One of the biggest challenges working mothers face is traveling away from their babies while they’re still breastfeeding. Pumping while on the road – or in the air – can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and downright unpleasant, but many mothers find that is it worth it so they can continue breastfeeding.
Here are some hints to help you prepare for trips away from your little one. Working mothers going on a business trip or those that stay at home getting away for a weekend can benefit from planning ahead.
Pumping while traveling requires some additional supplies that you may not need when you’re at home:
- Batttery pack & fresh batteries – Make sure your battery pack works BEFORE leaving and load your pack with fresh batteries.
- Extra batteries – Depending on length of your trip, it’s always a good idea to carry an extra set of batteries. Remember to keep batteries with your carry-on luggage to avoid any problems with checked luggage.
- Convertor/adapter – If you are traveling internationally, make sure to pack the appropriate power convertor/adapter plug so that the pump will work at your final destination.
- Milk storage bags/containers – If you plan to bring milk home after the trip, make sure to pack plenty of storage bags. I like the Medical-Grade, Pre-Sterilized Plastic Storage Bags. Freeze them flat so you can stack them up on the return trip.
- Ice or cold packs – Especially for long or multi-segment flights, ice or cold packs will help keep milk frozen on the return trip. Some thawing may occur, so put the milk into the freezer as soon as possible. Use the milk pumped on a trip as soon as possible after you return.
- Cleaning supplies – I LOVE the microwave disinfecting bags. You might not always have access to a place to scrub pump parts while traveling, but most hotel rooms and offices have a microwave. Throw everything into these bags, pop into microwave for 3 minutes, and everything is sterile for their next use.
- Power cord, tubing, membranes, breast shields & pump parts – A breast pump won’t do you any good if you don’t have all of the essential parts with you! Pack a few extra pump membranes, just in case.
- Hand sanitizer – It’s always a good idea to pack a little (3 oz or less) bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on.
If you can fit a pump into your small rollerboard suitcase, great! Otherwise, you’ll need to check your suitcase and keep your computer bag/purse and pump as carry-on items.
Do NOT check a breast pump in a suitcase or as a stand alone item. Travel delays happen all the time; luggage gets damaged or lost. The last thing you need is to end up at your destination without your pump!
Be Security Savvy
In the United States, pumping mothers are permitted to travel with breast pumps and breast milk, regardless of whether or not they are traveling with their children. If a security agent says otherwise, ask to speak to a supervisor.
To make the security process as smooth as possible, you should alert the security officers so they know you are traveling with a pump:
- Pull the pump out of your carry-on bag and place it in a separate bin before it goes through the x-ray machine. Tell the agent that the item is a breast pump.
- If returning from a trip and carrying breastmilk, place the milk in a separate bin and alert the agents that the liquid is breastmilk. Breastmilk is NOT subject to the three-ounce limitation.
- If a security agent asks to test the milk, ask to speak to a supervisor. They may want to swab the outside of the milk bags or containers, but they cannot make you open your milk and test it.
A mother may be asked to go through additional screening. I’ve had my pump searched and swabbed and I’ve also been subjected to a pat down. Be prepared for either scenario.
Pumping en Route
Sometimes it’s necessary to pump before you reach your final destination. Because I fly in and out of a small airport, I always have to make at least one connection, which can make for a long travel day. Most major airports have family bathrooms with electrical outlets and they are a great place to pump. On longer or international flights, you may need to pump in your seat or in the airplane bathroom. Ask the flight attendants if they can suggest a pumping location.
Well Worth the Effort!
Pumping while traveling presents some unique challenges, but it’s ultimately worth the extra effort. With a little planning, preparation and patience, you can maintain your milk production while you’re away from your little one and they will be ready to welcome you home at your breast.
You can find the TSA official guidelines for traveling with breastmilk HERE.
Nicole Goodman is a full-time working mother who successfully nursed both of her daughters through their first 12 months. She had to go on many business trips while she was still nursing and has lots of funny stories about her experiences pumping & (sometimes) dumping. You can learn more on Nicole’s blog, Work in Sweats Mama.
