Flying can be stressful. Flying with a baby can be more stressful. Flying with a baby while worrying about breast milk and breast pumps and finding a place to nurse really takes it up a notch! On my first trip with a baby, I remember worrying so much about traveling through security with breast milk, and if there would be anywhere in the airport to pump or feed the baby, and I really struggled to find information on what to expect. So I’ve put together a few trips from a mom who has been there, done that, with some practical, up-to-date information and tips for breastfeeding on a plane and travel while breastfeeding.
Tips for breastfeeding on a plane and travel while breastfeeding
TSA rules on breast milk and breast pumps
Try to ignore all the stories you may have read in the media about TSA agents making moms dump out their milk, or giving them a hard time as they come through security. They make the news because they are the exception, not the norm. Chances are, TSA will give you no trouble going through security with breast milk as long as you follow the rules. These are the up-to-date regulations for breast milk and breast pumps:
- The rules for liquids when going through TSA security do not apply to breast milk, so separate your breast milk from the rest of your liquids. There is no limit on the quantity you can bring through, but you must inform the TSA agent that you are carrying breast milk so it can be screened separately. Typically, breast milk will be sent through the X-ray machine, but if this is something you’re not comfortable with, let an agent know and both you and the breast milk will be subject to additional screening. In my experience, the containers of milk have been opened and a litmus paper held over the top of them – I have no idea what this tests for, but my milk has always passed the test!
- If you are carrying your milk in a cooler and using ice packs or gel coolants, these are allowed in carry-on luggage, but may be X-rayed or screened as well. Baby food, juice for toddlers, and liquid-filled teethers are also exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule, and follow a similar screening process as breast milk.
- A breast pump can be carried through as hand luggage, but ask the TSA agents if it needs to be removed from its bag when you go through security. If they need to handle any part of the pump, it’s fine to ask them to wear gloves so that sanitized pump parts stay clean.
Bear in mind, there have been issues in the past with TSA agents taking much longer to scan and inspect breast milk, formula, and all other equipment. If you are traveling with any of these things, allow plenty of extra time to get through security so that you’re not rushing to make your flight.
If you want to check breast milk, I would recommend doing so in a container packed with plenty of dry ice. Be sure to contact your airline in advance to find out exactly what their instructions are, and how they require the breast milk to be packed.
For the exact TSA rules regarding traveling with breast milk, click here.
Breastfeeding at the airport and pumping at the airport
Sadly, airports have a long way to go in order to become breastfeeding friendly. Back in 2014, this study was conducted to find out which airports met the minimum requirements for being ‘breastfeeding friendly’ – that is, they had a private room with a chair and electrical outlets that was not a bathroom stall. Only eight out of 100 airports met the requirements! Eight! That’s pretty terrible! In case you were wondering, those airports were San Francisco International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Indianapolis International Airport, San Jose International Airport, Akron-Canton Airport in Ohio, Dane County Regional in Wisconsin, and Pensacola International Airport in Florida. If one of those is your local airport, or somewhere that you are flying through, that’s awesome! Otherwise, most airports don’t have designated areas for a mom to breastfeed or pump. In the past I’ve had good luck finding privacy and outlets in airline lounges, although you usually need to be flying in a premium cabin or have a membership to use those lounges. Otherwise, I’ve found an empty gate with no flight departing, and settled myself in on the floor. Ideal? No. Comfortable? No. But to me, it is certainly better than a bathroom stall!
Breastfeeding on a plane and pumping on a plane
I haven’t had too many problems breastfeeding once I’m on the plane. I always pack a nursing cover or blanket when I fly with a baby; while I normally have no issue nursing in public, I’ve found that practically sitting on top of your neighbor on a plane can be a little uncomfortable while trying to nurse. I also have very easily distracted babies, who turn their heads at the slightest sound or movement, and a blanket over them has allowed them to eat in peace with all the hustle and bustle of the cabin going on around them. Remember, it’s incredibly important to stay properly hydrated while breastfeeding when flying (read through for a personal story on what can happen if you don’t stay hydrated!)
Pumping on a plane can be a little more challenging, but it is doable. I’ve had to pump on a plane while traveling without my baby, and while it’s not going down as one of the best moments of my life, it wasn’t as awkward as I thought it was going to be. You have two options: to pump in your seat, or pump in the bathroom. I chose to pump in my seat on one flight, and use the bathroom on the second. Pumping in my seat was by far the easiest; I didn’t feel rushed and although the man sitting next to me spent the time I was pumping staring very hard in the other direction, I was covered up and the noise from the pump was masked by the noise from the plane. When I used the bathroom to pump, I deliberately waited until we’d been airborne for a while, so there wasn’t that initial rush to use the bathroom that seems to happen when the seat belt sign is first turned off. I informed the flight attendant of what I was doing and she was very sweet, telling me to take my time and she would direct passengers to another bathroom. Still, I felt like I had to pump super quick so as not to take up the bathroom for too long, and I was worried about the seat belt sign being turned on, meaning I would have to stop what I was doing and go back to my seat. Overall, I would recommend just pumping in your seat as the easier and more comfortable option.
International travel when flying while breastfeeding
The TSA regulations apply only to travel within the US. If you are flying internationally, bear in mind that the rules could be completely different. For example, I flew within Europe when I was breastfeeding my first child, and came across some very different regulations. For one thing, traveling within the United Kingdom, I was unable to travel with breast milk if my baby was not traveling with me. This meant I had to dump out two days worth of milk at the airport – any breastfeeding mom will know how much that killed me! I found out that I was able to carry breast milk on board with me if I was traveling with my baby, but only enough to feed him during the journey – any more than that had to be checked into the hold. My husband also found out the hard way that the person carrying the milk through security may have to taste the milk to prove it is in fact breast milk – I was holding my baby, and my husband found himself sipping breast milk at security at London’s Gatwick Airport! So if you are traveling outside the country, do your research to find out exactly what the rules are before you travel to avoid any additional stress at the airport.