How to travel with breast milk

How to Travel with Breast Milk

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New moms know it can be tricky enough to store multiple bottles of breast milk when surrounded by modern conveniences at home. So what’s a pumping mama supposed to do when she’s on the move? While it might seem easier to whip out a pre-pumped bottle on a plane than it is to whip out a boob, once it leaves the body fresh breast milk gets temperamental. It can spoil quickly in the wrong conditions so transporting pumped milk requires preplanning.

In this article, we take a closer look at common travel scenarios and share our advice on transporting breastmilk safely.

How to Transport Breast Milk By Car

Lots of car rides are well suited to pumping and bottling on the go. So it’s worth considering whether you need to go to the trouble of bringing surplus milk along in a cooler and trying to keep it fresh. If it’s a relatively short journey, pumping and feeding as you go might be the easiest option.

If you’re preparing for a long road trip, however, you might want to bring some pre-pumped bottles in case of spills or unforeseen circumstances that prevent expressing on the go.

Transporting Breast Milk In the Car 

The best storage option for long car rides is a compact breast milk cooler. These mini appliances contain ice packs to keep liquids cool and prevent spoiling. Always remember to freeze the ice pack solid before putting it inside the cooler and placing the cooler inside your vehicle. The breast milk goes in last. Don’t transfer it to the cooler until you’re almost ready to leave.

These portable coolers for breast milk travel tend to be on the smaller side. But there’s nothing to stop you from upgrading and using a much larger chest cooler if you’ve got lots of milk to transport. A regular-size summer cooler will work just as well provided it’s already cold before you add the bottles.

It might be worth picking up a thermometer to keep an eye on your breastmilk’s temperature during long car journeys. Stored breast milk must be handled carefully. The length of time bottles can be used after they’ve left storage depends on whether they were previously frozen or chilled so be precise about conditions. Know whether your milk will be transported frozen or chilled and what this means for its storage and handling.

Fresh breast milk can be stored in a cooler, in your vehicle, for as long as twenty-four hours. Then, it needs to be used or discarded.

See also: Best Mini Fridges for Breast Milk

Some Tips for Transporting Frozen Milk In a Cooler 

You can use the same type of portable cooler to transport frozen breast milk as you would chilled milk. But you’ll need to add more ice. As well as ensuring the cooler’s ice packs are frozen solid before you embark, add extra ice to the chest.

Dry ice is a fantastic option because it’s affordable, widely available, and much more effective than regular ice in this scenario. Pound for pound, dry ice gives more than twice the cooling energy of standard ice. It’s worth considering if you’re prepping for a long road trip.

If you don’t have access to dry ice, here’s how to do it with regular ice:

  • The entire cooler needs to be kept cold even if you’re only using half of its storage capacity. If you don’t have enough breastmilk to fill the cooler, pack the rest with ice in zip-top bags. It doesn’t have to be bulging at the seams but making sure it’s reasonably packed will keep the container (and your milk) cooler for longer.
  • Open the cooler’s lid as infrequently as possible. The more you open the cooler, the quicker the ice (and your milk) will thaw.
  • If you have the time and space to do so, consider chilling the entire container before heading off. This may not be possible if it’s a large drinks chest but lots of smaller coolers will fit in the fridge or freezer.
  • Remember, if there are ice crystals in the milk, it hasn’t completely thawed and can be refrozen. If no ice crystals are remaining, it must not be refrozen. You need to use this milk within twenty-four hours or discard it.

See also: Best Hands-Free Breast Pumps:

How to Travel with Breast Milk By Plane

There are provisos in place at airports for breastfeeding mothers so you shouldn’t encounter difficulties getting on your flight with breast milk. Although, ‘shouldn’t’ is a famous last word when it comes to air travel. You shouldn’t have to call ahead. You don’t officially need to call ahead but some moms prefer to do so for peace of mind.

If you’ve got concerns about how and where you’re allowed to carry the breast milk while boarding your plane, consult the airline’s website. It should have information on whether it’s permitted in carry-on luggage and/or whether it counts toward your luggage allowance.

Getting Through Airport Security with Fresh Breast Milk 

There are no hard rules for how to travel with breast milk on a plane. There’s a degree of discretion permitted because the TSA doesn’t impose limits on volume like it does for other liquids. Its website says travelers are allowed to carry onboard a ‘reasonable amount’ of milk but doesn’t specify what this means.

How much bottled milk you can take depends on your flight’s length and your baby’s normal feeding schedule. Again, if you have any concerns, you can always call the airline. It’s much smarter to call ahead and verify than it is to risk being held up at check-in and missing your flight.

As with road trips, the best way to store fresh breast milk on an airplane is in a compact cooler. Be prepared to open the cooler for TSA inspections. Most airports ask travelers to remove some or all of the bottles for x-ray scanning. This is nothing to worry about and is usually a very quick process. If you’ve got a breast pump in your carry-on luggage, you may need to briefly remove it from your bag.

Don’t worry too much about running into delays and then running low on ice. Most airport restaurants are happy to supply parents with fresh ice in a pinch. If you cannot locate an obliging restaurant, ask airport staff for assistance. It is their job to help you travel safely and comfortably.

Transporting Frozen Breast Milk 

Most airlines also allow parents to fly with frozen milk provided it’s correctly packed and wrapped in a suitable cooler. If you need to transport large amounts of bottled milk, this is the best way to do it.

Use the same guidelines we’ve already recommended for transporting frozen milk in the car. Where possible, use dry ice. Fill empty sections of the cooler with dry ice as well (don’t leave empty spaces). If you can, pre-chill the entire cooler before you leave the house and open the lid as infrequently as possible once you have left.

