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Recently I took a trip and shared a little about my experience of pumping while traveling on Instagram and I got SO MUCH interest from other moms who were nervous to take travel while pumping. And that made me realize that I needed to write a post documenting all of my travel and breastfeeding tips!
I have to travel some for work and I did not want that to be something that was an obstacle to meeting my goal of breastfeeding for one full year. So when I found out that my first day back from maternity leave would be a work trip, I knew I needed to figure out a plan.
I was nervous about a few things:
- Getting milk through TSA
- Keeping milk cold while in the airport and on the plane
- Cleaning pump parts without a dishwasher
After several trips, I am no longer nervous about any of these things and I have been able to bring back over 100+ ounces on most of my trips.
What to Pack to Pump While Traveling
Pumping on a trip does add a little bit of extra luggage to your trip, but that is fine since airlines are supposed to allow a breast pump bag on the aircraft in addition to your carryon and personal item.
So far, I have been able to fit everything I need in a carry-on and personal item, so I haven’t had to ask for special accommodations. But if you need to, just tell TSA and the attendant at your gate that you need the extra bag because it contains a medical device.
I have seen this Sara Wells pump bag come highly recommended as a bag that is perfect for toting your pump to and from work as well as for airport travel. However, I didn’t want to spend the money on another bag so I used a cooler bag from ThirtyOne that I received as a gift at one of my baby showers. And it has worked incredibly.
On one of my trips, my flight was delayed over 3 hours which meant that by the time I got home, my milk had been out of the fridge for 10 hours. But this cooler bag was so great, that my ice packs were still frozen and the milk was still very cold. Just make sure that you get a bag with several pockets and is insulated as well as lined with a material that is easy to clean (in case there are any leaks). I love that my bag has two separate large pockets so I can keep my pump on one side and the milk/bottles/ice packs on the other side.
They don’t sell my exact cooler bag any longer so I linked some similar ones below.
So if you are taking a road trip, you can buy ice packs like these and keep them in your cooler.
If you are flying and have to pass through security you will need to plan to make DIY ice packs. I prepared by bringing 7-10 gallon Ziploc bags through airport security with me. Once I cleared TSA, I went to a restaurant or bar and asked for ice. I thought this was going to be an odd request, but not a single person I asked ever batted an eye.
In fact, one bartender saw me walking up with the Ziploc bag and said: “Do you need some ice for that?”. It made me much less nervous about being the weird girl asking for ice, and for that alone, I give big thanks to that observant bartender.
I rely heavily on the Medela cleaning product suite when I travel. The Medela Cleaning Wipes are amazing for cleaning pump parts if you can’t get to a sink (like when I pump in the car on the way to or from the airport).
I also love the Steam Sterilization Bags and will usually use that a few times to zap my pump parts and my milk bottles while I am at the hotel.
I do also bring a small container of dish soap so I can wash my parts in the hotel sink at the end of the day. You can buy a travel size of dish soap if you prefer, but I just add a little soap to one of these TSA approved travel containers and put the bottle in my carryon.
Milk Storage Bags
Pack more milk storage bags than you think you will need. I have found the Target Up & Up brand bags to be the best (in my opinion). I think the Medela storage bags are pretty good, but the plastic is a bit thicker, which isn’t really a big deal but seems to be a little less ideal for storing the milk when I freeze it. I have used the Lansinoah bags as well, and have had several break when I go to defrost milk, which I went back and read in reviews that it is pretty common. So I will stick with the Up & Up brand for now!
I use a sharpie to write the date and amount on each milk storage bag, which you can use a pen to do. But the sharpie comes in handy if you need to leave your parts or milk in a communal work fridge, or if the hotel lets you store milk in one of their fridges. You will want to be sure all of your items are clearly labeled, and that sharpie comes in handy.
Your Pump Charger
I forgot this on one trip and I was just PRAYING that my pump didn’t die each time I had to pump. It died as I pulled into my neighborhood while I was pumping on the way home from the airport. Thank goodness for long-lasting charges.
How To Go Through TSA With Breastmilk
I was pretty nervous about this part, especially since some people post their TSA horror stories. But I have been through the busiest airport in the country (Atlanta) and had absolutely no problems with TSA.
Let them know from the start that you are traveling with breastmilk. Odds are they will be a little more gentle with you as you are unpacking all of the contents of your pump bag and they may even take you off the mainline (happened to me at a smaller airport).
