Raise your hand if you have ever said to yourself “I need to GET OUT of town, like right now”. Well, I am over here raising my hand and practically jumping out of my seat. It has been a long, cold, snowy winter here in Minnesota.
This is the time of year when many upper Midwest folks fly the coop. Adios ice. Sayonara snow.
Along with my vacation dreams usually comes a reality check. Breastfeeding and travel can be a little complicated. Whether you are traveling with kids or alone, there is so much more stuff to pack. On top of packing, sometimes you have to figure out where to pump in the airport and how to get your breast milk through security. —it’s hard work mamas!
So after many traveling adventures, I am happy to share my favorite tips to have a great trip and make it through airport security without losing your mind. Or your breast milk. *cue gasps from lactating mothers everywhere.
What To Pack:
If you are traveling without your baby, you are obviously planning on bringing your pump. However, even if your baby is with you, I cannot stress the IMPORTANCE of bringing your pump along enough! I’ve learned from personal experience in what was supposed to be “The Happiest Place on Earth”.
During a trip to Disney World, my youngest kiddo developed pneumonia—not so magical. He was 13 months old at the time and within about 24 hours his mild cold turned into fever, cough, sleepiness, and refusal to nurse. Ugh. I felt so bad for our little guy and my terribly engorged boobs. Ouch. Being a 3rd time mom and an IBCLC, I am well versed in hand expression; however, I have a confession. If I need to empty a really full breast, I do not enjoy the hand expression technique.
So yes, I'm a wimp and my hands and arms get tired. It's OK, you can totally judge me. In the event of an engorged boob situation, I want a good ole fashion electric breast pump. Thankfully, I brought my trusty Medela Pump N Style Advanced along. After a few good pumps for me and a trip to Urgent Care for the little guy. All was well.
However, not every mom wants to drag her big pump with. So another option is to bring a single hand breast pump. These little gadgets can really get the job done, and they don’t take up much room in your luggage. I'm actually a fan of always keeping a small hand pump in my pump bag no matter where I go. There have been a few events of pump malfunctions and missing parts when I have needed pump #2 to make it through the day.
Breastfeeding and Pumping Essentials(list may vary from person to person)A set of extra pump parts
Dish soap, sterilizing bags, or breast pump cleaning wipes.
Breast milk storage bags
Sharpie marker to label bags
Extra bottles if not storing milk in bags
A battery pack in case a wall outlet is not available.
Car adapter for road trips
Breast pump, breast pump, breast pump!!
If exclusive pumping or traveling without baby
A cooler large enough to hold the amount of milk you anticipate to bring home
Gallon size Ziploc bags if you want extra protection against leaks.
Nursing cover or scarf if you prefer coverage while pumping
I know it looks like a lot to bring. This is why breastfeeding and pumping moms deserve a badge of honor!
Going through security
Alright, let’s talk Security. Like many of you, I’m usually stressed and a bit uptight until I have passed the land of latex gloves and pat downs. It’s especially nerve-wracking when traveling with expressed breast milk. It seems like we have all heard the horror stories of women being told each bag needs to be opened and tested or even disposed of.
Before you leave for your trip it’s important to review the TSA rules on traveling with breast milk.
TSA Rules and Tips :
Your baby does not need to be with you in order to travel with breast milk
Inform the TSA officers that you are traveling with breast milk
You are allowed to bring any REASONABLE amount of breast milk through the security checkpoint.
Milk bag amounts do not need to follow the 3.4-ounce rule.
Parents can refuse to have milk x-rayed or opened. Screeners will take additional steps to clear the liquid and travelers.
Frozen ice packs are ALLOWED through the checkpoint.
Another possible idea for getting through security easier is to freeze your bags of breast milk. However, this may not be an option for many parents.
There has also been some unclear information regarding what is considered a "reasonable" amount of breast milk. Per the TSA information line, “reasonable” is based on the length of your trip. If an agent is questioning the amount of milk you have, inform the officer of the length of your trip and maybe some basic pumping math.
For example, pumping sessions x ounces of milk per session = total amount.
If that doesn’t work, then request to speak with a supervisor.
Thankfully I have always had positive experiences traveling with my pump and breast milk, but it’s always good to know the TSA rules just in case.
Where to nurse and pump at the airport
If you are like me, planning definitely reduces stress and makes any experience more pleasant. I recommend you check out the airport website to see if they offer special rooms for families or lactating moms before your trip. Many airports offer specific lactation rooms for nursing and pumping moms. Others have Mamava and other breastfeeding pods located in the terminal.
You could also use a companion or family bathroom, or just find a spot anywhere by an outlet and pump away. If you need to pump before you board the plan and prefer to use a specific lactation space, make sure to give yourself extra time in case they are in use.
Everybody’s comfort level is so different. Just do what feels right for you.
Pumping and breastfeeding on a plane
Obviously, once you board the flight, pumping and breastfeeding location choices are more limited. Many of the planes today have electrical outlets at each seat, which is super convenient. If there aren’t any outlets at the seat you can use your handy battery pack, go to the bathroom, or ask the flight attendant for assistance.
When I have flown with my husband or other people I tried to choose the window seat and my companion sits closer to the aisle to create privacy. However, that is not always an option. In that case, many moms just cover up with a nursing cover or scarf. Try to remember that breastfeeding and pumping have become much more common in the past few years. Your plane row mate may even start up a conversation about their own breastfeeding experience or that of a partner or family member.
How often should I pump?
Unfortunately, our breasts do not have a vacation mode setting. Oh, wouldn't that be nice though? When we are away from our babies, moms need to keep their pumping schedule similar to their normal feeding schedule.
Staying on a similar schedule will help minimize any milk supply issues. However, don't stress if you find yourself needing to space out pumping sessions a bit during your travels. Our breasts are very resilient and our milk supply will usually get back on track once we return home.
Milk storage during your trip
Once you have arrived at your destination, you are going to need a place to store all that liquid gold.
Call the hotel before you leave for your trip and inquire about the availability of a refrigerator. Many rooms have refrigerators in them, but if not usually one can be brought to the room. If you are using an Airbnb or VRBO rental, make sure to book a space that has a refrigerator.It is also a good idea to bring plenty of milk storage bags along. In the case that you run out, most pharmacies stock them, along with the obvious option such as Target and Walmart.
Phew, I think we have covered a lot. Life with kids is busy and a bit unpredictable at times. Remember to be kind to yourself mamas and take a deep breath.
May your travels be safe and your breast milk secure.
Love and hugs,