Flying with Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know
Flying with Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know
December 5, 2022

Flying with Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know

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Flying with Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know.
Flying with Breast Milk: Everything You Need to Know

The new parent learning curve is pretty steep, especially the moment you step out your front door and attempt to do anything even a little bit complicated that you may have done in your pre-kid life. One of the biggest (and most confusing) stressors for lots of new parents? Flying with breast milk.

And it’s no wonder. Keeping the rules straight around everyday air travel is hard enough. Throw in lugging around breast milk and ice packs and coolers and keeping track of what’s allowed and what isn’t can get you feeling very overwhelmed very quickly.

While sometimes in parenting, a little ignorance may be bliss—this is not one of those times. Knowing the rules around flying with breast milk can make the whole process a little less daunting and a lot more efficient.

In this article:

Can You Fly with Breast Milk?

Worried you’ll have to store your breast milk in special containers or check it with your luggage? Don’t be. Breast milk is considered a medically necessary liquid according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and is allowed in carry-on baggage.

While most liquids you may want to carry onto a plane like shampoo, toothpaste or lotion can’t exceed 3.4 ounces and must fit into a quart-sized bag, breast milk, along with other kid-related food and liquid items like formula, toddler drinks and baby/toddler food (including pouches), don’t apply to this rule. Also permitted: items to keep your breast milk cool like ice packs, freezer packs or gel packs. All are allowed to pass through security, regardless of the presence of breast milk.

Although it’s not required, TSA recommends that you transport breast milk in clear, translucent bottles instead of in bags or pouches. That’s because it’s easier (and faster) for bottles to be scanned by the agency’s Bottle Liquid Scanners. If you prefer to transport your milk in bags or pouches, don’t worry, they’ll still be allowed on your flight—you just may be asked to open them for alternate screening.

The X-ray machines in airport security checkpoints won’t damage your breast milk in any way, according to TSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But if you’re hesitant to let your milk pass through them, you do have other options. Inform your TSA agent that you don’t want your milk X-rayed and follow the alternate screening procedures they recommend.

Can you fly with breast milk without baby?

Yes, you’re allowed to fly with breast milk and related cooling items whether or not your little one is traveling with you.

Can you fly with frozen breast milk?

TSA permits flying with fresh, frozen or partially frozen breast milk. If you’re traveling with ice packs and they begin to melt, they’re also permitted, but may be subject to further screening by TSA.

Can you check breast milk?

Checking your breast milk, whether it’s fresh or frozen, is permitted and is a good option if you don’t want to carry your milk through security and onto the plane.

Pro tip: Double bag your milk to protect your bag in case of leaks. Place your milk storage bags or containers into larger Ziploc bags for extra protection. Pack your cooler tightly to limit the amount of air that’s trapped inside, and be sure to add plenty of cooler packs or double-bagged ice bags.

How much breast milk can you fly with?

There is no official guidance on the TSA website regarding how much breast milk is permitted either in a carry-on or checked bag. If you’re traveling with an extremely large amount of milk, reach out to TSA directly prior to your trip to avoid any issues on your travel day.

How to Fly with Pumped Breast Milk

There’s a lot to think through when you’re traveling with breast milk. Taking things step by step can help.

Before You Leave

A little planning before you leave goes a long way if you’re traveling with breast milk. Priority number one? Pack and organize your bag with everything you need (and even a few things you may not, but want on hand just in case) before you go.

If you’re planning to fly with breast milk in your carry-on, be sure to pack:

  • Your milk, ideally in breast milk storage bottles (bags or other containers are permitted, but may slow you down)
  • A cooler or another way to keep your milk cool, like a breastmilk chiller
  • Plenty of ice packs or gel/freezer packs (if using a cooler)
  • A few large Ziploc bags

You’ll be asked to remove your breast milk for screening to get through security, so be sure everything is either packed all together in a separate bag or is easily accessible in your main carry-on bag.

If you know you’ll be pumping in the airport or on the plane, add these items to your breast pump bag:

  • Breast pump, flanges and any other accessories your pump requires
  • Power cord or extra batteries, if needed
  • A manual breast pump, just in case
  • Quick clean wipes or spray to clean pump parts on the go
  • A nursing cover, wrap or shawl
  • A hands-free pumping bra, if needed
  • A small towel to wipe up any messes or to use as a clean surface to spread out your pumping gear
  • Other extras to consider: milk storage bags, nursing pads, lactation massagers, nipple cream

Pro tip: If you’re flying with breast milk and your baby and bringing your stroller along, you can use the stroller basket to stash all of your stuff and lug it through the airport—just know that you’ll have to empty it all when you go through security in order to break down your stroller to get it through the X-ray machine. (Pack a baby carrier if you have one so you can wear your baby during this time and keep your hands free.) The more organized and better packed you are, the easier and quicker this all will be.

