Your Ultimate Guide to Pumping While Traveling (Land & Air)
Are you a breastfeeding mom? In a lot of ways, breastfeeding is a convenient way to feed your baby – but in others, it can be a complete hassle. Things can get even more complicated if you plan to travel apart from your baby for a few days.
Between travel regulations, milk storage, and the need to pack all your pump parts, the whole prospect of leaving can quickly become overwhelming.
If you’re planning to travel while pumping, there’s no need to worry anymore.
Here is everything you need to know to prepare for your trip, pump while you’re away, and get your milk back home safely.
Which Breast Pump Will I Need For Traveling?
When traveling as a nursing mom, the most important piece of the puzzle is your pump. You have three main options.
These are the types of pumps that you’ll see in the hospital, in some employer-sponsored nursing rooms, or that the hospital may send you home with after childbirth if you have complications.
They are bulky, heavy, and big – but very powerful. These are the strongest (but least travel-friendly) pump of the bunch.
Medical-Grade Pumps Are Best For:
- Moms who struggle with supply
- Traveling light: Call ahead to a hospital in your destination city and see if you can rent one for the duration of your stay.
Medical-Grade Pump Pros:
Medical-Grade Pump Cons:
- Needs to be plugged in
Portable Breast Pump:
These are the breast pumps you are likely most familiar with. Most nursing moms have one; the Affordable Care Act made the purchase of them an expense that is 100% covered by insurance (source).
Used commonly by working moms, most come with a carrying bag or backpack for easy transport.
Many of these pumps also have an option to run off of regular batteries or have a compatible accessory that allows them to plug into the cigarette lighter of a car for convenient use on the go.
Portable Breast Pumps Are Best For:
- Longer trips
- Moms who will need to pump frequently
- Car trips
Portable Pump Pros:
- Does not require a wall outlet (takes batteries)
- Easy to transport
Portable Pump Cons:
- Extra bulk while traveling
- Reliant on power source (plug or batteries)
- Expensive (if you don’t already own one)
Manual Breast Pump:
These are the cheapest and smallest breast pump option available, but are the most labor-intensive and least effective at completely emptying the breast. A good option for moms who don’t struggle with milk supply or who are just leaving for a day or two, manual breast pumps don’t require any power source and are a good choice for women who need to travel light.
Manual Pumps Are Best For:
- Traveling light
- Short trips
- Small budgets
- Remote trips
Manual Pump Pros:
- No electricity required
Manual Pump Cons:
- Less suction than electric models
- Requires physical exertion
- Takes longer to pump
What Do I Need to Pack in My Bag?
No matter which breast pump option you choose, many of the necessities you’ll pack in your breast pump bag will be the same. Here’s your checklist of things to make sure you’re prepared for all situations.
- Breast pump
- Breast pump accessories (as applicable): Flanges, Tubing, Membranes, Power cord, Car power adapter
- Milk collection bottles
- Milk collection bags
- Batteries & back-up batteries
- Freezer packs
- Nursing cover
- Breast pump sanitizing wipes
- Hands-free pumping bra
- Pen to note day/time of milk after pumping
How Do I Keep My Milk Fresh?
After you’ve pumped, the next challenge is figuring out what to do with it. Breast milk’s shelf life is relatively short (8 days maximum in the refrigerator) so keeping it cool to prevent spoilage is critical. There are a few ways to keep milk fresh while traveling.
- Cooler with freezer packs: Milk will stay fresh in a typical cooler for 24 hours with an internal temperature between 5-39 degrees Fahrenheit (source). This is a good option if you don’t have access to a refrigerator or are traveling by air.
- Car cooler: These are coolers that are electrically cooled and plug into the cigarette lighter of your car. This is a good option if you are traveling primarily by car.
- Ship it home: If you have a large stash of milk, need to send milk home in the middle of your trip, or just don’t want the hassle of traveling home with your milk, you may consider shipping it. There is a company that does this specifically, but you can also just ship it overnight in a cooler with ice packs or dry ice via UPS, USPS, or FedEx.
How Do I Transport My Milk Back Home?
Here are some things to consider when storing milk and subsequently transporting your milk back home:
- As a general rule, don’t freeze your milk while traveling. If it defrosts on the way home, it cannot be re-frozen and will need to be consumed (or discarded) within 3 days.