Dry ice would keep frozen milk frozen better than gel ice packs and way better than ice. TSA permits dry ice to be brought on board airplanes.
Great point Barbara! I didn’t want to deal with finding dry ice on international trips, but I think this is another good option to keep milk frozen.
There’s a product called Cooler Shock which is a dry-ice replacement and would work great to keep breastmilk frozen when traveling!
Great advice- especially the part about bringing the converter for the charger. Thanks for the link to the TSA guidelines too.
I pumped right in my seat with a hands-free pumping bra and a breastfeeding cover! Also didn’t have any issues getting through security with the pump or breastmilk. They didn’t even make me take it out of the cooler I had it in (small insulated lunch bag sized). It was a total non-issue!
Any tips on what breast pump would be best for traveling internationally? Thanks!
Good to see some practical advice 🙂 Thankyou
I am travelling quite a long distance (~14 hours) and will be gone an entire week. For storage of milk on return, do you recommend a styrofoam container or ice chest to carry it? Do you think ice will keep it cold long enough? Obviously it has to be a carry-on, which is a problem if my pump is my carry on (I have a large medela symphony). I’m worried, I may just have to toss all of the milk that I pump. Any ideas? Thanks so much!
I recommend calling the airline to see if they’ll allow an extra carry-on for your milk. I know I’ve traveled with a small suitcase, pump, and a tote of milk before, and it wasn’t a problem. An insulated container would be best. Do you have any layovers? You could switch out the ice during a layover to try and keep your milk frozen the entire trip home. Dry ice is also an option, but I know that can be difficult to arrange. On some of my longer trips, my milk was definitely starting to thaw out by the time I got home, but it was still mostly frozen. I put it in the freezer as soon as I walked in the door, and then I used that up first.
Which breast pumps do you recommend bringing if I will be leaving for 2 weeks without my baby? Im from Canada, going to India, do I need a converter for the Symphony breastpump?
I am going to India soon and I am from US. Were you able to use Symphony pump in india. I have the same one. Did you need a converter? Any feedback will be highly appreciated.
Thank you so much! This is really timely – I’m going on a business trip across the county and I’ll be gone for 1 week. You wrote that “If a security agent asks to test the milk, ask to speak to a supervisor. They may want to swab the outside of the milk bags or containers, but they cannot make you open your milk and test it.” Which made me more confident to speak up if this happened to me – my colleague just got back from a business trip and they made her take the lids off and they waved a strip (or something) over top of the OPEN milk bottles. She was furious. But, then I read on the TSA site that you linked to: “Officers may also ask you to open the container during the screening process.” Ugh.. Not good.
I recommend using the family/medical liquids lane at airport security if it is available and you are carrying milk. The TSA agents who work in that lane are much more up to speed on the rules for excepted liquids and are less likely to give you a hard time.
What have moms found as the best cooler for BM transport? I’m going to be away from my LO 5 days at a time and will be pumping and bringing this milk home to her each week. I have Medela bottles, but haven’t found a cooler that seems to fit these well for the volume I’m transporting. 18oz. A day.
Hi Stephanie, for the amount of BM, I’d say put the milk into bags (Medela is 5 oz a bag, I think there are bigger bags, too, but I’m not sure of the brand) for storage. You’ll have quite a bit! I usually put the bags into a ziploc baggie, too, for extra waterproof-ness. I think you’ll have an easier time fitting those into a cooler. Are you flying or driving while you’re away?
Hi, do you have any advice on storing frozen BM if there’s no freezer in hotel room? I am planning to be away to Melbourne for a week, but the hotel told me they had no freezer to loan. Permission to store in their kitchen freezer will need permission from Kitchen Chef, and I’m also worrying if my breastmilk will be contaminated using the kitchen freezer.
I’m in the same spot. Last time I traveled the hotel let me use their break room freezer. I’m staying at a Westin tonight and they’ll do nothing to help. There’s a mini fridge in the room, but it’s not cold enough to store food. So, I have my traveling cooler filled with ice trying to at least keep the milk refrigerated. It makes my blood boil.
