Traveling & Breastfeeding
Speak to an agent DURING travel by calling:
Weekdays: 8 am -11 pm ET
Weekends/Holidays: 9 am - 8 pm ET
Get In Touch With TSA *Ahead of Travel*
3+ Days before travel you can also request special assistance/help from TSA Cares.
- This program gives people who have “disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process”, and traveling with medically necessary liquids (such as breast milk) qualifies for this assistance.
- You will be assigned a trained TSA agent who can assist you through the security screening process.
- This may be helpful if you are traveling with a large amount of milk and/or are anxious/worried about the process.
- TSA Assistance Form
We are so excited to share these tips and resources to help you navigate travel as a breastfeeding parent! When you travel with breast milk, we always recommend giving yourself extra time at the airport so that if any issues arise you have time to work through them (e.g. to call TSA Cares for help or undergo extra security screening).
Remember, MOST parents experience no issues when flying with breast milk. However, it is good to know your rights and what to expect so that you can advocate for yourself if needed.
As you prepare, check out these tips below and follow Sarah Wells Bags collaborator and travel resource partner, Carrie-Ellen, on Instagram @TravelBoundMom.
Information here applies to the USA - International tips coming soon!
Pump Bag & Cooler Bag Allowance
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers breast pumps a medical device. As such, many airlines have created supportive policies for pumping parents that do not limit pumping bags as part of the “carry-on and personal item” baggage allowance (e.g. if you are limited to one carry-on and one personal item, you can also bring your breast pump bag).
While many airlines have exemptions in their baggage allowances for general medical devices in the general population, not all airlines follow the FDA guidelines and consider breast pump bags as an exception to the baggage limits.
Here is a quick overview of major airlines within the United States:
The airlines with a GREEN "✅" have specific written policies that pump bags and/or milk cooler bags are an EXEMPTION to the typical baggage allowance and can be brought onto the plane.
The RED "❓" question marks are for airlines that have vague written guidelines that seem supportive of breast pumps and/or coolers but do not clearly specify if they can be brought on as an exemption to your carry-on limits.
The airlines with a BLACK "✖️" are airlines that do NOT have any written policies regarding pump and milk cooler bags and as such, your experience may vary based on the gate agent and/or flight attendants on what is allowed. If you must fly one of these airlines when pumping, we suggest calling ahead in case of updated policies and/or planning to have your pump bag instead of another carry-on item.
- Many airlines consider breast pump bags and breast milk coolers medically necessary and DO NOT count towards your carry-on limit - ALWAYS check your airline's specific policy (video here).
- It is always a good idea to keep a manual pump in your bag whenever you travel (video here).
- Not all pumping areas have access to water: consider packing pump wipes to clean on the go (like these).
Choose a cooler bag that will fit the largest quantity of breast milk you expect to have at the end of your trip (when traveling without baby). It is a good idea to reach out to your airline to know their policy for size/allowance of the breast milk cooler bag.
- Sarah Wells Bags Cold Gold breastmilk cooler bags
- Ceres Chill breastmilk chillers are a convenient way to transport up to 34 ounces of breast milk (and can keep the milk safely cold 10-20+ hours → length of time depends on the quantity of breast milk)
- If you need a larger bag, choose a soft-sided, well insulated cooler bag (lighter to carry and more likely to be approved as a bag for carry-on by many airlines)
Keeping Milk Cold:
To keep milk cold, layer ice packs on the bottom, top, and sides (if possible).
You CAN bring ice and ice packs - whether you have milk pumped already or not. If the ice/ice packs are partially melted, they are subject to more security screening, so I recommend you use an ice pack that holds its frozen state like this one.
If you do not have access to a freezer at one of your destinations your ice pack may not be fully frozen, so we recommend using bags of ice (and always keep extra bags in your pump bag/cooler “just in case” – you can fill the ice up at any restaurant beyond security if needed). See this video for a tip!
If you are still worried about monitoring the temperature of your milk while traveling, it can be helpful to use a bluetooth thermometer so that you can monitor the cooler temperature without opening the bag right from your phone. This can also be used in your hotel to make sure that the refrigerator is at a safe storage temperature too.
