How to Travel with Breastmilk by Plane

Posted by Jane Springston on

Traveling with a baby can be stressful, and bringing along breastmilk just adds another element to the task of trying to make the whole trip go as smoothly as possible. You likely have a lot of questions, like whether you can go through airport security with breastmilk, how to keep your breastmilk cold through a flight, and how to feed your baby his breastmilk once you’re in the air.

We answer all those questions here so you can be prepared to successfully navigate traveling with breastmilk by plane (with or without your baby in tow.)

Going Through Airport Security with Breastmilk

Typically no liquids over a volume of 3.4 ounces are allowed through airport security, but luckily there are special exceptions made for babies and toddlers. 

Obviously babies under the age of one require breastmilk or formula as their number one nutrition, so you can feel at ease knowing that you will be able to take your breastmilk through airport security (even in quantities over 3.4 ounces.) However, there are special instructions that you’ll need to follow. Preparing ahead will help you save time and hassle so you can get through as quickly as possible.

According to TSA, “Formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities in carry-on bags. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.” 

As far as "reasonable quantities" goes, there is not a set limit to how much you can bring with you. Use your best judgment, and likely how much ever you bring will be just fine.

Rest assured that even if your baby is not with you, you will be able to get through airport security with your pumped breastmilk. 

Here are the tips we recommend to prepare for going through airport security with breastmilk:

  • Put your bottles of milk in a separate cooler bag. Use ice packs or freezer packs to keep your baby’s milk cold. These are acceptable to take on the plane, just be advised that if they are only partially frozen, security may need to do a more thorough process of the liquid.

  • Upon arrival at airport security, separate your cooler bag from any other luggage to be screened separately. (Screening generally entails screening by X-ray.) 

  • Prior to the screening process, inform the TSA officer that you are carrying breastmilk in excess of 3.4 ounces.

  • Be aware that TSA may ask to screen your breastmilk further. If you do not wish to have your breastmilk screened or tested, additional steps will be taken to clear you to move forward.

  • Prepare whatever else you need to feed your baby during the plane trip including a bottle warmer, burp cloths, etc.

What about taking a breast pump through security?

If you’re carrying breast milk on a plane, there’s a good chance you’re also carrying on your breast pump. 

Like breast milk, your breast pump can also be taken through security without issue. (Though you may get some questions or weird looks from unknowing security officers.) You can also choose to check your breast pump, but we always recommend carrying it on so you don’t have to worry about the possibility of not having it in a lost luggage scenario. Don’t worry about it counting against the carry-on items you’re allowed as it is considered as a medical device.

Can you check breastmilk in your luggage?

Of course you’ll need to carry on any breast milk that you will need to give to your baby during the flight as well as enough to account for any time where you may be sitting around at the airport. If you have connecting flights, be sure to account for that, too, and bring any extra in the event that your flight is delayed.

Otherwise, you may find it helpful to put your breastmilk in checked luggage, especially if you’re carrying it in large quantities.

It’s important to weigh the possible risk of your luggage arriving late or even getting lost. Though rare, this happens more than you’d think. Just know you’re accepting the risk of losing all of that precious breast if you check it. But sometimes there just isn’t a better choice.

Other than that, the most important consideration when determining if you should check your breastmilk is how best to keep it cold.

Keeping Breastmilk Cold While Traveling By Plane

It’s nice to know you can take your baby’s breastmilk on an airplane with ease whether that be in your checked luggage or with your carry-on bags. Whichever way you choose, you want to make sure it’s properly stored to follow health guidelines.

Here are proper storage guidelines to consider for keeping the milk cold in checked luggage:

  • Breastmilk that you want to keep frozen should not be in checked luggage for flights or travel plans that exceed 12 hours unless you can use dry ice to keep it frozen (discussed more in How to Travel with Breastmilk by Car.) With that said, fully thawed breastmilk just needs to be used within 24 hours AS LONG AS IT STAYS COLD. So use these two guidelines to make the best decision (and don’t cut it close.)

  • If possible, put your breastmilk into the cooler completely frozen. This is your best bet for keeping it frozen for the duration of the flight (along with any additional travel until you reach your final destination) and not having to use it all within 24 hours once you arrive. (If it’s completely defrosted when you pull it out then it will need to be consumed in this timeframe.)

  • Fill your cooler completely full with the frozen breastmilk and/or additional ice packs for best results. According to Popular Mechanics, air gaps will accelerate ice melt, so it’s best pack to the top with any ice to avoid this.

  • Choose a high quality cooler that can reliably keep your milk frozen/cold depending on your needs

These considerations can work for taking breastmilk onto the plane with you, as well. 

However, the difference here is that you’ll likely be using the breastmilk during the flight or soon after. What you typically would do to store your breastmilk during a day at work, for example, can happen in this situation as well. Just use a small cooler with ice packs to keep your thawed milk cold.

As long as the milk stays cold plan to use it according to these directions:

  • Freshly pumped milk that is transferred to a cooler bag can stay in there with frozen ice packs for 24 hours. It must then be transferred to the fridge or freezer when you arrive at your destination.
  • Milk that is thawed or thaws while in the cooler bag needs to be used within 24 hours. It cannot be frozen once you arrive at your destination.
  • If milk is frozen in the cooler bag and stays frozen, it can be transferred to the freezer upon arrival. Just keep in mind that it will be a huge hassle to thaw frozen milk during your flight to feed your baby, so plan to have thawed breastmilk ready in this case.

Ultimately, it’s not a difficult task to keep breastmilk cold during plane travel if you won’t be flying for more than several hours. If you’re flying halfway around the world, on the other hand, be sure to plan ahead and have your strategy in place so the milk arrives at the temperature you need it to.

Giving Your Baby a Bottle of Breastmilk on the Plane

Of course traveling with breastmilk often means you’ll also need to utilize that breastmilk en route to feed your baby. So how do you go about doing this in the easiest way possible?

Feeding your baby can be a simple task by following these steps to make for the easiest breastmilk bottle feeding experience on an airplane:

  1. Have easy access to your cooler bag: Make sure that this is part of the carry on that goes under the seat in front of you (and not in the overhead bin.) This will make for easy access when you need to get your bottle.

  2. Store the breast milk in ready to feed bottles: If you can, have the milk already ready to go in the bottle that you’ll be feeding your baby from (with lid and nipple already attached.) Doing this instead of using breastmilk storage bags or even storage bottles will cut out the step of having to pour milk, etc. which can just cause a big mess.

  3. Warm with the Baby’s Brew: The Baby’s Brew is the perfect portable bottle warmer to take on an airplane. It holds a charge for up to 12 hours, which means it will be ready to warm any of your baby’s bottles throughout the flight and afterwards. This bottle warmer is also perfect for breastmilk because you can choose the ideal 98.6 degree temperature for breastmilk and it uses slow-heat technology that preserves nutrients. It will also work great for trips when you're often on the go.

  4. Warm a bottle as soon as you get on the plane - Our pro tip is to get that bottle warmed up from the get go. That way, it will be ready as soon as your baby is hungry. 

RELATED: Best Bottle Warmers to Take on an Airplane

Mom Amber H. writes about the Baby's Brew:
"First of all, love the design of it! Secondly, works great! I breastfeed, but this comes in handy for car trips, camping, or for this coming month it will be really useful for on the plane, and my trip to Colorado for my son to see his grandparents on his dad's side for the first time!"

And of course, you can always breastfeed your baby on the plane if you'd prefer (while saving that stowed breastmilk for another time.) Cover or no cover, do whatever you're comfortable with. 

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