I’d recommend Air B&B. Prices are usually cheaper than hotels, and you can negotiate freezer space. That’s what I think I’ll have to do here on out. I’m not going to pump and dump.
I have heard about Air B&B too, but as I’m tagging along with my husband who is going there for work, I am staying over at his hotel to save on accomodation cost. I’ll stock up on the gel ice packs. Hopefully the kitchen chef is kind enough to allow me to use a portion of their freezer.
I went to work in American Samoa for 9 days. There are only 2 hotels on the island and only one kitchen freezer. They let me store my milk in there and I think it would have worked out great except for two things. 1) Make sure to tell them to store it in the BACK of the freezer so that everytime they open it up that your milk isn’t thawing. and 2) Make sure they aren’t “helpful” getting the milk out for you on the day you leave. Mine had all started to thaw before I even got to the airport. However, I found that if you have enough frozen milk, and a good styrofoam container, in addition to gel packs the milk itself acts like ice and keeps whatever milk is in the center frozen (even on a 14 hour flight). I would have tried dry ice, but there wasn’t any on the island.
Thanks for the tips when using the kitchen freezer Erin. I guess the worst case is I can bring home my last 2,3 days supply using styrofoam box with gel packs. (:
I’ve actually successfully brought my pumped milk home, as long as it was refrigerated the whole time, for trips as long as 5 days. I’ve heard refrigerated milk will stay good for up to 7 days. Then you won’t be dumping all your precious goods!
wow! That’s good to hear! What about the ice packs? frozen? Did you use them to transport home?
I would bring ziplock baggies (I recommend double bagging so you don’t leak the water or milk!) and use the ice machine from the hotel to get them to the airport, and then when I had a chance go to a bar/restaurant for some fresh ice, and then I would also ask on the airplane depending on how long the flight is. Just keep it chilled the best you can! Best of luck, you’re doing great!!
I am traveling to Jamaica for a wedding and will be away from my LO for 4 days (first time). I have the hospital grade rental pump (Medela–huge and heavy!) and am concerned about not having anywhere to plug in and pump. Would I be better served buying a manual pump, in your experience, or should I just suck it up, lug the big pump around and hope for the best?
I hope this reply catches you in time. I will be in a similar boat (plane, ha!) in February with my symphony. I have heard that Amazon.com sells adaptable batteries for the symphony that needs to be plugged in. You just plug it in to the battery pack and should not have an issue.
Thanks for the reply.
We went a few weeks ago. I ended up with power supply in my seat on board the flight on the outbound (American Airlines 737) and plugged in/pumped somewhere over Cuba. LOL. I did end up purchasing a back-up hand pump and brought that along, should all else fail. Even though I was pumping several times a day while we were there, my supply seriously dropped and my first pp period returned while on our trip. Awesome. Guess the body knows when you are away from baby! Crazy stuff.
Should mention we did get stopped/inspected by TSA at security, asking about the pump. FYI.
Rebecca can I ask if you were able to bring your milk back from Jamaica traveling without your baby? I’m going next week and security told our travel agent I can only bring it back if I have the baby with me. Freaking out!
I wish I had an answer for you. I ended up pumping and dumping at the resort. Didn’t even attempt to bring it back.
Wish I could have been of more help.
Report back on your experience!
In this case I would suggest checking your milk. I checked it returning from Mexico as I’ve heard horror stories. Lots of Intl airports won’t let you carry your milk on without the baby. I’ll be doing the same from Japan next week.
It looks like they can actually test the milk if you refuse xray? http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-kids/parents-page
I highly recommend the spectra S1 for any mom who is traveling while pumping. It is as good as the symphony and works on battery. Much lighter than symphony.
I have the spectra s1 and will be travelling long haul in afew weeks. I exclusively express for my little one so will need to pump on the plane. 1)Has anyone been told they cant take a rechargeable pump on the plane and 2) can you express in your seat as i feel it’s unhygienic to do it in the toilet and don’t see why i should have to hide away.