TSA Ice Pack Policies:
Alternative Options - Breast Milk Shipping:
There are services available to ship your milk home if you do not want to carry your breast milk through TSA. If you are interested in this option check out:
If you're planning for longer travel day(s), especially road trips, a great option to keep a larger quantity of milk cold safely is to use dry ice.
Dry ice is relatively easy to use, but does have important safety warnings associated with its use that you should know before buying and using it. Dry Ice is allowed through TSA in the United States, but there are some requirements that you will need to know ahead of time.
While TSA does allow dry ice, airlines have varying policies (weight allowed, labeling, packaging, etc.) and you should contact your airline before travel to understand their current policies.
If you are looking to buy dry ice, many stores do carry it, but it is often not out and available to the “general shopper”. To find out if your local store (or store you will use on your long road trip) carries it, you can call the store directly as availability may vary. Stores reported to carry dry ice at various locations, which you can contact in your area:
- Home Depot
- Whole Foods
In most cases (unless you have TSA Pre-Check), you will need to pull your milk out of the cooler when you go through TSA screening. The easiest way to do this is to pack your individual milk bags in large gallon sized, clear bags. If your milk is fully frozen, it is not subject to the liquid screening rules (within the United States).
Here are some general things to know:
- Tell the TSA agent that you have breast milk.
- Remove your milk storage bags/containers from your pump or other bag and place into the screening bin.
Although not required, to potentially expedite the screening process, TSA recommends to transport milk in “clear, translucent bottles and not plastic bags or pouches” so that they can be screened by Bottle Liquid Scanners (instead of vapor tested).
- Ask the agent to change their gloves when handling your milk storage bags/containers.
- They may ask to do a “vapor” test - to do this they will open your milk storage bag, and hold a test strip above the milk.
- You CAN say no if you do not want your milk opened in the airport - as a result, you and your bags may be subject to additional security screening.
A new law in the United States requires all medium and large hub airports to have lactation spaces for parents. Many airports have nursing lounges or nursing pods.
A common lactation pod in many airports is called the "Mamava" - you can locate their closest lactation pod through their website, or with their app:
Other airports may have dedicated nursing or lactation lounges - the easiest way to locate is to do a search of your airport name with the words:
- “nursing lounge”
- “mother's room"
- "lactation room"
- “nursing pod"
- "breastfeeding station"
Within the United States you are protected by law and can pump in your plane seat (you can also use the plane bathroom if that is an option that is something you want to consider too, but NOT required). To prepare for pumping on the plane, there are a few considerations to plan out ahead of time.
Below are tips for three common power-styles of pumps:
Battery-powered pump: Make sure to fully charge before traveling and pack your charging cords in your carry-on bag/pumping bag.
Electric-powered pump: If your airline does not have in-seat outlets, you can bring a portable power bank (like this one) to use your pump (always make sure to test out compatibility/suction ahead of time and verify the airline’s “portable power bank” policy). Even if your aircraft has outlets, it is a good idea to have a back-up plan just in case (e.g. I’ve been on flights where outlets were not working).
Manual pump: No matter what type of pump you bring, it is a good idea to keep a manual pump in your pumping bag for travel. You can use it as your primary pump on the plane, or it can be a “Plan B” if something unexpected happens (e.g. a broken or forgotten pump part, power failure, etc.)
Depending on your flight duration, it is usually a good idea to pump before boarding the plane to reduce the amount of pumps you will need to navigate on the flight (or to space out pumping sessions and avoid a mid-flight pump). Here are some additional tips to consider for pumping on the plane:
Wear a pumping bra and clothing that will be comfortable and provide easy access to pump
Book a seat location based on preference (e.g. many people prefer a window seat for more privacy)
If you want more privacy/coverage, considering packing a light blanket and/or nursing cover
Set-up pumping parts before your flight so it is easy to set-up and begin pumping
Pack cleaning wipes to clean your seat area and tray table and then use your Pumparoo staging mat on your tray table
Cleaning → After pumping, you can choose to do the “fridge hack” with your parts if your cooler is large enough, use a pump cleaning wipe/spray, or keep them in a Pumparoo to clean once off the flight.
Are you packing pumped milk to feed during your flight?
Warming bottles on a plane can seem to be a bit tricky, but there are actually few ways to do it. Here are five options to consider:
- Ask a flight attendant for a cup of hot water (about half filled).
