Travel for Nursing Moms

a pink and orange polka dot lunch bagAs I mentioned last week, this week is my first work trip since I had my baby. I’m a little anxious about leaving the Mini Warrior, to be sure. Another big concern is that I’m still nursing. How do I pump and transport an entire day’s worth of milk through the airport, to my client’s office, and then back home? Luckily, I am part of a great mom’s group, and they helped me put together a strategy. (I would like to send a huge thank you to my friend Terri from Finding Drishti, who gave me tons of great advice. You rock, Terri!!)

Pack the supplies! I am bringing my pump (Medela Pump in Style ), a cooler (similar to this PackIt cooler from Amazon), frozen gel packs, dish soap for cleaning pump parts (kept in a contact lens case), milk storage bags, and gallon and quart sized Ziplock bags. It was recommended to bring extra bags just in case.

Make sure there will be a place to pump at the office. I don’t need to worry about it this time, but next time I travel I will have to pump at my client’s office. Even though it feels a little awkward, I will have to ask my contact if there is a mother’s room available.

Request a mini-fridge in the hotel. You can store your milk and cooler in the fridge at the hotel, but likely you will have to specifically request it. Don’t worry about freezing it—as one friend said, “You can always freeze your milk once you’re home, but you can’t refreeze it if something happens and it unfreezes.”

Pump before you leave for airport. This is great advice—I will pump at home before I leave. This way I don’t have to worry about it until I arrive at the hotel.

Plan pumping into the schedule. It’s super important pump regularly, which means you have to build time into your schedule for it. One place where that will be tricky is between my meeting and the airport, when I have a narrow window of time. I am going to try to pump in the car in a parking lot (I have done this before—just cover up with a blanket), but if there is no time I may end up in the airport restroom. Oh well.

Wear something pumping friendly. I had my outfit all planned, and was super excited to wear a dress I got right before I got pregnant, and haven’t gotten to wear much since. Until I realized that to pump I would literally have to take the dress off. No thank you!! I will be wearing slacks, a cute nursing top (similar to this one from Target), and a cardigan. I’ll wear my cute dress when I get back home!

Transporting 101. I’m going to store my milk in 2 and 3 oz increments, so if there’s a leak I won’t lose much. I will put those small bags in a gallon size bag inside my cooler. At the hotel and the office I will put it in a refrigerator. The gel packs will keep everything cold during transport, but just in case I will fill up a quart size bag with ice once I get to the airport. Take it out when you get to the security checkpoint. Let TSA know you have breastmilk and just send it through the X-ray machine, or you can request for them to visually inspect it.

It sounds like a lot of details to keep up with, that’s for sure. But that’s the way it is now! I have to at least try to get this milk home, because the idea of throwing out 30 oz makes me want to cry. After my trip I will let you all know how it goes!

Readers, any advice? Did I cover everything?

ETA: For those of you who are interested, here is what the TSA says about traveling with breast milk.

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  1. sounds about right! dont’ forget your plug for the pump AND batteries for the pump just in case you find yourself in a space without an outlet.

  2. @ Valeria I thought about that, but honestly it’s so much work to produce. Plus I don’t have an oversupply at all, so I would hate to not even try to get it home to my little guy.

  3. Most important – make sure your bag of ice is well sealed! I once had the same set up in the overhead bin and the ice bag started melting and the bin started dripping. Whoops. Let the hotel know you need the refrigerator for a medical reason and they won’t charge you. I only pump/dumped when I was overseas.

  4. After the first one, I stopped traveling with an electric pump and used the Avent Manual Breast Pump. I found it as effective as my electric and much more portable.

  5. I pumped for both my kids, and I haaaated those stupid plastic bags. Since I knew I was going to be a fairly long-term working/nursing mom, I invested in a bunch of the Medela bottles made to go with the pump. They attach directly to the pump flanges (just screw them on) – I would usually pump enough to partly fill both bottles, then would decant one into the other & wash the empty one.

    It was soooo much safer (no spills!) and easier to transport milk in the (BPA free) plastic bottles than the bags. No worries about leaks, punctures, etc. Definitely worth the investment – here’s an example of the system (although my pumping was 5-7 years ago, so the system was somewhat different back then):

    I had no problem chilling/freezing the bottles – just make sure they aren’t full to the top.

    Also, it really does help to see a photo of your baby while pumping – put lots of photos of the Mini Warrior on your phone!

  6. Great tips! I’m dreading my first trip…I used to travel a week at a time so in case I still have to do that when I return from leave, I’d love to hear tips from anyone who went on longer trips. says refrigerate 3-8 days…seems like a pretty big range.

  7. I nursed for a year after each of my children. Pumping and traveling was so annoying.

    TSA gave me a hard time about traveling with ice packs/gel packs that were cold but weren’t completely frozen. (Hello TSA, the packs start melting immediately when you remove them from the freezer, so they will never be completely frozen by the time you get to the airport and to the front of the security line!) They told me to use ice instead. So I started using ice in ziplock bags. I usually filled up with ice at the hotel before my meeting and then tried to refresh it at the end of the day before my flight home. This worked well.