Going through TSA is easier when your milk is frozen. If you can keep your milk frozen, then TSA is a breeze. If your milk isn’t frozen, they have to inspect it a little more closely. I have never been asked to open any of my bottles or anything that would make me feel like the milk is contaminated.
The process has most typically been that they run it through the X-Ray machine (you can refuse that part, but they may do additional tests), and then they swab the bag your milk is in to test for explosives or whatever they test for.
But the closest anyone in TSA has gotten to my milk is touching the Ziploc bag it is packed in.
One TSA agent even gave me a few extra plastic bags for DIY Ice Packs. It was v sweet.
There is a chance that you get a TSA agent who gives you a little trouble. It is helpful to be prepared. Before your flight, look up your airline’s policy on traveling with breastmilk.
Print out a copy or take a screen shot of the policy and keep it close while you are going through security. I have traveled through quite a few airports with breastmilk and never had an issue, but I did have several people message me on Instagram to say that they had to check their breastmilk coming through the Cabo San Lucas airport because they weren’t traveling with a baby.
So while it isn’t likely that you will have issues, it does not hurt to be prepared!
Finding A Place to Pump While Traveling
Finding a private place to pump while traveling can be a little tricky. But luckily, there are people who have already thought of a solution.
I downloaded the MAMAVA App before leaving for my first trip because I had heard that they had Pumping Pods in the airport I was flying out of.
The MamaVa pumping pods are single rooms with chargers, seats, and countertops to make pumping on the go a little easier. There isn’t running water in the pods, but that is where the Medela wipes come in.
What I didn’t realize was that the MamaVa app doesn’t just list their pod locations, they list any place nearby that is good for pumping. So it will help you find designated lactation rooms in office buildings and airports all around.
You can also add a spot to the MamaVa app if you find a good place to pump and want to let your fellow mama’s know about it!
Your hotel or office space should have a place where you can pump even when you aren’t in your room. Just ask the front desk when you check in to point you to the closest lactation spaces.
You may not be the only nursing mom on the property, so check to see if the lactation rooms need to be reserved in advance!
Keeping Your Milk Fresh and Cold
When you book your hotel, call the front desk and ask if you can have a room with a mini-fridge in it.
Most hotels do have a mini-fridge as a standard item, but it is good to check. You can tell them that you require one for medical purposes. Because breastfeeding is classified as a medical accommodation.
I have stayed in a hotel where a mini-fridge was not standard, but they did send one up to my room when I requested it.
Once you have your fridge, you can decide if you want to try to freeze your milk or just keep it refrigerator cold.
If you are going to be traveling for 3 or more days, I would suggest trying to freeze your milk. If you are just taking a quick trip, it might be easier just to leave it in liquid form.
If your milk was frozen and it thaws, you will need to use it within 48 hours. I have been able to keep several bags of milk frozen or partially frozen during travel days, but most of my frozen milk has thawed as I move it through the airport.
That doesn’t mean that the milk is unusable, (as long as it stayed cold), I just make sure we use it for all of my son’s feedings the two days.
Most mini-fridges will turn into a freezer if you turn the cooling gauge all the way up. So you can do whatever works best for you!
How to Pack Breast Milk for the Plane
As you prepared to travel back home with all of your breast milk, proper packing is key.
To save space, put as much milk as you can into milk storage bags. I recommend putting 10-12 of those milk storage bags into a gallon Ziploc bag. That way, if one of your smaller bags breaks during travel, it will make less of a mess!
Keeping your milk packed a bit tighter in a Ziploc will also help to keep it cool or frozen.
Put all of your milk into your carryon cooler, and then fill the additional space in that cooler with your DIY Icepacks (ice in a gallon Ziploc bag).
If you have to pump at the airport, bring a small bottle (I use these Medela bottles) to hold the milk you pump and just add that to your cooler before boarding the plane.
Being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t mean that you have to put a hold on traveling. It is entirely possible to travel without your baby and still bring back enough milk to not interrupt your breastfeeding journey.
If you are traveling for work, many companies do offer a service to ship your breast milk back home for you. You can also pay for a service like this on your own, but they are pricey. I looked into using Milk Stork, which starts out at $79.
They send you all the supplies you need to ship your milk or carry it on through TSA, and their products use dry ice so your milk will surely stay frozen. But it is expensive, so I have opted to do it myself each time I have traveled.
I hope this helps give you some tips to make it through your next trip while pumping! You are doing great, Mom!
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