When I learned that I would be traveling for work and away from my infant daughter for five days, I was immediately worried about how I was going to get five days worth of breast milk (pumping four times a day) home without shipping it. Right before I was leaving on my trip the whole thing with Alyssa Milano’s confiscated breast milk went down so it was in the news and I was nervous.
She only had 10 ounces on her so how am I supposed to bring almost 10 times that home with me? I thought. It’s all I thought about because, dammit, that’s a lot of breast milk! I was determined to bring it home, safe and sound—and in my carry on.
I jumped online and did a ton of research. I called my airline to ensure I could bring my pump on without it counting as my carry on bag (I wasn’t planning to check one). I printed out TSA guidelines on traveling with breast milk and kept it in my wallet, just in case anyone gave me a hard time. I read and reread the guidelines and came up with things I would say if I were challenged. Needless to say, I was prepared when I got to the airport. Traveling there wasn’t the issue, though.
Here’s some great advice on traveling and flying with babies in general?
After five grueling days of work and pumping, I had roughly 100 ounces to bring home, all in the special breastmilk freezer bags. My mini fridge was full of cold, precious, liquid gold. It didn’t all fit in my cooler pack, and I had to stuff it into my pump. Literally. I could barely zip it, but not one single ounce was being left behind. I filled some of the bags with ice to keep it relatively cold until I could get it home to my freezer and waited until the last second to take it out in order to avoid it being confiscated again at security.
I waited in a long, long line at O’Hare before it was my turn. These people behind me are not going to be happy, I thought. Surely they were going to be held up because the TSA officer is supposed to carefully check every bag/liquid that’s over three ounces for any hazardous materials, and I just unloaded about 20 bags into a bin for testing. And you know what happened? Absolutely nothing.
The officer looked confused when it was in the scanning machine and poked his head over to the side once it was out to check it out. Then—and I can’t even make this up—he was basically the shrugging guy emoji. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ He could not have cared less. Great news for me, because I literally made it on my plane the exact minute that the boarding was scheduled to stop.
Even though for this trip, I didn’t need to know all of the details about my rights, I’m still glad I did my homework. It’s so important to know your rights as a nursing mother while traveling, so here are the key things I kept in mind:
- Let the officer know that you have breast milk as soon as you can. It’s just easier to eliminate the element of surprise and they generally have a female employee on-hand to do extra screening in this scenario.
- Breast milk is exempt from the 3.4 ounce rule in a carry on. You are allowed to bring it on the plane, no matter the quantity. It is just subject to further testing than just an x-ray if the officer deems it necessary.
- You will need to be at the airport extra early when traveling with breast milk in the event that they test it.
- A breast pump is not part of your carry on limit. It is considered a personal health device, which is exempt from carry on restrictions, so you can have your regular carry on and your purse, too! This may not be the case for every airline, but for most. Call ahead to check.
You can do it! The key is being prepared. Print the TSA guidelines if you need to, or keep it up on your phone for quick reference. You’re already amazing for nursing your child and pumping while traveling just makes you a rock star!
Bailey Grattelo works full time as a project manager in the publishing industry, and her interests include photography, sewing, crocheting, and all other crafts. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in English and a minor in psychology from Thomas College. Bailey lives in southern Maine with her two daughters, husband, dog and cat, and she blogs at Dirty Mouths and Dirty Faces.