If you do want to check a cooler in as boarding luggage, consult the airline’s website or call directly to ask out if there are specific packing requirements. You don’t want to arrive at the airport and realize your milk is in an uncheckable container.

See also: Best Lactation Supplements

More Advice On Breastmilk Travel and Feeding Baby While On the Move

The straightforward way to feed the baby while traveling is to pump shortly before the milk is needed and avoid cooling and storing altogether. Of course, this is an ideal scenario and one that is easily derailed. It’s not always suitable to pump as and when your baby gets hungry which is why good storage practices as so important.

If you can pump in anticipation of a scheduled feed, you’ve got up to four hours (after expressing) to use this fresh milk. It will last this long at room temperature before spoiling provided you’re not in an environment with extreme ambient temperatures. And if it doesn’t spend any time in the cooler, there’s no need to pre-warm it before the feed.

Stored cooled milk usually needs warming, not because it poses a huge risk to infants but because most babies are too fussy to accept chilled liquids. So you’ll either need to pack a portable bottle warmer in your luggage or source hot water for a DIY bath from a local restaurant, shop, or cafe.

Using a Breast Pump While traveling 

If you’re taking a breast pump along with you on your trip, make sure to bring an alternative power source. If your pump isn’t designed for travel, you may need to purchase a battery pack or an adaptor for recharging in the car. Always check the voltage requirements because combining incompatible electronics is a fast track to, well, permanently broken electronics.

Cleaning is another consideration when pumping breast milk on the go. It’s quite rare for journeys to last so long that a mama runs out of spare flanges, connectors, and clean bottles. However, in the event, you do have to clean and reuse these items while on the road or in the air, breast pump wipes are the quickest way to do it.

If you’re traveling by car, another option is to pack a collapsible washing bowl, a bottle brush, and some mild dish soap. But don’t forget you’ll also need to source clean water from restaurants and cafes along the way.

See also: Most Affordable Breast Pump Bags

Figuring Out How to Store Your Breast Milk Safely

We’ve discussed how to transport breastmilk while fresh and frozen. Now, let’s figure out the best way to handle it once you’ve reached your destination and realized your new pumping station leaves a lot to be desired.

If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure your room has a serviceable fridge. Either book a hotel room with a mini-fridge or call ahead to ask if a fridge can be provided. If you do call ahead, don’t be afraid to explain your predicament. Being able to feed your baby is not a luxury perk. Most hotels will recognize this and offer to move you to a room with a mini-fridge at no extra charge or they’ll let you use staff facilities.

Psst, you didn’t hear it from us but one of the less-discussed perks of breastfeeding is having the power to make grown men quiver at ten paces. We’re just saying, social stigma comes in useful when you want a hotel manager to give you what you need and give it quickly. Sometimes, the fastest way to a mini-fridge is…oversharing.

Don’t look at us like that. This pumping stuff is difficult to work and a mama’s gotta do what mamas gotta do to feed her cub.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pumping While Traveling

Q – What is the best way to transport breast milk and keep it fresh while traveling? 

A – Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, the best method is to use a mini cooler or drinks chest with ice packs or zip-top bags of ice. If cooled and stored correctly, chilled breast milk stays drinkable for two to three days on the road. If you want it to last longer, the breast milk must be frozen solid and kept frozen (with dry ice) in the mini cooler until you reach your destination and can transfer it to a freezer or thaw it safely.

Do not refreeze thawed milk. If there are no ice crystals in the liquid, it is fully defrosted and cannot be safely refrozen. Use or discard the milk within twenty-four hours.

Q – What should I do if airport security prevents me from traveling with breast milk? 

A – Pumping moms’ travel experiences can vary wildly depending on which airports they’re traveling to and from. So we can’t promise you’ll never run into any problems with TSA screening agents. However, the law recognizes the importance of safe, stress-free breastfeeding and does not place a limit on the amount of milk that can be transported. This applies to families traveling with and without their babies.

If you are concerned, it can help to get ahead of the situation by calling the airline directly for reassurance on what will happen and what you’ll need to do during screening.

Q – Can I pump milk while I’m on my flight?

A – Breastfeeding and pumping are permitted (by law) on flights. However, depending on the type of airline and the destination you’re traveling to, you may need to be discreet. Having to hide or cover up can be frustrating but there are likely to be many religions and cultures represented on board and the airline must respect all of them.

It all depends on who you’re sitting next to. If you feel confident enough, strike up a conversation with your seatmate and ask them how they’d feel about you pumping milk. Are they comfortable with seeing skin or would they prefer you to cover up? Yeah, it’s annoying to have to ask but a midair flight isn’t a good time to start an argument with your next-door neighbor.

Q – Can I pump milk while I’m inside the airport?

A – Thankfully, it’s becoming increasingly rare for women to be actively prevented from breastfeeding and pumping in public. However, breastfeeding laws in the United States vary from state to state and some have the right to ask you to stop if the people around you feel uncomfortable. This is rare even in highly conservative states as, contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding just isn’t that conspicuous. Provided you’re not pumping milk while being screened by a TSA agent or in the queue for boarding, it’s very unlikely anybody will even notice.

This may not be the case when flying to or from culturally conservative destinations with religious laws such as the Middle East. If you’re unsure about rules and customs, locate an airport bathroom to pump in or ask airline staff for advice.


Being a milk-pumping mom shouldn’t prevent you from traveling within or beyond the States. Just remember, it’s important to pick your battles. When you’re away from home and the baby is depending on you for regular feeds, delivering those feeds is your top priority. I guess what we’re trying to say is, pump loudly and proudly when you can but also know when to compromise for a safe, successful trip.

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