A big cross country move or long road trip can be tough when you have a baby. And needing to take breastmilk with you during your car travels adds another layer of stress as you prepare for your journey. So what’s the best way to travel with breastmilk by car?
You’ll need to keep your baby’s breastmilk cold during your car trip so that it doesn’t spoil. The last thing you want is to have to throw out that precious liquid gold! This likely means investing in a quality cooler that will keep your breastmilk chilled (or frozen if needed) until you can reach your next destination.
Here we’ll go over your best options for transporting your breastmilk by car to keep it fresh, as well as tips for feeding it to your baby while you’re en route.
Keeping Breastmilk Cold While Traveling by Car
If you have refrigerated breast milk that you need to take with you in the car, you’ll need a way to keep it chilled until you can transfer it back to a refrigerator or until it’s time to feed it to your baby. The only reason you wouldn’t need to keep it cold is if you plan to give it to your baby within the next hour or two (but be sure it’s not getting too warm sitting in the car.)
You can either use a cooler or a portable mini fridge to keep your breast milk cold in the car.
Using a cooler: If you have, you’ll need to use a cooler. Coolers can be soft-sided or hard-sided and come in various sizes and materials. Ultimately, you want to make sure that whatever cooler you choose will keep your breastmilk cold for as long as it will be in the cooler. When choosing a cooler make sure to find out how long it will keep its contents cold.
Having enough ice or ice packs inside the cooler is important, too. Popular Mechanics recommends using at least a 2:1 ration of ice:liquid to keep it cold. It’s also a good idea to fill your cooler to capacity to avoid air gaps that can cause the ice to melt more quickly.
Using a portable mini fridge: If you are a breastfeeding mama who frequently travels by car, you may want to consider investing in a mini fridge that you can plug into your car adapter to keep your breastmilk cold all day long. Keep in mind the smaller capacity of these fridges. If you need to transport a large amount of breastmilk, a high-capacity cooler will be a better choice.
Can you keep breastmilk frozen during a car trip?
Once your baby’s breast milk is fully thawed, it needs to be used within 24 hours. So if you have a large amount of stored breast milk that you need to transport that won’t be used within the first day of it thawing out, you need to find a way to keep it frozen.
In case you’re wondering if you can just refreeze it later, the answer is no. The CDC clearly states, “NEVER refreeze human milk after it’s been thawed.” What’s important to note, however, is that if there are visible ice crystals still in the breast milk it is still considered to be in a frozen state. According to Kelly Mom, at this point it is still safe to return it to a functioning freezer.
Here is your best option for keeping your stored breast milk frozen during a long period of travel:
Use an excellent cooler that you know will keep your breast milk frozen until you can reach your next destination. If you’ll be staying in a hotel, be sure to book one that has a full fridge and freezer. As soon as you arrive at the hotel, transfer the still frozen breastmilk to the freezer. The next day you can put it back into your cooler and keep it frozen until you arrive at your next destination to put it back into a freezer.
If you’re not sure if you can make it to your next destination with your milk still remaining frozen in a cooler (or if you know you won’t), you have two more options:
1. ) Use Dry Ice: If you need to keep your breast milk frozen for longer than 12 hours, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says that using dry ice in your cooler is necessary. But you have to take great care when handling dry ice and also be careful not to let your bags of breast milk touch the dry ice or they may rip open. If you choose to go this route, utilize these instructions to make sure you do it properly.
2.) Ship Your Breast Milk: You may also choose to ship your breast milk ahead of time if you are concerned about keeping it frozen during travel. It will cost more, but if there is someone there to receive it for you, it may take away some extra stress. Milk Stork is a great service that provides this.
Bottom line, if you’ll be in the car for around 12 hours or less and you’re using a high quality cooler such as a Yeti, your milk will likely stay frozen during your trip. Longer than that and you’ll want to choose a different method.
Now that you know how to keep your breastmilk cold during your trip, let’s talk about what you need to do to feed it to your baby during your trip.
Giving Your Baby a Bottle of Breastmilk During Car Travel
There may be times you’re transporting your breastmilk without your baby in tow, but for a road trip or cross country move, we’re going to assume that your baby is with you. Which means you may be grabbing from your stash to feed your little one (unless you’ll be breastfeeding as opposed to giving expressed milk in a bottle.)
If you know you’re going to be giving your baby bottles of breastmilk during your trip, you’ll want to have a stash of unfrozen breast milk in an easily accessible cooler. We recommend keeping this separate from any large stash that you may have to make it easy to grab the bag or bottle of breastmilk as soon as you need it (perhaps in a small cooler bag in the front seat.)
A small cooler bag with ice packs can keep breast milk cold for up to 24 hours providing it’s not sitting in a hot car.This means you can feel confident that you’re providing your baby with fresh breast milk during your travels. It will also make it easy to prepare your baby’s bottle.
Here's what we suggest:
Store the breast milk in bottles: If you can, it’s best to have your baby’s breast milk ready to go in the bottle they’ll be feeding from. This saves you the hassle of trying to pour breast milk into the bottle - which can be tricky if you’re the passenger in a moving vehicle.
Warm with the Baby’s Brew: The Baby’s Brew is the perfect portable bottle warmer to take on a car trip. Because it holds a charge for up to 12 hours, you’ll be able to warm your baby’s bottles throughout the day. Additionally, you can choose from 4 different temperatures to get your baby’s milk exactly how they like it. Unlike most travel bottle warmers, the Baby's Brew is a completely reliable option that can warm breast milk to a safe temperature (read more about that here.)
- Stop the Car to Feed: It is preferable to avoid giving your baby their bottle while the car is moving. We recommend pulling over at a rest stop or timing your baby’s feeding with a pit stop along the way. This is the safest choice and will also allow you time to snuggle your baby and then burp them as needed. If you do need to give your baby’s bottle to them while they are in their car seat, make sure that you are in the back with them to help give them their bottle under supervision.
Pumping Breastmilk in the Car
Because we already know you’re going to be transporting a good amount of breast milk during your car journey, there’s a good chance you’re planning to pump on that drive as well.
Pumping in the car is a great option. You have to just sit there anyway, so you might as well be expressing milk in the meantime!
Here are our best pumping tips for car travel:
As a passenger: If you’re a passenger in the car, you can use any pump that stays charged via a car adapter or battery pack. If you are going to rely on battery operation, we recommend having spare batteries just in case. The trickiest part of pumping as a car passenger is transferring the breastmilk once it’s pumped. Utilizing the cup holders of your car is the best way to avoid any spills.
As a driver: Yes, pumping while driving is a thing and it can be done safely. What’s most important is that you prepare everything before you begin to drive. In order to pump and drive, you’re going to need a hands-free pump or a way to make your pump hands free (such as with a hands-free pumping bra). To stay safe on the road, don’t mess with your pump at all while you’re driving. Wait until you stop again to pour your milk into storage bags or bottles.
RELATED: Best Breast Pumps of 2020
You’ll likely want to keep yourself covered while pumping and driving, in which case you can use a nursing cover if you’re using a standard electric pump. Or a better option is to choose a hands-free pump that fits right into your bra.
Car Travel Success with Your Breastmilk
Though traveling with both a baby and breast milk require flexibility and thinking outside the box, it definitely can be done. Taking care to follow guidelines will ensure that you reach your destination with a happily fed baby and plenty of perfectly stored breast milk to feed your baby once you reach your destination.