- Call ahead to check that your hotel has a refrigerator in your room. If they do not, ask if you will have access to one or if they have one available that can be placed in your room. If they do not, you may need to consider a plug-in cooler to keep your milk fresh.
- Breast milk lasts a maximum of 8 days in the refrigerator. If you are away from your baby for longer periods, you may need to freeze it or consider shipping a batch home mid-trip.
- If you decide to ship your breast milk, it may be best to ship it frozen to ensure it doesn’t spoil.
- When shipping breast milk, check with the individual carrier (USPS, UPS, or FedEx) about related regulations. Dry ice is considered a hazardous material which impacts the volume of which you can mail by air (source).
- If you use dry ice to keep your milk cool, be aware of off-gassing. Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide, and can be dangerous if you do not keep it in a ventilated area.
- Milk bags should be wrapped in newspaper or a towel prior to being placed in a container with dry ice. Dry ice can damage plastic milk bags if they come into direct contact with one another.
What Do I Need to Know About Air Travel Regulations?
Air travel is where things start to get confusing. With all the rules about carry-on limits and liquids on airplanes, it’s no wonder that you might be a little panicked about what’s legal, and what you can expect. Here’s what you need to know.
Expressed Milk & Air Travel Regulations
Expressed breast milk is allowed through airport security (even if your child is not with you) and is not subject to the volume limitation of typical liquids (source). It is in the category of “medicines” so the rules do not apply. However, it is still subject to screening.
When going through airport security, notify the TSA agent before you go through security that you are transporting breastmilk. Remove the milk from your carry-on bags and place it in a bin separate from the rest of your items.
There are no detectable adverse effects to your milk from going through the x-ray machine, but if you’d prefer that it does not go through the machine, tell the TSA agent and they can do an alternative screening. You may ask to stay with the milk through the screening process to make sure they are following protocol and not contaminating the milk.
You may be asked to transfer a small amount of your milk to a separate container in order for it to be tested for explosives. If this happens, that small amount will need to be discarded as it will no longer be sterile, but the rest of your milk in the original containers will be fine.
Finally, if you prefer that your milk not be opened at all, you may request that they not do so. However, be aware that if you choose this option, you and the rest of your belongings will be subjected to further, more intense screening including a pat-down (source).
Milk Storage & Air Travel Regulations
Ice packs, gel packs, or other cooling accessories that are necessary to keep your milk cool are permitted on airplanes in your carry-on (source). However, it is best if they are completely frozen solid. If they are slushy or partially frozen, they are still permitted but can be subject to additional screening.
Breast Pumps & Air Travel Regulations
There is nothing in your breast pump machine that is not allowed on airplanes, and it is just fine to go through the x-ray screening at security.
However, do be aware that there is no specific TSA allowance waiving your breast pump bag as one of your carry-ons (meaning that your airline may count it as one).
The good news is that most airlines will classify it as a “medical device” and not count it toward your carry-on limit – however, they may count your cooler.
Check with your specific airline prior to travel to be sure.
Here is a step-by-step checklist you can follow when you play to be traveling by air as a pumping mom.
- 1. Check Your Airline’s Regulations: Most airlines don’t count your breast pump as one of your allowable carry-ons, but they do count your cooler as a bag. Check with your specific airline about whether these items will count toward your carry-on limit, or if they are exempt.
- 2. Freeze Your Ice Packs Solid: Even if you are just starting out on your trip and are not yet transporting milk, if you plan to bring your ice packs through security, make sure they’re frozen to reduce the likelihood that you’ll need additional screening.
- 3. Separate Your Milk Cooler From The Rest of Your Belongings: Do not send your milk through security with the rest of your allowable 3-ounce liquids. Set them in their own separate screening bin.
- 4. Notify A TSA Agent: Let a TSA agent know that you have breast milk. They may take it immediately for screening, or they may send it through the x-ray. If you prefer not to have it x-rayed, let them know and they will subject it to additional screening. Ask to be present for all screening of your milk.
- 5. Watch For Contamination: During the security screening, TSA agents may swab the outside of the milk bottle or open the container to pour a small amount into a separate container for testing, but no test strips or other things should be dipped directly into your container of breastmilk. If they say they are going to do this, ask for a supervisor.
- 6. Opt For Additional Screening: If you feel strongly that you don’t want your milk container opened, let the TSA agent know. They can do alternative screenings in lieu of opening and testing your milk, though be advised that it will take longer and be more invasive.
