How to Travel with Breast Milk, According to a Lactation Consultant

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Feeding on demand, pumping to maintain supply, figuring out how to nourish a baby while working…nursing mothers know all too well that breastfeeding requires a good deal of logistics planning. And this is especially true when travel is involved. (Even on a sun-soaked beach, there’s nothing less relaxing than the sound of a hungry infant.)

Fortunately, we spoke with a lactation consultant and put together a guide on how to travel with breast milk that will help you worry less about your liquid gold, whether you’re on a plane, in a car, or just passing the buck to a shipping carrier.

Meet the expert

  • Kata Arquilla is a lactation consultant, certified breastfeeding counselor, NICU Registered Nurse and founder of Bumble Baby.

How to Pack Breast Milk

The most important thing to consider when packing breast milk, be it fresh or frozen, is how to keep it cold. Fortunately, the solution is fairly simple and works for all kinds of travel. Per the expert, your best bet is to pack 3-ounce portions of frozen or fresh breast milk in a freezable lunch box, along with a gallon-size Ziploc bag of ice.

That said, Arquilla recommends packing fresh milk whenever possible—namely because it fares much better than frozen milk when kept at refrigerator temperatures of 40℉ and below (i.e., the coldest environment you’re likely to create while traveling). Per the CDC, freshly pumped milk can be stored for up to four days at refrigerator temperatures, while frozen milk must be used within 24 hours of thawing. (FYI: the 24-hour rule for frozen milk begins when the last ice crystal has melted.)

How to Travel with Breast Milk by Plane

Flying with liquids of any kind can be tricky but fear not: Arquilla has a hack for nursing moms. To start, you’ll need to pack your breast milk in 3-ounce portions in order to meet TSA regulations and preferably in storage bags specifically designed for the stuff, as they save space and ensure that the milk stays both fresh and secure. (Note: Larger quantities of “medically necessary liquids”—including breast milk—are permitted in your carry-on luggage, but they may need to be tested and that ordeal could seriously disrupt your travel plans.)

Once that’s done, place your collection of fresh or frozen breast milk baggies in a (frozen) freezable lunch box with an empty gallon-size Ziploc bag and toss the whole kit and kaboodle into your carry-on.

After you’ve made it through security, book it to the first airport bar or restaurant you can find and ask for the empty Ziploc bag to be filled with ice. Seal the bag of ice, stash it in the freezable lunch box with your milk, and you’re good to go.
Again, keep in mind that your supply will last longer if you pack it fresh, not frozen—but the aforementioned hack will work either way. It’s also worth noting that Arquilla advises against packing breast milk in checked luggage whenever possible because “it’s not uncommon for flights to be delayed or bags lost, and if milk doesn’t stay at the right temperatures it will expire or spoil, which would be devastating!”

What About Your Breast Pump?

Wondering how you’ll replenish your milk stash while you’re away? Good news, friends: Arquilla tells us (and the TSA confirms) that a breast pump is considered a medical device, which means that you can tote it along at no additional cost without taking up any precious space in your carry-on or personal item.

How to Travel with Breast Milk by Car

Car, plane…it doesn’t make much of a difference as far as breast milk is concerned. If you’re taking a road trip, just follow the CDC guidelines and the practical advice above from the expert to keep the milk at 40 degrees or cooler for the entirety of the drive, so it stays fresh for four days (or 24 hours from thawing if the milk was previously frozen). The only real difference here is that you’ll have more room in the car than you would a cramped airplane, which means that an ice-filled cooler can easily replace the freezable lunch box—and might even be a more sensible choice, depending on how long you’ll be away and how much milk you plan on taking along.

Per the expert, another benefit of using a full-size cooler for road travel is that you can pump in the car without worrying about running out of storage space for the newly expressed milk. (Psst: Freshly pumped milk can be left out at room temperature for up to four hours, so you might even opt to feed your baby during the trip, before tapping into your cooler stock.) It’s also worth noting that breast milk doesn’t have to be separated into 3-ounce portions in this scenario—so feel free to fill up the storage bags as much as you please, while keeping in mind that any bottle of breast milk that has met your baby’s lips must be consumed within two hours or tossed.

How to Ship Breast Milk to Your Destination

If you’ve filled your carry-on with too many other essentials or loaded the car to max capacity, shipping your breast milk stash might be your best bet. If you choose to ship breast milk to your destination, you’re going to need to pack it in a Styrofoam cooler with dry ice. Yes, dry ice can be a little intimidating, but if you use gloves and follow the steps laid out in this tutorial, you’ll be just fine.

Prefer to hand the responsibility to a third party? No problem—just call up Milk Stork, a company that will pack and ship your breast milk and save you the bother.

Regardless of whether you handle the packing and shipping yourself or hire the pros, it’s important to time the shipment such that you or someone else will be available to receive and promptly store the milk upon delivery, so plan accordingly and keep your eye on the tracking updates.

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Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...