How to Travel with Breast Milk and Pump
What do you do when you have to go on vacation or a work trip, or you’re just going to be away from home for an extended amount of time and you’re pumping? One thing I was really worried about on my breastfeeding journey/pumping journey was what I was going to do if I was away from home. It’s a little bit daunting to think about how you’re going to fly with breast milk. I kept wondering how I would pump on a schedule.
I ended up following the advice of several moms who were exclusively pumping and also had work trips coming. I was able to take ideas from each one of them and made it work for myself.
The biggest thing I’m going to share with you is the actual tools I took because I think it made a big difference to be prepared. The thing I thought would be the hardest, which was flying with breast milk, was actually one of the easiest.
Start Pumping a Month in Advance
I’m going to start by what I did ahead of time, and that was to pump extra. Every single day I pumped a little bit extra. I added one extra pump for the 30 days leading up to my trip. The trip was four days and I had to fly.
At that point, I was pumping six to seven times a day, I changed my pump schedule to seven to eight times a day, and froze the milk from the last pump of the day and put it in the freezer. That way I had 30 packets of milk that were frozen. Because it was only the last pump of the day it tended to be a very low amount. And so it wasn’t these big bags of milk but with 30 of them, there was enough for four days for the twins.
Even though they were not giant bags of milk because the last pump of the day for me is lower in ounces than the normal pumps, I wasn’t stressed out with trying to fill these big bags of milk in a short week before I left.
And so I’m really happy that I started way ahead of time with freezing it because if there was a day that I didn’t get that extra pump in, I wasn’t freaking out and it took the pressure off. So I froze a ton of milk and then I made sure to pack everything I needed for the trip to pump while I was gone.
What to Pack
Pack Your Breast Pump, Including Battery Packs and Chargers
One of the things that I’m extremely grateful for are these Elvie Wearable Breast Pumps. These are rechargeable and they go right into your shirt and into your bra to pump without tubes. I have a full review on these that you can check out here. They fit in my purse and I can pump as I’m walking around.
Since I was going to a conference, I knew that this would be the only pump I was taking. I didn’t bring my plug-in pump. Sometimes at conferences, I don’t go back to my room more than every four to five hours and that’s only if I’m just running and grabbing something. So I knew that I wanted the most portable option.
If I didn’t have this pump, I would have had to schedule time to go back to my room three to four times a day. At least three times during the actual conference meeting times and four to five if I count from the minute I left for breakfast in the hotel to when I went back to bed.
Lactation Warming Massagers
The second thing I took with me on this trip were LaVie lactation warming massagers. I’ve talked in the past about being comfortable while pumping in order to get the best output. When I’m traveling, I tend to be stressed. I knew I was going to feel stressed being away from the boys too, since they were only four and a half months old.
It was my first time being away from them besides my initial hospital stay where I was held back and the boys went home before me. It was a little bit stressful because it made me feel like I did back then when I was separated from them. Knowing that my stress levels would be up, I worried that my output wouldn’t be as great.
Flying also can be a stressful way to travel. This conference was luckily in the same timezone so the flight wasn’t too long. But sleeping in a different place than you usually sleep, being on a really weird schedule, and not eating the foods you usually eat can really throw you off.
I didn’t want to get into a situation where I got a clogged milk duct or I wasn’t getting as good of output with pumping because of stress. The massagers are really small and they use the same chargers as my Elvie pumps so I brought just one set of chargers for these two things.
These hold the charge pretty long and I only ended up using them at the end of the night when I was feeling more stressed from a long day. I just popped these on and turned on the warmer to help me relax while I was pumping and get the maximum output at the end of the day.
Hand Breast Pump
The last tool that I brought with me was my hand pump. I brought this because when I’m rushing and walking around a lot (like I knew I would be at the conference) and I’m not sitting still while pumping, I don’t always get the best pumps. Especially if I’m power walking, which I was doing a lot at the conference between each of the sessions.
So I brought the hand pump just to make sure that several times a day I was doing a really good empty after a pump to make sure the breasts were really emptied out. I only ended up using this at night too, right before I went to bed.
The morning before I flew, I used this as well just to make sure my breasts were super drained because the flight and airport wait is long and I was unsure about how I wanted to clean out my pump if I pumped on the plane in the little plane bathroom.
I just made sure the breasts were really empty before I got on the flight. I didn’t have to pump again until after I was off of the flight.
These were my pumping supplies and all of that actually fit into a bag smaller than what my Spectra pump would have fit into. Even though it seems like a lot of stuff, I just put it in one bag together with the charger and was able to travel with this pretty compactly.
Request a Refrigerator
I also brought a bunch of milk bags and a sharpie so that I could write the dates and times that I pumped on all the bags as I was going along. I knew that bringing them with me on the plane, it was possible they were going to get jumbled up and so I just made sure to label these really well.
Our hotel room had a refrigerator in it for me to store all the pumped milk. It didn’t have a freezer but the front desk said if I needed it they could store it in their big freezer in the kitchen. But I only used the refrigerator in our room and was able to store all my milk there easily.
I also brought a freezer bag lunch box. It has freezable material in the base and on the sides of it. You can put it in a freezer and the bag will freeze solid and it will keep whatever you have in there very cold for a long time.
Even though I didn’t freeze the bag, I did put it in the refrigerator before I traveled. It stayed really cold when I did this and then I took a little bag of ice from the icemaker in the hall, sealed the Ziploc bag, and added it in there with my breast milk.
Prep Your Stash for the Plane Ride
The plane ride was only an hour but I think if it had been longer I would have asked the hotel to freeze the bag and the milk. I brought my freezable bag around with me in my work bag for when I was walking around pumping. I would go to the bathroom, wipe the pumps out, fill the milk bags and then pop it right into the cooler bag so that the breast milk stayed cold until I could run upstairs to the refrigerator.