At the Airport

Going through airport security with breast milk can feel stressful, especially the first time. Keeping these three things in mind can help.

  1. Inform. As soon as you get to security, inform the TSA agent that you’re traveling with breast milk and other baby-related items. They’ll take things from there.
  2. Stay organized. If possible, carry a separate bag with all of your breast milk and related items, or designate an easily accessible spot in your carry-on bag. You’ll have to remove your milk and cooler items for screening, so having them organized and readily available can help expedite the process. (The folks in line behind you will thank you for this, too.)
  3. Advocate. Familiarize yourself with TSA’s rules and regulations around traveling with breast milk before your trip. Keep a printed copy in your bag, or have the TSA site open on your phone in case you run into an uninformed TSA agent and need to reference it quickly. You can also add TSA’s Customer Service number to your contacts in case you need to reach out to them: 1-866-289-9673.

Pro tip: Build extra time into your travel schedule if you’re flying with breast milk. Airport security lines can take a long time even without additional screenings; bringing breast milk along is only going to slow things down more. Add 30 minutes of additional time to your schedule when planning your trip.

Flying with Breast Milk: More Tips and Tricks

Breast milk storage guidelines, international travel rules and pumping on the go are just a few other things you may need to be mindful of as you think about traveling with breast milk. Consider these additional tips as you plan your trip.

Follow Breast Milk Storage Guidelines

It’s easier to plan for traveling with breast milk if you keep in mind the guidelines around how to safely store and freeze your milk.

Pro tip: As long as there are still ice crystals present in frozen breast milk, it’s safe to refreeze. That means if you’re flying with frozen milk and it has started to melt but hasn’t thawed completely when you reach your destination, it’s still safe to pop it back into the freezer and use at a later date.

Consider Shipping

If you’re traveling without your baby on a longer trip or simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of transporting breast milk yourself, consider a breast milk shipping service.

Milk Stork is a popular service that offers both domestic and international breast milk shipping for up to 180 ounces of milk. Frozen milk will stay cold for up to 96 hours while refrigerated milk up to 72, depending on which shipping plan you choose. If you’re traveling for work, contact your human resources department before your trip—many employers cover the cost of shipping breast milk.

Pumping on the Go: Keep Calm and Carry On

When you need to pump, you need to pump—no matter where you are. Pumping while traveling is more difficult than pumping at home, but it’s totally doable if you plan ahead.

Need to pump in the airport? You have a few options.

  • The Friendly Airports for Mothers and the Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Acts mandate that all small, medium and large hub airports provide private lactation areas in the terminals for nursing and pumping parents. The areas need to have a lock, a place to sit, a table or other flat surface, an electrical outlet and a sink or other sanitizing equipment and need to be accessible for people with disabilities. (Bathrooms don’t count. Phew.) To see how your local airport stacks up, check out this list of the best airports for breastfeeding travelers.
  • Look for a Mamava lactation pod. These freestanding lactation spaces have everything you need to pump or nurse on the go, including features like seating, outlets, shelves and more, and are located in airports across the United States. You can locate pods and unlock them through the Mamava app, so be sure to download it before you travel.

If you’re on a long flight, you may need to pump while you’re in the air. Don’t worry—pumping on a plane is actually easier than you may think.

  • Planes are loud, and that built-in white noise will work to your advantage. Most people will be none the wiser as to what’s actually going on in your seat.
  • Keep your pumping gear easily accessible in your carry-on bag and pack a nursing cover.
  • If you own a wearable breast pump, an airplane is an ideal time to use it. Wearables are more discreet than traditional electric breast pumps, and they’re much more portable, too, which means less stuff for you to lug around.
  • Flight attendants can give you a bag or two of ice to keep your milk cool if you run out or if you forget your cooler packs at home. Don’t be afraid to ask.

Crossing the Border? Do Your Homework.

International travel: awesome for you, not so awesome for your breast milk. Figuring out the rules and regulations about traveling outside of the U.S. with breast milk in tow is complicated. Each country has their own set of (sometimes very specific) guidelines, so it’s important you research those rules beforehand.

If at all possible, reach out to other nursing or pumping parents who have traveled to your planned destination before you head out. (Online parent groups are a great place to ask these types of questions.) Firsthand information is often the most helpful, so learn from other parents who’ve been there if you can. You can also try reaching out to the American consulate in your destination country for more information.

EXPERT SOURCES:

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and the Babylist Health Advisory Board.