- It’s important to know that airplane cups are quite small, so using their cup may only work with bottles that are smaller (vs. the wide mouth kind). An alternative would be bringing your own cup or something like this: https://amzn.to/3YgTgQ1 or this: https://amzn.to/3RnOAW5
- It is also important to note that not all airlines have hot water (e.g. many budget airlines do not offer a hot beverage service) so make sure you do not rely on this method if your airline does not typically offer it
- Bring your own hot water
- You can use a thermos and fill it with hot water before boarding (ask any airport restaurant or coffee shop)
- If you do not need it to keep your milk cold during travel, use your Ceres Chill → you can use the outer chamber for hot water and then pour milk directly into the inner chamber to warm it
- If using a different thermos, use the thermos top to pour water in and warm the bottle (make sure it is wide enough to hold your bottles before traveling)
- Bring a portable bottle warmer
- Bottle warmers that can be charged ahead of time can work well for heating bottles on the go. Look for one that is light/small/and can run on battery power/USB charge. Here is an example of one:https://amzn.to/3XPzlYo
- Don’t forget to pack the charging cord in your carry-on in case of delays or lost luggage!
- Use hand or foot warmers that are air activated
- Place the warmers around the bottle and wrap in a blanket or use an insulated bottle holder like this: https://amzn.to/3XTQyQr
- Feed cool and/or room temperature
- Some babies will take un-warmed milk - have you tried this? Definitely try this out before traveling if baby usually drinks warm milk, do not leave this choice as your only option in case baby refuses - but it can be a good back-up if needed!
- You can also use your own body heat to warm a bottle (e.g. stick the bottle in your lap about 10-20 minutes before feeding)
While traveling, you have a few options for cleaning parts and bottles on the go:
- Clean with soap and water with travel cleaning supplies
- Clean with breast pump cleaning wipes and/or spray
- Use the “fridge hack” with a cooler and your pumparoo
- Wait and clean at your destination
Sterilizing on the go is easy with microwave sterilizer bags or cold water sterilization tabs. If possible, it is best to travel with at least 1 spare pumping set so you can alternate between cleaning cycles. Remember to always check the manufacturer's instructions when cleaning your breast pump parts and bottles, as different products may have specific cleaning recommendations (e.g. some brands do not recommend steam sterilization).
How to properly clean duckbill valves or nipple shields with wipes?
Breastmilk specific cleaning wipes are approved to clean both duckbill valves and nipple shields - make sure to read your specific brand of wipes’ instructions for information that varies by brand.
Typically, you will wipe down either product thoroughly. For duckbill valves specifically, you will want to push the wipe into the valve a few times to properly clean. If you are pumping again before access to water, you will need to wait until the parts dry thoroughly from the wipe before using again.
Flying within and from the United States to another country has clear regulations on what is allowed and what to expect for flying with breast pumps and pumped milk. However, once you leave the United States, rules for flying with pumped milk can vary drastically and is not always allowed.
When traveling with your baby, most countries allow milk to be brought on board the airplane since it is considered food for the baby. However, there are some countries where even if the baby is with you, you cannot bring certain types of pumped milk (e.g. frozen) on board. While within the USA, frozen breast milk can be easier to fly with (because it is not a liquid and is not subject to any additional testing questions), there are countries where it is prohibited to fly with frozen milk in your carry-on (e.g. some European countries). In addition to restrictions of the type of breast milk, some countries (e.g. Dominican Republic) also require that breast milk in your carry-on be limited in volume (e.g. each bag/bottle must be 100ml or less).
When traveling without your baby internationally, there are sometimes challenges with getting your milk back home. Unfortunately, TSA rules/regulations do not apply outside of the USA and you will find that each country, and even each airport and individual security personnel can be incredibly varied in how they deal with pumps and milk. It is helpful to search for guidelines from the country/airport that you are flying out of, but it can also be difficult to find these policies. However, an initial search can help identify if there are specific restrictions and to plan for those (e.g. volume allowed, fresh vs. frozen allowed).
If you are planning to fly internationally with pumped milk, here are some general tips:
If you are traveling somewhere the water is not safe to drink, make sure that you use bottled water or a water source that is safe for consumption to clean pump and bottle parts.