Hi. I am going in a trip for 4 days inside of U.S. I am planning to bring the milk back home but I don’t know if I should freeze in my hotel room or just refrigerate it during my stay. It seems to me that if I just refrigerate it I will be able to keep it in a more stable temperature. Any ideas? Thanks
I’d suggest just keeping it refrigerated. Then you don’t have to worry about keeping it frozen if you’re flying or driving for a long time. Have a good time!
I am soon going on a long trip with my baby. Yes she is with me, and yes she is fully breastfed still. But she is 8 months old and at this age, it is super difficult to BF her in public. She wont latch or wont for long. In our 11 hours flight, I am sure I will have to pump 2-3 times. Should I be worry about the hygiene of my breast pump during that time? I plan to pump and feed her the milk in a bottle if necessary, I don’t think I need to store the milk. I am more worried about my breast pump. If I pump once, and then need to pump again let’s say 5 hours later, will it be safe for my baby to drink that milk if the pump was not rinsed or sterilized from the last use? I am desperate for any suggestions! Thanks!
I think you’d be fine not sterilizing in between. The way my thinking works is that if a bottle of fresh milk is ok left out for a day, then so are the drips left in the pump 🙂 I totally understand the distractible phase – though you may luck out and she’ll nurse after the initial exploration phase on the plane!
Medals sells cleaning wipes for when you are out and are not able to clean or sterilize they work great!
I’m traveling next week with our 6year old and leaving our baby behind. I have a Medela lactina (hospital grade) pump. I called Medela to see if they have a battery pack I could use with it but they don’t have one. Do you know if the plug in your seat is strong enough for it? Would I need to bring another pump (one with a battery pack), just in case? I love this one, but I’ll need to pump b/c the first flight is over 5 hours, a layover and then another flight of 2 hrs… Thanks!
I would not rely on plugging it in. Not all planes have the outlet. I had to bathroom pump for the first time on my flight this past weekend. Not as bad as I thought. Lydia
My friend loaned me her Medela freestyle pump and I was able to pump in my seat every time. Had no problems at all, used the battery pack. You can barely hear it. Used my nursing cover and just went on with my business. I even pumped in the Admiral’s club.
On my return trip what I did was packed all frozen bags in zip locks and put them in an insulated Wholefoods bag with dry ice. You can fly with 5 lbs of it. Kept my fresh BM in a different insulated (smaller) bag with an ice pack (Medela’s blue one). TSA agent said I packed everything great- they just had to test the BM and make sure all frozen BM was indeed frozen.
Great article. Just FYI for those going on a long international flight. I fly quite a bit LAX to HKG (13-16 hrs) and I have had the best luck pumping in my seat. My first flight I went to pump in the bathroom and ended up having the attendants pounding on the door that I was in there too long. Apperently for security reasons there are time limits placed for bathroom use. I asked where I should pump and they said if they knew that was what I was doing it was ok in the bathroom. I told them before I went in next but again had them pounding on my door 10 min in. Undressed and hooked up to the machine. The whole experience just left me upset and flustered. Much more low key at my seat. Generally those around me don’t even realize what I’m doing. My experience may be unique but wanted to put it out there so people are ready for it. Safe travels all!
Anyone have suggestions on bags? I am not wanting to look like a bag lady – I am flying in a few weeks and will pump and bring back and will have iPad and/or laptop. I have a Medela PIS.. I have looked at bags on line but can’t make up my mind. Any suggestions???
Are you traveling for work or fun? I’ve only pumped on fun travel trips, and I just bring my pump in my backpack on the plane. And then I bring a drawstring bag (think Nike) if I want something smaller. Nothing fancy 🙂
Traveling for work 😁. Need something that looks stylish but functional
Oh! I found a simple shoulder bag, that kinda looks like a computer bag, except it’s just plain black, kinda vinyl-y (and is actually semi cute). I used that for work trips before pumping, and have actually used it when going to weddings with my pump. I looked to see if it had any tags or a brand or anything, and I couldn’t find anything. Which means it was probably pretty cheap (haha), but has held up well! Good luck!
