How to Travel On a Plane with Breastmilk

Airport with luggage that is showing different items for traveling with breastmilk or pumping (How to Travel on a Plane With Breastmilk)

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

One of the first things that any breastfeeding parent learns after beginning their nursing journey is that things are far more complicated than simply bringing your child to the breast whenever they are hungry. And things tend to get even more complex when the breastfeeding parent returns to work or needs to travel on a plane while continuing to breastfeed their child.

The key word there, though, is complex. While there are many guidelines to be aware of and preparatory steps that need to be taken, traveling on a plane with breastmilk is not impossible and does not necessarily need to be stressful. Here, learn how to prepare for travel, what to do with your milk during your trip, and how to navigate the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the uncertainty of flying.

What You Need to Travel with Breastmilk

The supplies you need, if you’re traveling with breastmilk, are going to vary slightly depending on if your baby is with you and whether you are exclusively nursing or nursing and pumping (or both!). “If you are traveling by plane with your baby, you can nurse your baby on demand,” says Gina Boling, IBCLC, Clinical Director at the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington. In either case, consider packing the following supplies:

 Supplies for Breastfeeding Supplies for Pumping
 Nursing cover or small blanket  Portable pump or hand pump
 Nursing tank top or bra  Breastmilk storage bags and bottles
 Extra clothes for you and baby (in case of spit-up)  Extra pump parts
 Refillable water bottles  Pump cleaning supplies, like disposable pump cleaning wipes or microwave steam bags
 Portable pump or hand pump  Insulated cooler bag
 Breastmilk storage bags and bottles  Ice packs, freezer packs, or frozen gel packs
 Travel breastfeeding pillow [Our Editorial Director swears by this one from Boppy] Device to freeze breastmilk bags flat for easier storage, like this one from Mammaway

The Rules for Traveling with Breastmilk—And How to Navigate Them

All of the supplies in the above section are allowed through airport security regardless of whether you have your baby with you or not—a rule that not all TSA agents are always aware of. And sometimes, they simply don’t understand.

“A friend of mine almost had her milk confiscated and dumped upon returning from a work trip,” shares Karin Ashley, a nurse, women’s health nurse practitioner, and mom-of-six, who has traveled with breastmilk. “She was questioned by the agent about where her baby was, assuming that milk was only needed to feed a baby on the plane.”

In this case, Ashley’s friend had the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk on hand to show the agent—a tactic almost every parent and expert recommends, whether that means carrying a printout or keeping a screenshot on your phone.

What exactly do those guidelines say? That formula, breastmilk, and juice are considered medically necessary liquids and are allowed through security in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces. It also explicitly says that you do not need to be traveling with your child to bring breastmilk on a plane.

To transport these items through security, the policy states that you should notify the TSA officer at the beginning of the screening process if you are traveling with breastmilk in excess of 3.4 ounces, at which time you should separate it and the accompanying items from your other carry-on items to be screened separately.

The rules say that officers may ask you to open the container and/or test the liquids, a step that you can refuse if you don’t want them to touch your breastmilk, at which time they may choose to take other steps to clear it.

“Each time I traveled with breastmilk, they did ask if they could open the milk and inspect it,” shares mom Erin Nutter. “I separated out the milk from the other carry-ons and told them it was breastmilk. They opened the small cooler bag and moved a strip of paper around the bottles. I assumed it was testing for certain chemicals in the air.”

If they insist on touching or opening your milk, Ashley recommends asking them to change their gloves beforehand. “The TSA agents wear gloves, and they don't change them between bag inspections, so I would ask them to switch gloves before handling and opening your milk,” she says. “You have no idea what they have touched prior to handling milk for your baby.”

The last part of the policy concerns ice packs. It says that these and other accessories required to cool breastmilk are allowed in carry-ons, regardless of the presence of breastmilk. If they are thawed or partially frozen, though, they are subject to standard liquid screening, and it is in this situation that parents have gotten ice packs confiscated.

“If you are using an ice pack in the cooler, make sure your ice packs are frozen when you reach the TSA security check, even if you haven't put any milk in the cooler yet,” recommends Ashley. “Liquids are allowed through security as long as they are frozen solid. I've had a few thawed ice packs confiscated in the security line.” 

That goes for breastmilk too, if you want to be extra careful. Marianne Perez-Fransius is the CEO of Bebé Voyage, a community for travel-loving families with small children, many of whom have traveled on planes with breastmilk.

“Folks who have had the most success have frozen as much milk as possible ahead of the flight,” she says. “You can usually stash a couple pouches in the freezer of the mini-bar until you can get down to the hotel restaurant and ask them to keep all your milk frozen. The pouches all then act as ice packs and you shouldn't need any additional if you've got a good cooler.”