Quart sized ziploc bags as backup ice packs
Outside of the USA, ice packs may not be allowed/regulated so it is a good practice to always keep empty/extra plastic bags in your pump bag just in case. If the ice packs are confiscated, you can fill the plastic bags with ice after security from a food court or restaurant (or on the plane if needed as well)
Consider bringing a copy of baby’s birth certificate (if not traveling with you)
Learn local language for breast milk (e.g. Spanish is leche materna) and tell the security agent that this is what you have in your carry-on
If you are worried about traveling with pumped milk internationally without your baby, you may also want to consider a breast milk shipping service like Milk Stork if available in the country. However, it is important to know that there is always a potential for shipping delays or errors, so this is not a 100% guaranteed method to get your milk home.
While navigating international travel with pumped milk can be more challenging than travel within the United States, there are also many parents who successfully travel with pumped milk around the globe. The most important thing you can do to prepare is to research country-specific guidelines (if available) and have a back-up plan if there are concerns in security (e.g. asking to check your milk cooler bag vs. disposing of the milk if feasible).
Policies Introduced (Pending Action):
Policies Recently Enacted:
- Friendly Airports for Mothers Act of 2017
- All medium and large airport hubs in the United States must provide lactation spaces in each terminal beyond security screening, which:
- allow private breastfeeding/milk expression,
- have a locking door,
- have a place to sit, a flat surface, an electrical outlet,
- are accessible to individuals with disabilities, and
- are not located in a restroom/bathroom.
If you are traveling and wondering about your breastfeeding rights:
In the United States:
- All 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have laws that allow you to breastfeed in any public or private location
- You can find more information here on general laws related to breastfeeding in public in the USA.
- 31 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have laws that exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws (see here for specifics).
- Pumping in public is not specifically protected by law in all states but you can check specific state law language where you are traveling. It may be helpful to plan for discreet pumping if needed to be done in public and you are unsure of the laws (e.g. bring a nursing cover or light blanket, or use a wearable pump).
If you are traveling internationally:
- Breastfeeding in public is generally accepted in most countries worldwide and protected by law.
- In some countries, there may be cultural or societal expectations that breastfeeding should only be done in private (make sure to look up “norms” before you go so you can plan accordingly- e.g. bring a cover or wear clothing that is able to more discreetly feed/pump).
- Some countries may not have laws specifically protecting a mother's right to breastfeed in public so it's important to be aware of the cultural norms and customs in the specific country you're visiting.
We wish you a happy holiday season -- which we know brings air, train and road travel for many families. We worked with Carrie-Ellen of @TravelBoundMom to develop bonus holiday tips for breastfeeding (and traveling) parents. Safe Travels!
Breastfeeding Away From Home
As a breastfeeding parent, holidays may bring travel, which means feeding your baby and pumping away from home, sometimes for extended periods of hours or days. If you are worried about this process, then the best thing to do is prepare!
Consider what items you might need to bring and what resources you may ask from the host (is there a private room you can use if needed, will you be able to store milk in their refrigerator, etc). If you have a partner, it can be helpful to have a discussion about your plan and needs during the time away so they can help support you. If you need to pump, it is helpful to set alarms to remind yourself since it can be easy to lose track of time. The same goes for at-the-breast/chest feeding, especially in the first couple of months postpartum when your supply is still regulating. Even with on-demand feeding, it can be easy to lose track of time if the baby is being held and cared for by other family members.
- Some parents also worry about family and friends who are not supportive of their feeding choice. Here is a helpful resource for responses to family or friends who may not be as supportive of your feeding choices.
Create a pump bag packing list to use every time you travel.
- Always pack a back-up manual pump (just in case!) and it may be helpful to know which stores carry your brand of pump parts ahead of time if needed in an urgent situation (e.g. you melt your parts or something breaks).
- Wear comfortable clothes that are easy to nurse/pump in.
- If your pump does not run on batteries - consider a portable power bank/charger so you can pump wherever you need to.
- Worried about breastfeeding and alcohol consumption during travel? Check out this resource to help you make the right choice for you:
If you are flying this holiday season, it is important to know your rights ahead of time (see below for much more information on this topic).