Let’s face it, pumping breast milk while traveling is not an ideal scenario but for some breastfeeding mothers, there is no other choice.
So what is a breastfeeding/pumping mother to do in a crowded airport or sitting in a no-elbow-room airplane seat that is made for someone with strange, nonexistent body proportions as it is?
Well, get your flanges ready, ladies, we are going on the road (or the into the sky) and we are taking the pump with us!
Pumping and Airports
A mother should be able to breastfeed or pump in an airport but it is important to note that the “where” you can pump is not always clear.
Most state laws in the US protect a mother’s right to breastfeed/pump anywhere but some states leave the decision of what is considered discrete and appropriate to individual businesses, airports included.
It is unlikely that you will encounter any issues pumping in an airport since most people are utterly unobservant. So much so that you could be shooting fire out of your nipples and they probably would continue staring at their smart phone and never look up. The struggle of our times is real.
But if you want to be thorough, I suggest asking the information desk at the airport for an appropriate place to pump. Many airports have family rooms or lounges that you may be able to take advantage of.
A quiet corner at an empty or uncrowded gate may be your best bet, however.
Make sure your pump has a battery pack. It can be difficult to find an outlet in a space that you would be comfortable using not to mention one that isn’t already occupied by another traveler. So don’t count on using your power cord.
Also, you need to consider where you will be flying to. If it is another country, you will want to make sure you have the proper voltage converters or you will be S.O.L. as your power cord will be useless (here is a great converter that cover 150 countries if you are in the market for one).
Traveling with Pumped Breast Milk
With all of the rules about liquids in airport screenings these days, it can be understandable that pumping mothers would have questions about what is allowed in terms of pumped breast milk through security checkpoints.
The long and short of it is that TSA considers breast milk, formula, and juice for a baby in the same category as other liquid medicines and therefore, is not subject to the 3oz rule.
Per the TSA website –
Formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted through the security checkpoint. Separate formula, breast milk and juice from other liquids, gels and aerosols limited to 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters.
Inform the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process that you carry formula, breast milk and juice in excess of 3.4 ounces in your carry-on bag. These liquids are typically screened by X-ray.
So it is acceptable to carry your expressed breast milk through security with no issues or limits. You just may be subject to having them screened. If you do not want them to x-ray or open the breast milk (they do not touch or dip anything into the milk) then you just need to let the TSA agent know.
Another common question is regarding ice packs. Are they allowed through security?
The answer is, yes! Per the TSA –
Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in carry-on. If these accesories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening.
So make sure to bring a small cooler with ice packs to keep your expressed milk cold. I recommend storing the milk in smaller quantities than normal. Try 2-3oz per storage bag or bottle. That will help keep the milk cooler longer and cool it faster.
Remember that per Breast Milk Storage Guidelines, expressed milk kept cool by ice packs is good for 24 hours. So once you reach your destination, you can either refrigerate the milk to prolong the expiration time or freeze it.
Airlines Showing Support for Nursing and Pumping Mothers
Before you embark on your trip, I recommend checking out your airline’s policy on carrying on breast pumps and pumping/nursing in flight. You will find many airlines have policies that support mothers right to breastfeed or pump while traveling.
Most airlines have a 2 item limit on what each passenger can carry on a flight which consists of one carry-on bag and one personal item.
However, in many cases, airlines consider a breast pump a medical device which means you can carry it on in addition to your other two allowable items. This is a fantastic policy considering a pump can take up a lot of space in a small carry on bag and limit the personal items you can bring.
There was a story in the news at the beginning of the year that did not paint the best picture of Delta airline when a pumping mother was told she had to check her breast pump at the gate.
Delta’s policy allows breast pumps to be carried on in addition to the personal items. They even have a pro-breastfeeding and pumping policy on their website which makes this story that much more infuriating.
Delta has apologized to the mother but it brings up a good case for knowing the airline policy before you are set to travel. If you go prepared, then you likely won’t be refused. Knowledge is power. Always.
Pumping on an Airplane
Pumping on an airplane can sound daunting but if it is a long flight you may have no other choice. So how do you pump on an airplane? Here are some quick tips to help you be prepared.
