding and traveling with your baby in your lap, you may want to consider feeding him during takeoff or landing to help relieve pressure in your baby's ears.
Note: The water on some airplanes has contained coliform bacteria so it shouldn't be used to clean your pumping equipment or bottles. You might want to request bottled water if you do need to clean your equipment.
Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before pumping or handling your pumping equipment, since airplanes and airports can expose you to a lot of germs.
Can I pump or breastfeed in an airport?
Yes, you should be able to pump or breastfeed in an airport, but where you can do it isn't always clear.
Laws on breastfeeding vary by state, and while some states explicitly protect a mom's right to nurse anywhere, other states allow private businesses to dictate the appropriateness of breastfeeding -- even in open areas like shopping malls and airports. You may want to read up on breastfeeding laws for the states you're visiting or traveling to so you'll know your rights.
There are no laws regarding pumping breast milk in US airports, says Marsha Walker, executive director of National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy. But she doesn't think moms are likely to encounter problems doing so, because airports are so busy and packed with people that breastfeeding and pumping goes unnoticed.
If you're traveling to a foreign airport, you may also want to do some research before you leave. Cultural attitudes toward breastfeeding vary by country and by culture.
When you get to your destination, Walker suggests asking at an information desk for an appropriate place to pump or breastfeed. Remember that you may need an adapter for your electric breast pump in some countries.
That said, airports usually offer an abundance of options for discreet pumping or breastfeeding. Dubrow, who has traveled extensively with her two young children, has never encountered problems breastfeeding in airports.
"It can be challenging to find a quiet corner to nurse. However, some airports have a family room you can use," she says. She adds that larger airports often have more options for discreet areas to pump or breastfeed than smaller airports.
If you need battery power to operate your breast pump, you can often find outlets in the waiting areas by the gates. One our site mom plugged her pump into the wall in an uncrowded corner, covered herself with a blanket, and peacefully pumped away.
"No one cared or paid attention. If anything, I felt like people went out of their way to give me space. Maybe that's because they sensed something unusual was going on under the blanket!" she says.
How should I store my breast milk once I reach my destination?
The easiest thing is to pop it in a fridge once you arrive. If you're staying in a hotel, use the mini-fridge in your room. (If your room doesn't come with a mini-fridge, many hotels will provide one if you request it, though they may charge an extra fee.)
Turning the fridge to its coldest setting is actually cold enough to freeze the milk in some fridges. This can be helpful for transporting milk or sending it home.
Some hotels will even store the milk for you in their refrigerators or freezers. In their conversations with other moms, and in their own experience, both Dubrow and Rivoli have found hotels to be very accommodating. Dubrow says, "If you tell them it's for breast milk they'll usually waive any fees."
How can I send my breast milk home?
If you're traveling away from your baby for an extended period of time, you may want to send your breast milk home to your baby or to be stored in your home freezer. While it can be more difficult and expensive than carrying your milk home yourself, it's certainly possible.
If you can freeze your breast milk at your location, you can ship the frozen milk home in a cooler with ice packs using overnight shipping. The United States Post Office can do this for you, or you can use the nearest FedEx or other shipping store.
If the milk arrives frozen it can be stored in the freezer for future use. If it thaws, however, the milk shouldn't be refrozen -- it will have to be used within 24 hours.
If you can't freeze your milk before you ship it home, try using dry ice to keep it cool during shipping. Dry ice can be hard to find -- you may want to call ahead to find a store that carries it. Make sure to overnight your package, and if you're shipping with the United States Post Office, follow the USPS guidelines for shipping dry ice, which is considered a hazardous material.