This is a very helpful post, thank you so much. I will be traveling for training 4 consecutive weeks, leave Monday and return Friday, baby will be 7 months so I absolutely plan to pump/ store milk while I am away. I apologize if I missed this in the comments, but has anyone shipped their milk back instead of carrying it on the plane, and how do you store/ freeze your milk while staying in a hotel. With my first, I had a 3 day business trip and the hotel was very accommodating in freezing my milk bags daily, but it was around 125-150 oz total. This will be a 5 day trip and I expect to pump around 275-300 oz as I have oversupply this time around, that seems like a lot to ask any hotel to store. I am wondering how to approach the subject, or if anyone has other suggestions. thanks!
I haven’t sent milk back home, but maybe look into dry ice and use overnight shipping?? However I did pump while away from my 7 month old for 4 days. The fridges in hotels aren’t actually fridges, they’re just coolers and temp can’t be guaranteed – so make sure to request an actual fridge from the front desk. I told them it was needed for ‘medical purposes’ and there were no questions. So I kept my milk cold (not frozen) in my room. And, I had them hold my ice packs in their freezer, usually near the front desk or the bellman can help.
For transporting I bought two big insulated lunch bags (and ice packs) that could hold rectangular tupperware containers, and those fit lots of milk nicely. I pumped about 120 ounces. I think I could have fit more.
We flew home and checked the milk in my luggage. I figured the bottom of the plane would help keep it nice and cool 🙂 Good luck!
I am going away on two 4 day work trips so I need to bring the milk back. Has anyone tried hydro flasks? They keep liquid cold for 12 hours, I just purchased two 64 oz flasks and thought I would just pack them in my checked bag in a small soft cooler with ice to make sure the temp dosnt change. I was planning to refrigerate the milk before leaving and use the sterilized hydro flask to pack in my back then can freeze as soon as I get home. Any thoughts on this idea?
I think the hydroflasks might be a good idea but I don’t trust checking My milk as bags can become lost! I always carried mine in milk bags in a cooler with ice packs or fresh ice. Sometimes the hotel would freeze my ice packs for me other times I would use ice from a coffee place after I got through security. I ALWAYS brought extra zip lock baggies in case I need to seal ice after security. Note: if the hotel couldn’t freeze my packs for me I would put them in my checked bags as I didn’t want to run the risk of having to throw them out because they weren’t solid enough.
Just saw this link and thought it’d be really helpful!! http://milksharing.blogspot.com/2010/12/shipping-breast-milk.html?m=1
COOLER SHOCK. This is the answer to transporting milk. You will need access to a freezer only to refresh the ice pack. Just buy two of them and keep one in the (hotel) freezer and the other in your cooler… BETTER THAN DRY ICE! If you need smaller bags to fit in your cooler just put some of it in a ziploc bag when it is in its liquid state (unfrozen). This saved me on a trip to a tropical island with a lackluster mini fridge in our hotel room.
Haven’t tried shipping milk back through milk stork, but I am intrigued…
This is all very helpful but how does it work when traveling WITH the baby? I’m about to take two extended international trips to very warm places with my son who will be 4 months old (and entirely breastfed). Grandparents will be on both trips and I need bottles so they can babysit. I don’t think I’ll have access to a freezer or a microwave in the hotel rooms, but I don’t want to take all of the kit (pumps, bottles, sterilizer) with me. Particularly the sterilizer -its huge! Has anyone figured out how to minimize the amount of appliances &bottles without basic kitchen equipment?
thanks for sharing this post.
Thanks for the article and information. It is very useful.
hi thanks for the information and posts
Hi Stephanie, for the amount of BM, I’d say put the milk into bags (Medea is 5 oz. a bag, I think there are bigger bags, too, but I’m not sure of the brand) for storage. You’ll have quite a bit! I usually put the bags into a Ziploc baggie, too, for extra waterproof-ness. I think you’ll have an easier time fitting those into a cooler. Are you flying or driving while you’re away?