    Also, be ready to open each bag of milk for TSA to test with some sort of strip. They didn’t put it in the milk, just the air above the milk. I almost cried.

    I usually pumped when I got to the airport before my flight in case of delays and to avoid having to pump right when I arrived at my destination. Yep, in the airport bathroom.

    Good luck. YOU CAN DO IT.

  8. brett, we kept milk in the fridge up to a week. mostly, i did the sniff test to make sure it didn’t go bad, and we never had problems. as long as the milk is kept sufficiently cold in the refrigerator and during transport home, you should be fine. mark each bag for which date too in case one goes bad.

    and since fresh milk can stay at room temperature up to 6 hours, you have more time than you think.

  9. I really really stand by “pump and toss”. You’ve got a long stay somewhere it’s easy to do in whatever private space you can find. Imagine you are in a dirty public restroom trying to hook up your electric pump and keep everything hygienic. Yuck! Use a simple manual pump and toss it down the drain afterwards. It’s enough hassles travelling already. Spending 15 minutes in a jetliner bathroom is trouble enough already. Make sure you let an FA know you’ll be in there a while. Pump ahead of time if you are that worried about using formula. The main thing on the trip is to pump regularly to keep production going of course. We supplemented with formula already to make up shortfalls during growth spurts. So no problems going 100% during absences. IMO no child needs 100% breast milk for their entire infancy to be a healthy child.

  10. When I was nursing I started out transporting everything- Medela freestyle, accessories, ice packs, etc. and quickly gave that up in favor of the manual “pump and dump” when I wasn’t traveling with baby. TSA never gave me any problems, but a lot of airports don’t have nurseries so I had no choice but to relieve myself in a public restroom. When I got home I just couldn’t feed my baby milk that came from a public toilet stall in the Newark Airport. Gross. The manual pump is smaller, silent (good for public restrooms) and can easily be concealed in a sweatshirt pouch (for any necessary trips to the airplane lavatory). There’s no worrying about keeping milk at the proper temp and no worrying about keeping things clean. Just pump and dump to keep your supply up…so much easier! We had quite the freezer stash at home, but I would definitely give my baby formula over milk produced in some of the places I was forced to pump!

    If you do need to pump or nurse SFO has a proper nursery by the restrooms in the center of T3 (United). There is a courtesy phone by the door- you need to call to get the pass code, and there is also room inside of one of the restrooms in Delta’s T5 at LAX (it’s in the ladies room at the top of the escalators leading to/from the tunnel that connects to T6-United/Alaska)

  11. Large conference centers and sporting arenas will let you nurse or pump at the first aid station. The EMT’s staffing chicago’s McCormick place let me have a private room, a nice chair, a place to prop up my feet and even gave me some bottled water. Likewise, I’ve nursed during basketball games at the first aid station. It’s quiet (less distracting for the little one) clean and comfortable.

  12. I also reduced the chore of pumping at work and on short trips by having multiple sets of parts. Then I didn’t have to cLean and sterilize after every single pumping session. At home I’d toss the parts in the dishwasher at the end of the day. On the road I’d wash the parts at night in the comfort of my hotel.

  13. If you travel on longer trips (more than 3 days) it may be best to ship your milk back home. I did this during a 4 night trip to Las Vegas – it was shipped with dry ice and was in perfect condition (frozen solid) when it arrived! Also, I would avoid having the TSA x-ray your milk. Just ask them to hand check it and don’t send it through the machine. I agree with the other posters – each airport has different “policies” and you may have trouble with the ice packs – make sure you have a copy of the official TSA guidelines with you in case you have trouble.

  14. The North Terminal at Detroit Metro airport has Family restrooms. Those would work for you pumping or if you had the little warrior with you to change his diaper. Nice and private.

  15. Most airports have family/companion restrooms, like Wendy said. Although, in order to take advantage of the bench seat (sometimes the only place to sit), you might consider throwing in an extension cord with your pumping gear – sometimes the outlets are inconveniently located.

    I did my graduate degree while pregnant/nursing 2 babies (started while barely pregnant with my first & finished just after having my 2nd – they are only 19 months apart, though so it was somewhat unusual). I had night class for 3+ hours & sometimes class on the weekend, all-day Saturday. My husband was sometimes able to bring the baby to campus during breaks, but often the scheduling didn’t work, so I had to pump at school. The campus had an awesome pumping room with 2 recliner chairs, a hospital-grade pump set-up (so you could attach your own attachments), fridge, sink, etc. It was fabulous! Big shout-out to primarily women’s colleges/universities – it’s like they understood what women need (grin)!

  16. I found that the hardest part as a working mom who returned to work when my daughter was 5 months old–was trying to envision pumping for an entire year (as recommended). That was too much pressure. So I set simpler goals for myself–just try to get to 7 months, then 8 months, then 9 months, etc. It was less pressure and I made it to 14 months before it was clear that my child preferred real food. I agree with pumping and dumping if need be. The goal is to keep up supply. As for telling your clients or managers what you are doing, just be to the point, explain what your goal is and how long it will take. Most folks will clear out immediately.

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