This is especially helpful if you’re using milk storage bags as opposed to bottles. “Most of the time the TSA agents will say they need to test the milk. They take it to an area at the end of security and may ask to have you open the bottles,” explains Ashley. “For this reason, I recommend freezing any milk that you plan on storing in milk storage bags. Opening milk storage bags in the security line around people scrambling for their shoes and swinging bags and bins around sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.”

To be even more certain their milk won’t be confiscated, Perez-Fransius says some parents even store their milk in 3-ounce bags instead of 6-ounce ones in order to be fully compliant with the general TSA guidelines (even though this isn’t technically necessary for breastmilk).

How to Navigate Common Travel Scenarios

Parents go through the trouble of traveling with breastmilk so they can get this finite and precious source of nourishment home to their babies. And when they do, they want to be certain it’s still safe for them to drink. Here are some of the most common travel scenarios you may encounter and what the experts say about handling your breastmilk.

Scenario #1: Traveling with Your Nursing Baby

Travel can be stressful for babies, so it can be helpful to nurse them whenever they want during your trip. “Most airports have lactation rooms, but they are not usually in every terminal,” notes Ashley. “Knowing where they are ahead of time will save you time and energy if you need to pump on a layover.”

If you’ve pumped and need to give your baby a bottle, Ashley recommends asking at a restaurant (if you’re in the airport) or asking the flight attendant (if you’re on the plane) for a cup of hot water in which you can dunk the bottle to warm it up.

Scenario #2: Traveling for Fewer Than 6 Days Without Your Baby

For a trip of this length, all you need is a mini-fridge in your hotel room. “Typically, milk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six days,” says Boling, noting that any trip length that falls under this threshold means you don’t need to freeze your milk while you’re away.

“Chilled breastmilk may be safely transported in a cooler bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours,” she adds. “Then when you get home, you can either use the milk, refrigerate it, or freeze it, depending on the length of your trip.”

Breastmilk can spend up to four days total in the fridge. So if you are away for two days, for example, you can put your milk in the fridge for two more once you get home. But if you're gone for four days, it needs to be used right away or frozen. Make sure to label your bottles or bags with the date you pumped so it's easy to keep track. 

Scenario #3: Traveling for More Than Six Days Without Your Nursing Baby

If your trip is going to be longer than four days, you’ll need to freeze your milk while you’re away. Freezing milk flat in breastmilk storage bags will help you fit more in your cooler bag—plus then you can stack the bags on top of one another and they will keep each other cold. Once the freezer in your hotel mini-fridge is full, Perez-Fransius suggests asking the hotel restaurant if they can store your milk in their freezer.

Worried you won't be able to fit all your milk in your cooler bag for the trip home? You can ship your refrigerated or frozen breastmilk home using a company like Milk Stork.

“If the milk begins to thaw on your journey home, you can still re-freeze it when you return home if there are ice crystals in the milk,” Boling adds. “You may put it back in the freezer, or place it in the refrigerator to use within 24 hours.”

Scenario #4: You Can't Access A Fridge for 24 Hours or More

Ice packs in a well-insulated cooler bag will typically remain cold for around 24 hours—and if the ice packs and your milk are both frozen, everything may stay cold for longer than that. But if you have flight cancelations or delays that take your travel time beyond a full day, you may need to toss your milk.

“If it has been in the cooler bag for more than 24 hours and is no longer cold, it is best to discard this milk,” says Boling. Milk that was refrigerated or frozen and has come to room temperature may no longer be safe for your baby to drink.

While it is certainly frustrating to have to dump your pumped milk, take heart knowing that pumping regularly helped you keep your milk supply up and avoid possible complications like clogged milk ducts or mastitis, guaranteeing you'll be 100% when you return home to your little one.

A Word from Verywell

Traveling with breastmilk can be stressful and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be. The most important step is to familiarize yourself with the rules ahead of time, plus have a copy of the guidelines either printed out or on your phone so you can reference them if a TSA agent is unaware. If you know the rules and have taken the necessary steps to remain compliant with them, you shouldn’t run into any trouble.

That said, the rules do say that the final decision about whether an item is allowed through a security checkpoint rests with the TSA officer. If you encounter one who won’t budge despite your compliance with the rules, Perez-Fransius suggests asking to speak with their manager—and if that doesn’t work, note the names of both agents, the terminal, time, airport, airline and flight number so you can file a complaint on the TSA website.

Choosing to breastfeed your baby is a brave and admirable decision. Knowing how to prepare for travel and what to expect will help ensure that logistics don't get in the way of you nourishing and caring for your baby the way you want and choose to.

2 Sources
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  1. Transportation Security Administration. Breast milk.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Proper storage and preparation of breast milk.