Have Battery Pack for your Pump
Well, for starters, you need a battery pack for your pump. Very few airlines offer in-seat power outlets and of the ones that do, you will find them mostly in First Class or Premium Seats. So for us common folk, we won’t have the luxury of having an outlet next to us hence the need for a battery pack.
Bring a Hooter Hider AKA Nursing Cover
It may be in everyone’s best interest to pack a nursing cover. While most airlines have a pro-breastfeeding/pump attitude, your fellow passengers may not. When dealing with the general public, it is best to consider that you may encounter many different cultures and attitudes toward breastfeeding and pumping.
The last thing you want is someone making you uncomfortable by claiming you are making them uncomfortable. I personally wouldn’t mind but Miss Debbie Downer in seat 14B just might so take the Hooter Hider and help keep the drama at a minimum.
Try to get a Window Seat
Sitting by the window is the best place if you will be pumping. That way you don’t have someone trying to crawl over you when they decide they need to use the “Little Girls Room.”
You will have about as much privacy as you can considering you are sitting within 1 foot of 8+ people. It also brings with it the much-coveted arm rest that is solely yours giving you slightly more room to maneuver.
Wear a Pumping Bra
Having on a pumping bra will allow you to position your pump easily and free your hands to do other things like read or eat peanuts. It will draw less attention to yourself and make it more comfortable for you.
Avoid the Restroom
I don’t mean avoiding the restroom to use it for what it is intended for but rather avoid using it to pump. So often you hear of mothers having to pump or nurse in the restroom and I find this to be rather disgusting. I get the need or want to be discrete and not everyone is comfortable pumping next to complete strangers but the restroom is dirty!
You will be much better off waiting for the drink service to pass and as people settle in to watch a movie or nap, then pull out your nursing cover and pump and get to it. Most people will have no idea.
Most mothers I have spoken to have never had an issue nursing or pumping on a flight, myself included. If anything, people were very understanding and the flight attendants went out of their way to try and assist where they could like storing the expressed milk, etc.
One more thought on the airplane restrooms – avoid washing any pump parts or bottles with the water! Water on airplanes is known to be full of bacteria. Instead, take a ziplock bag to put the pump parts into and wash them later.
A tip if you need to pump more than once on a flight is to put your pump parts into a zip lock bag and place them in a cooler. Keeping it cold means you can reuse the pump parts without worry the next time you pump because the milk on them stays fresh.
There are also very convenient wipes that are made to allow you to wash pump parts when you have no access to water. You can check those out here.
What to do with Breast Milk Once you Reach your Destination
This is going to depend on how long you will be gone from your baby or if you are traveling with your baby, how much milk you need to store for baby to eat now. The easiest thing to do with your expressed breast milk is to put it in the refrigerator but if you will be gone for more than a few days or have expressed more than a few days supply for your baby, then freezing is the best option. Not all accommodations will provide a freezer, however.
It is best to ask your hotel what your options are. Sometimes you can get a mini fridge upon request though they may charge you for it. Try telling the hotel it is for breast milk storage and see if they can give it to you for free. Often times they will try and accommodate your needs.
If you are using a mini fridge then make sure you turn the setting to the coldest temperature possible and store milk in smaller quantities to ensure it stay cold enough.
Can I Ship Breast Milk Home?
If you are planning to be away from your baby, it may be necessary to ship breast milk home. This may also be a need if you have expressed a lot of milk while away as it can be a lot to travel with.
The best way to ship breast milk is by freezing the milk first. Then ship the milk in a cooler with ice packs overnight. USPS or FedEx are options to ship through. Make sure you pay for it to be overnighted otherwise the milk may spoil before it arrives.
If the milk is received still frozen then it can be placed in the freezer but if it has thawed or partially thawed, it need to be placed in the refrigerator and used within 24 hours.
If you are not able to freeze your milk before shipping you can look into shipping the milk with dry ice. You will need to check with your shipping provider, however, on their policy for shipping dry ice.
Pumping and traveling can be somewhat of a pain but it doesn’t need to be a stressful and unreasonable process. Do your best to be prepared and just relax! If nothing else, take comfort in knowing that of someone is rude to you, you will likely never see that person again. Life moves on.
What do you think about the growing trend of businesses like airlines becoming more breastfeeding friendly? Have a pumping and traveling story? Drop a comment on this page!