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Tips for Flying with Breast Milk

I have heard so many horror stories about getting through security and traveling via plane with breast milk. I’m sure some are true and I have no doubt that others are exaggerated. Either way, I think it really comes down to being educated on the rules and regs of the TSA. To be cliché, knowledge is power, so do yourself a favor and skim through the official TSA guidelines for traveling with breast milk.

To help even more, here are some tips I’ve come up with based on my successful, positive experiences traveling with milk and supplies that go with it:

1. Your breast pump does not count as a carry on item because it is a “medical device”. So if you’re aiming to travel without checking luggage, pack everything else in your regular carry on bag. Just be prepared to explain over and over again that your pump is a medical device. On my last trip I checked my pump in my suitcase, knowing that it was a huge risk with all the bags I’ve lost over the years, but what can I say, I felt like living on the edge that day.

2. ​Bring a good, watertight soft collapsible cooler, soft ice packs and breast milk storage bags. {I work in the foodservice industry, so wherever I go it’s pretty easy for me to score some of these ice packs at my destination, which definitely helps.} I recommend a collapsible cooler because you can flatten it for your trip out of town to avoid the questioning on your third carry on, aka your pump. Your freezer packs and storage containers may be more than 3-ounces, but still just tell the TSA agent at security that you have them, even when they’re empty (especially if you bring bottles instead of bags). Make sure you ask the TSA agent to change into clean gloves before he/she inspects anything!

3. When you book your hotel, ask for a room with a freezer, and at the very minimum opt for a mini-fridge. You can usually turn the thermostat in the mini-fridge down far enough that it will freeze the milk (this is what I did on my last trip to Vegas). If for some reason there’s no freezer or mini-fridge to use, you can ask to have your entire cooler stored in the hotel kitchen freezer. Hotels typically accommodate that without question. Unfortunately, it does mean that every time you pump you have to carry your fresh milk down to the hotel desk, ask for your cooler, put your milk in and have the cooler returned to the freezer. So push for the in-room freezer or fridge whenever you can.

4. When you’re flying home you’ll need plenty of ice packs to keep your milk frozen (or very cold if you aren't traveling with frozen milk) through the duration of your trip. It’s hard to plan for that, especially with layovers and delays, so you can always stop at a Starbucks once you get through security or if you have any connections and ask them to fill your cooler with ice. And who isn't looking for an excuse to stop for a latte anyway?! Another option is to buy dry ice for your cooler, which you will be permitted to take through security if you explain that it’s for breast milk. That’s a much less messy option, but if you’re like me (and I have to be the average person) you don’t always have dry ice at your finger tips for pick up!

5. You are legally allowed to fly with an unlimited quantity of breast milk, per TSA rules.

6. Always, always, always declare your breast milk when you’re going through security. If your milk is frozen solid, the TSA agents don’t have to do any special test, but they do still visually look at the bags of milk. Just like in number 2, make sure you ask the agent to put on clean gloves before touching anything inside the cooler. If your milk is thawed, even partially, the TSA agent will do a test on the milk where they wipe the bag with a piece of paper then put the paper in a machine that tests for explosives. It doesn’t take long and while they can choose to test every single bag, in my experience they've only checked one. Then again, I’m always really compliant and try to help them in any way I can (or I joke about the overall experience).

7. If you have time, print out a copy of the TSA rules and regs and bring them with you. You never know if you'll run into a stubborn agent, so it's extra helpful to have proof of the rules over telling them what you read it online.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve really had positive experiences traveling with pumped milk. Keep in mind that this list might not apply to international travel because each country has their own set of rules and regs.

I hope this helps all of you traveling moms like me! I’m almost 10 months into this working full-time and pumping thing, so if you have any questions or just a good tip for me, always feel free to comment on here or send me a private message on the contact page!

Happy travels.

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