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Tips for Traveling with Breast Milk in an Airplane or Car

Understand Safe Storage Duration of Fresh Milk

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides a handy chart that outlines safe storage times for breast milk.

  • Room Temperature Milk: 6-8 hours
  • Non-Frozen Milk in an Insulated Cooler Bag: 24 hours
  • Refrigerated Breast Milk: 5 days
  • Frozen Milk in a Freezer Compartment of a Refrigerator: 2 weeks
  • Frozen Milk in a Freezer Compartment of a Refrigerator with Separate Doors: 3-6 months
  • Frozen Milk in a Chest or Deep Freezer: 6-12 months

Know Your Rights When Flying with Breast Milk

1. Breast milk is considered a “liquid medication” and there are no limits on the quantity of breast milk you can fly with.

2. Your pump is also considered a medical device, and does not factor into your carry-on luggage.

3. Children do NOT need to be flying with you in order for these rules to apply.

4. You have every right to ask for breast milk to be searched separately and to not go through an X-Ray machine.

5. Tell the security agent that you are carrying breast milk or formula so that they can search your containers. Know that they may ask you to open a container, but you can choose to have them test the outside of the container for explosives.

6. We recommend you fully read the TSA guidelines around flying and then carry with you a printed copy in case you run into uneducated TSA agents. The holidays are stressful for everyone, so they may need a gentle reminder of your rights!

Tips to Ease Nervousness When Breastfeeding on a Plane

1. If you are traveling with your child, keep a bottle easily accessible during take off and before the seat belt sign is lifted.

2. Recruit an ally to make you feel more comfortable. If you choose to pump or breastfeed in the airplane bathroom, tell a friendly stewardess that you may be inside for a longer period of time due to breast feeding. They can help keep people from thinking you have fallen ill or banging on the door.

3. For longer flights, look to see if there is a row or area of the plane that has space for you to feed comfortably. You can always try asking to sit away from other passengers while feeding if there is room.

4. Wear clothing that you can comfortably breastfeed in without the prying eyes of other passengers. Our favorite travel outfits include ponchos, breast feeding scarves and loose cardigans.

5. Remind yourself you are awesome! Many women feel nervous when traveling, so don’t beat yourself up about your fears. Take calming breaths and remind yourself what you are doing is helping your child tremendously. You’ve got this! 

Keep Germs at Bay

1. Remember to wash your hands before expressing your milk on the go. Germs are everywhere when traveling, and it can be tempting to pump without taking this step. We recommend washing with warm to hot water for at least 20 seconds to ensure your hands are clean.

2. If flying, ask the TSA agent to change into fresh gloves BEFORE they begin inspecting your breast milk, breast pump and storage bags. Who wants gloves that have touched dozens of other passengers to be in contact with your pump?

3. Use bottled water rather than sink water to wash out your pump on the road. Airplane bathrooms and road-side bathrooms often have harsh water that is questionably free of germs. We recommend buying bottled water to rinse out your pump and then give it a good clean once you have arrived at your destination.

Thaw Breast Milk Safely with Warm Water

1. Without a refrigerator to thaw frozen breast milk, you can place bags of frozen breast milk in a pool of warm water. The good news is that nearly every gas station has warm water readily available. Use the largest size Slushie or coffee cup and fill it up with hot water from the coffee or hot chocolate station. You may need to add ice to the water if it is too warm.

2. If flying, look for a coffee shop in the airport that could provide you with a large cup and hot water.

3. Never microwave breast milk to thaw it! This can destroy the nutrient quality of expressed milk and bags could potentially explode. 

Additional Tips for Traveling with Breast Milk

1. When booking a hotel, explain you need a room with a freezer in order to store your breast milk. If the hotel does not offer in-room freezers or mini-fridges ask to store your breast milk cooler in their hotel freezer. Hotels typically accommodate this easily!

2. Consider buying an inexpensive manual pump or a battery powered pump so that you can express milk while in a car, train or airplane. If you are traveling abroad, be careful of plug and electricity differences that may harm your breast pump.

3. Invest in a large thermal travel mug that can keep milk cool, or hold hot water for thawing milk easily. See our favorite here!

4. Starbucks locations have clean bathrooms available to customers and makes our list for the best place to stop when a typical restroom is unavailable. 

Keep Reading  Q&A with a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant 

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