How to Pump While Traveling (Step-by-Step)
1. Choose the Right Pump for the Job
Evaluate both your travel conditions as well as your accommodations at your final destination. Choose the pump that fits your lifestyle and meets your needs best.
2. Choose Your Milk Storage Method
Figure out the biggest threat of milk spoilage while on your trip and choose the storage method that will best combat it. If you’ll be spending hours driving through desert heat, a plug-in car cooler may be your best bet.
If you’re traveling by air, skip the dry ice and use a small cooler and ice packs. If you’re going to be gone for three weeks, consider mailing batches of breast milk home throughout your stay.
3. Do Your Research
Spend some time researching the things you need to make things go as smooth as possible.
- Call your destination and see whether a refrigerator is available to you.
- Reserve a hospital-grade pump at a local hospital.
- Check with your airline and see whether they allow breast pumps to be exempt from carry-on baggage limits as a “medical device” and whether they count your cooler as a bag.
- Check with an HR rep of the office you’ll be visiting to see if they have a mother’s room.
The more information you have before you go, the better you can prepare – and the more confident you’ll be as you head out on your trip.
4. Make a Pumping Plan
When you’re out of your regular routine, it’s easy for pumping sessions to go by the wayside. Over the course of a few days, irregular pumping can have a serious negative effect on your milk supply. Before you leave, look at your schedule and make a mental plan of when you will pump your milk.
If you need, schedule alarms on your phone to remind you of your regular need to pump.
5. Pump - Get Creative if You Need
When it’s time to pump, do it. When you’re away from home it’s rare that the conditions will be perfect for pumping and you may have to get creative to find a location – or you may even have to pump in public.
Here are some tips to pumping in public places:
- Ask the front desk or an employee if there’s a mother’s room.
- Choose a quiet corner and pump under a nursing cover.
- Pump in a bathroom stall or lounge.
6. Clean Your Pump
After pumping, it’s important to clean your breast pump thoroughly before its next use. If you’re not in a position to wash it well because you’re traveling in a vehicle, sitting on an airplane, or in a place that doesn’t give you easy access to soap and a sink, use a breast pump sanitizing wipe and clean all of the parts of the pump that have been exposed to milk.
Alternatively, if you’re in a pinch and are not able to clean your pump BUT you have access to a refrigerator, simply place all of your breast pump parts in a plastic ziploc bag and place them in the fridge with your milk.
This will keep the residual milk on your breast pump parts “fresh” like your pumped milk, preventing bacteria from growing and allowing you to re-use the breast pump parts at your next pumping session without washing them in between.
7. Store Your Milk
Place your milk in the most accessible storage method immediately available. To maintain milk freshness, a refrigerator is ideal. If it is not available, place it in a cooler but transfer to a refrigerator as soon as one is available.
Remember that unless you are going to be away for an extended time (milk spoils in the refrigerator after approximately 8 days) or are planning to ship your breast milk home, freezing your milk is not ideal while on the road.
8. Pack Your Milk to Bring It Home
When it’s time to come home, pack your milk well in order to keep it fresh on the trek. Ideally, you will not freeze it. Instead, pre-freeze bags of ice or ice packs. If you are using ice or a pack that is in danger of leaking, place it in a ziploc plastic bag to make sure there are no messes in transit.
Place your bags or bottles of milk securely in a cooler with the ice packs.
If you choose to use dry ice to keep your milk cool, wrap your milk bags in paper in order to prevent direct contact with the plastic milk bags, which can damage them and cause them to leak. Also make sure you choose a cooler than can ventilate in order to accommodate off-gassing. If you are traveling by air and using dry ice, you may use no more than 5 pounds (source).
If you’re pumping while traveling, make sure you’re prepared.
- Choose the right pump for the job.
- Select the best milk storage method for your travels.
- Do research on your travel destination.
- Make a pumping plan.
- Follow through with your plan.
- Clean your pump.
- Store your milk.
- Bring your milk home.
No matter your travel method, being well-versed in the potential pitfalls will help you make a solid plan for successfully pumping while traveling. The right equipment, combined with a strategy of how to get your milk home safely, will help your trip go smooth without sacrificing either your milk production or the safety of your pumped milk.
Have you ever had to travel while pumping? Share your best tips with us – and send this to a friend who has travel planned in the near future to help them pump successfully while away from home.