We’ve all heard the horror stories about moms (and dads) traveling with breast milk and the TSA agents who make them prove their breast milk actually is breast milk and then contaminate it. Or just as bad, dump it out. Nothing makes us madder than wasted breast milk because we know that pumping takes precious time, energy, and logistical planning. But a lot of moms don’t know their rights because, let’s face it, the TSA guidelines are vague and confusing.
So before you book your next flight, here’s what you need to know.
1) Breast milk is allowed
Breast milk, formula, and juice are all allowed through security in your carry-on bag. Unlike shampoo or other liquids, breast milk is exempt from the “limited quantity rule” of 3.4 ounces. Let the TSA agents know you’re traveling with breast milk and put your pump and bottles (empty or full) on the conveyor belt for screening separate from your other liquids.
2) You can say no to having your breast milk X-rayed or opened
If your breast milk is frozen, a visual inspection is usually fine. However, if it’s thawed, TSA agents may want to test it for explosives, but you have the right to say no. Screening procedures are inceasingly non-invasive but traveling mamas still recommend you ask the TSA agent to put on a fresh pair of gloves if they handle your bottles or bags of milk.
3) Freezer packs are fine
You’re allowed to carry freezer bags, ice packs, and frozen gel packs for your breast milk. But traveling mamas recommend using heavier duty ice packs because they last longer than the frozen gel packs.
4) Pack like a pro
Pack your pump, breast milk, and freezer packs together in one bag. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether or not breast pumps are considered medical devices (and thus not counted as one of your carry-on bags). According to the FDA a breast pump is a medical device, but because airlines still vary on whether or not they’ll count your pump bag as a carry-on, it's best to check with your specific airline. Hats off to United Airlines for specifically stating that moms are allowed an extra carry-on bag for their breast pump! Traveling mamas recommend that you always bring extra batteries and a hand pump in your purse...just in case.
5) Be your own advocate
We would hope that by now TSA agents are used to seeing traveling mamas and their breast milk. Yet we have a sneaking suspicion that the TSA gets a ton of questions because they’ve put together this video: Strollers, car seats, breastmilk, oh my!
In the event you experience any problems or encounter an uninformed TSA agent, we recommend calling TSA directly: TSA Contact Center: 1-866-289-9673.
6) Frequent flyer options
If you travel a lot for work you might consider investing in the TSA pre-check program to reduce the lines, the wait, and the hassles (the price is $85 or $100 for five years. At which point you’ll be done breastfeeding and on to other challenges like kindergarten!) And if you’d rather not travel at all with your liquid gold companies like Milk Expressed or Milk Stork will ship it home for you.
7) International Travel
It's not easy to find the rules and regs for crossing borders with breastmilk, and to make it even more complicated, the rules can vary according from country to country. However, within the European Union you can bring up to 2000ml of breastmilk (which = 67 ounces) in your carry-on luggage but only if it's not frozen. Frozen breastmilk must be packed in your checked luggage, no exception. The good news is that pumped breast milk can last at room temperature for 6-8 hours in a cool environment. Canada is very clear that breastmilk (and a cooler pack) is fine and not held to the 100 ml liquid rule, so yet another reason to love them. When in doubt, traveling mamas recommend that you contact the American consulate in your destination country for the most up to date regulations.
8) Identify airports with appropriate lactation accommodations
Many airports provide breast pumping mamas with a clean, comfortable, and private space to plug in and you can find them all here. But unfortunately not all do. So if you’re directed to a family restroom, explain why pumping milk near a toilet is a dealbreaker and then be sure to let the airport know that they need to up their lactation facilities pronto. Go mama!