The cooler bag is big enough to be able to just put everything that I needed right into the cooler and keep it all in one place. That is how I pumped while I was out of the hotel room and walking around.
Bringing the Breast Milk on the Plane
Now comes the part where I get my breast milk onto the airplane. I made sure all the milk bags were really well sealed. I had the bag of ice that I traveled to the airport with and right before we went through security, I dumped it out so that the ziplock was empty and dried out well and the only thing in the cooler was the breast milk.
When I went through security I let them know that I had breast milk, so they pulled it to the side.
They didn’t have to scan them through the regular x-ray machine. I can’t be sure but it seemed like there was a certain allowance. The agent was measuring them and it seemed like they only paid attention to the really full bags above six ounces.
Then with clean hands and gloves on they had me open the bags and they waved a sensor strip over each bag. I had a chance to wash my hands so that I could help them. Everything stayed sterile. The test strips never touch the bag or milk either.
The whole thing took only a few minutes and they let me pack it back up and sent me on my way. But one awesome piece of advice she did let me know was that if it had been frozen milk that they wouldn’t have actually had to open it and test it at all.
Next time I will probably take most of the breast milk down to the hotel concierge and have them freeze it in the cooler bag. That way, when it goes through security, I will only have one or two bags of milk that I had just pumped from that morning that they would have to check out.
So it might have been a little quicker, but really no hassle the way I did it either. They were super kind about it, really sympathetic, and wanted to make sure that I knew that they cared about the cleanliness of the milk that I was taking home. It was a better experience than I thought I was going to have.
I had heard some horror stories about people who they felt that security wasn’t careful with the milk as they were testing it or they gave them a hard time about it. But that was not my experience. I’m really appreciative of the people who helped take care of me on the trip.
As soon as I got through security, I went straight to a Starbucks and I got myself a coffee, and a bag of ice. Then I just popped a bag of ice back into the cooler, zipped it up and the breast milk stayed really cold until I got home. When I got home, I put it in the refrigerator and used it the next few days for the boys.
Bring Your Water Bottle
The last thing that I will say on top of bringing the things that you need to pump comfortably and something to tote it around and get it home with, is to bring a water bottle to wherever you’ve traveled. At the conference, they had little water stations here and there, but I’ve found that I tend to get dehydrated when I’m on vacation or traveling.
Drinking water is the last thing that I think about and add that on top of the fact that I hate using public bathrooms, I am not just chugging water and having to pee every five minutes if I can avoid it. However, when you’re breastfeeding, that’s just not a great idea to let yourself get dehydrated. You don’t want your body to have to pull from its reserves because you’re not meeting its needs.
I carried a large water bottle with me throughout the conference and that helped me stay hydrated. The first day I wasn’t as hydrated as I should have been.
The second day I was super dehydrated and I felt parched when I woke up. Maybe it was from flying or being busy throughout the day and not drinking as much. For the rest of the conference I made sure to drink a lot of water.
Also, if you’re going to be drinking alcohol when traveling just remember to time your pumps accordingly. Try to pump right before you have a drink or two. And then give yourself that three to four hour window before you pump again. If you have to pump sooner for comfort, you obviously will have to dump the breast milk.
But if you’ve only had one drink and it’s been two hours since you finished that drink, you should be good. They say if you are good enough to drive you can pump, but basically this means you haven’t had more than one drink in an hour. And that you allowed enough time to pass for it to get out of your system. So stay hydrated, take a water bottle with you or make sure that there’s a place that you can drink plenty of water. I think that really helped.
Sleeping Longer When Traveling
I definitely realized that me waking up every three to four hours with the boys at night does affect my supply because one of the nights I slept five hours in a row and my output that morning was really, really high. I’m talking exponentially higher compared to just the extra hour that I hadn’t pumped so that was kind of cool.
I think as the boys get older and I sleep better, I should have a better time pumping. Obviously not getting sleep is stress on your body and so I definitely think it affects how much milk you produce.
Milk Stork Breast Milk Shipping
One last thing I wanted to talk about that I didn’t use but other people recommended, is Milk Stork. I think if you produce more breast milk than can fit into a small carry-on container or if you’re gone for multiple days and don’t want the milk to go bad if it’s not frozen – this is a good service to use.
Milk Stork actually sends a shipping box to your hotel and you pump and pack the milk into a prepaid postage box. It has a cold pack that breaks apart to activate and you put it on top of your milk and overnight the package back to your house from any Fedex drop off. If you’re traveling and you have a lot of milk to ship back, you don’t have to worry about it spoiling if you have a really long plane ride. You don’t have to worry about struggling through security with it either.
It was more on the expensive side, I think for the small box to ship it back to you the whole thing was between $80 and $120, and I think it’s closer to $150 for the larger box if you pump a lot of milk.
It can get a little expensive, but I think it’s really good for people who have long plane rides and don’t want to hassle with dragging the milk around. This is also good for anyone who will be gone for a longer amount of time and want that milk to get back home for their baby. That’s something to look into if you think it could help you have peace of mind while traveling with breast milk.
This is a link to their website and I think it’s important to just have options. If you can do what I did and bring yourself a quality cooler, you can save some money. But if you want the convenience or you’ll be traveling with a lot of milk there are always other options.
My biggest suggestion is to start prepping for pumping for vacation earlier than later. That helped me the most with the whole process. You don’t want to feel rushed and you don’t want to feel stressed. Stress is not your friend when you’re trying to breastfeed and when you’re trying to pump.
If you guys are planning on traveling and being away from your baby I hope this helps you prepare and travel easier. Comment below and let me know what you do when you travel and have to pump and share your experience and tips for doing so!