Airplane - Air travel
Author: TLN

Lactation and Air Travel

Answers to the most frequently-asked questions about bringing breast milk (and baby) on board

We’re approaching holiday travel season, so if you’ve got a baby on board (literally), you’ll want to have this article bookmarked in your favorites for all your excursions. From navigating the three-ounce rule to pumping on the plane, here’s a rundown on the rules for breastfeeding and air travel from a parent who has been there, pumped that.

The rules of the air: Lactation and air travel

Q: Does my breast pump count as a second carry-on?

A: Nope, it’s a medical device and does not count as one of your two carry-ons. However, be aware that your (separate) breast milk cooler does count as a carry-on. Always double check carry-on regulations for your airline and type of ticket, either via the airline website or a call to customer service. And be sure to let TSA know it’s a breast pump when you send it through the X-ray machine—don’t be shy!

Q: Does the three-ounce rule apply to breast milk?

A: No, you can bring as much breast milk as you need. Also, you do not have to portion out breast milk into three-ounce amounts and place them in a quart-sized bag like you do with your shampoo and face wash. Again, just be sure to give the TSA officer a heads-up when you get to security. Note: When breast milk is frozen or in containers under three ounces, it doesn’t need to be screened. Larger quantities may need additional screening, though they won’t ever open the containers.

Q: Can I bring breast milk I’ve already pumped in a cooler?

A: Yes! Bag or bottle that liquid gold and place it in an insulated cooler for easy traveling. Just declare it to TSA at security and they’ll do a quick extra check without opening the individual bags or bottles. There are no limits on the quantity when traveling in the US, but Heathrow airport, on the other hand, is a whole different story. Check the rules before you travel so you don’t end up having to throw away your breast milk (nothing more painful for a lactating parent).

Tip: Make sure any ice packs you use are frozen solid. If they’re thawed out, they’re considered a liquid and likely won’t pass the three-ounce rule—which means they will have to be screened by the agent.

Q: Do I need to travel with my baby to transport breast milk?

A: No. This might seem like a silly question, but some TSA officers have been known to get this rule mixed up. However, the TSA website clearly states that you do not have to travel with your child in order to bring breast milk. As any lactating parent knows, if you’re traveling without your baby, you’ll definitely need to pump to prevent engorgement, clogs, or mastitis, and will likely want to bring back that precious milk!

Q: Will TSA need to open the bags or bottles of milk to test it?

A: They shouldn’t need to. If the milk isn’t frozen, the TSA agent will usually swipe the outside of each bag or bottle with a swab and/or place them in a machine for a few seconds. It’s a quick process—a couple of extra minutes, tops. While the TSA website says they may ask you to open a container and transfer a small amount to a separate empty container, you can tell them you don’t want it opened and go through additional screening. 

Bonus Travel Hacks for First-Timers!

  1. Frozen vs. fresh: It can be tough to keep breast milk frozen while traveling. Because breast milk is fine in a fridge for a few days or in an insulated cooler with ice packs for up to 24 hours, you can totally keep it unfrozen for shorter trips. (Plus, if you’re traveling with your baby, you might need some fresh milk!) If the milk is not frozen, be sure to build in a few additional minutes at security for extra screening.
  2. TSA: We’ve all heard the horror stories, but most of the time, flying with your pump or breast milk is a non-event. Don’t let the security process intimidate you! At the mention of a breast pump or breast milk, many TSA officers will actually try to get you through more quickly. If it makes you feel better, print and carry a copy of the TSA’s official guidelines for flying with breast milk.
  3. Nursing pods: Check online to see if the airport you are flying into/out of has nursing pods. More and more airports are adding these amenities for nursing and pumping parents (finally, right?). If you can’t find the info online, you can also ask at the airport service desk. Otherwise, pump where you’re most comfortable—a bathroom (family or regular), an empty gate area, or a secluded corner.
  4. Pumping on the plane: Long flight? You might be in a situation where you have to pump from 10,000 feet up. Have no fear, it can be done! The noise of the plane will cover the sound of the pump, so just act like you know what you’re doing and go for it. If you have a battery-operated or manual pump, throw on a nursing cover and pump in your seat. Or talk to a flight attendant about the best time and place to pump. Some may suggest one of the bathrooms (not an ideal spot but provides the most privacy) while others may offer a perch in the staff area.
  5. Extra supplies: Think through the whole process of pumping, cleaning and storage to ensure you have everything you need. Bring battery packs or adapters, extra batteries, quick-cleaning wipes, empty storage bottles or bags, ice packs, a cooler, backup parts, a nursing bra or cover—whatever you’ll need to feel comfortable and preserve your milk. Toting a manual pump as a backup (Batteries died! No outlet in sight! Can’t leave the seat!) is not a bad idea.

And lastly, enjoy that holiday! Don’t worry too much about the air travel—just think of the memories you’ll make once you land.