It can feel challenging to leave your baby behind to travel, but it can quickly get downright confusing when you throw breastfeeding into the mix. Here’s what you should know about pumping while traveling without your baby.
There are some essential things to consider when traveling without your breastfeeding baby to make sure your pumped milk stays fresh and drinkable and you can return home with it.
- Five factors to consider before traveling and pumping
- How often should you pump while away
- Traveling with breast milk without your baby (flying, driving, length of trip, etc.)
- Airport breast milk policies by country
- Six helpful tips while pumping and traveling
- Essential breastfeeding travel gear
Keep in mind that this article covers many basics of traveling and pumping while away from your baby, but it can’t cover everything. You must consider your personal goals, budget, and what’s realistic and workable for you.
Five factors to consider before traveling and pumping
1. How long is your trip?
Are you traveling for a few days (like a weekend trip?) or heading out for an extended vacation? This answer will determine how you store and handle your milk while on the road. We will dive into each scenario in the section, “how can you travel with breast milk without your baby?”.
2. Are you mostly flying or driving?
Again, this answer will determine how you handle your expressed breast milk. We cover flying and driving scenarios more in-depth later in this post.
3. Are you crossing international borders?
If so, it’s best to familiarize yourself with each country’s breast milk rules and regulations as they differ. A quick google search of “(country you’re traveling to/from) + breast milk policy” should point you in the right direction.
Why is this research necessary beforehand?
For example, if you are traveling to Mexico, their airport policy states, “Food and milk for babies are permitted when the baby is traveling on the flight.” The key phrase here is when the baby is traveling on the flight.
So, in this scenario, your best option would be to check your milk at the airport before security when leaving Mexico. You’ll have to make sure you have a plan before heading to the airport to return home, or else your breast milk will likely end up in the trash.
4. Are you willing to pay extra to transport your pumped milk?
The answer to this question is personal. Are you willing to buy extra coolers and ice packs, pay for an extra checked bag, or even hire a company to transport your breast milk?
If your answer is no, consider that you might risk losing the breast milk you expressed while traveling.
If your answer is yes, head to number five.
5. If yes, what’s your budget?
How much money will you spend to ensure your breast milk gets home safe and sound? Is there a dollar amount that – if exceeded – isn’t worth saving your milk?
Companies like MilkStork provide a breast milk shipping solution, but they aren’t cheap and only work for a short trip without a high volume of expressed milk.
The answer to these questions can help you determine the best course of action for you. As you can see, pumping while traveling without your baby requires a lot of research and preparation beforehand.
How often should I pump while I’m away from my baby?
When pumping while traveling without your baby, you might wonder how often you should pump while away. Well, that answer is different for everyone.
A good rule of thumb is to pump every time your baby is due to eat – even while you’re away. That means if your baby eats at 7 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM, 4 PM, and 7 PM, you should also pump at those times.
If you travel to a different time zone, you can adjust your pump schedule slightly to ensure you’re pumping during the day, but make sure you’re still getting the same total number of pumps within a 24-hour period as you would if you were nursing your baby back home.
How can you travel with breast milk without your baby?
Here we will break down the five most common scenarios you could encounter while traveling and pumping without your baby.
If you’re driving for a short trip (four days or less)
While no scenario is “easy,” this one is probably the easiest (with one condition). If you’re traveling by car for a short trip, you can purchase a cooler and ice packs to keep your pumped milk cold while traveling to and from your destination.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Does your pump allow for pumping while in the car?
- If not, how often do you need to stop to pump?
- Will you have access to a freezer at your final destination?
Once you arrive at your destination, pop your milk into the fridge or freezer (a freezer is ideal!). If you only have a refrigerator, your milk will stay fresh for up to four days. After that, you will need to throw it away or (somehow) freeze it.
When it’s time to head home, package up all your pumped milk (it can be a combination of freshly pumped and frozen) into your cooler of choice. An ice pack isn’t necessary here, as the milk will act like one.
Make sure to transfer your milk to your freezer as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving for a long trip (four days or more)
This scenario is exactly like the one above but with one critical caveat.
- Will you have access to a freezer at your final destination?
The answer to this question has the most impact on whether or not you can save your pumped breast milk while on the road for an extended trip.
According to the CDC, if your milk isn’t frozen, you must use it within four days if refrigerated and four hours if room temperature. On the other hand, if your milk is frozen solid, you have 24 hours to use it once the last ice crystal melts.
If you’re flying domestically
Before you leave, check your country’s airport regulations for breast milk.
For those in the United States, TSA will allow you to carry breast milk in any quantity – with or without your baby – as it is considered a medically necessary liquid.
Tip: Your pump and its parts are considered medical devices and do not count towards your carry-on baggage limit.
Make sure to alert the TSA agents that your bag contains breast milk over 3.4 oz and separate it from the rest of your belongings. At this point, you can request that your milk does not travel through the x-ray machine (if you wish) or send it through the x-ray with the rest of your bags.
Security screening will be the most seamless if that milk is frozen; otherwise, TSA may require an alternate screening process which requires opening your milk storage bag.
Also, ice and gel packs used to keep your breast milk cold are allowed in carry-ons and not subject to the 3.4 oz. rule.
Ultimately, you never know what sort of pushback you’ll receive from the airport security officers, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible. This includes printing out and highlighting your country’s airport regulations that apply to you to prove that you follow their guidelines.
If you are flying in the United States, you can familiarize yourself with the TSA policies for flying with breast milk.
Tip: Ask the TSA agent to wear a clean, fresh pair of disposable gloves before handling your milk.
When it comes to pumping while at the airport, check to see if your departing airport has private pumping rooms (many large and medium-sized airports do), family bathrooms, or other areas where you can pump in peace.
Read next: The Best Willow Breast Pump Carry Bag
For maximum comfort, it’s best to pump right before you board the plane. If you must pump while on the plane, consider bringing a large scarf to provide some privacy, or use a hand pump for a quick pump in the airplane bathroom and then complete an entire pumping session when you land.
Then, place your pumped milk inside of your cooler with ice packs. Freeze immediately upon arrival at your final destination.
If you’re flying internationally
Consider everything from the domestic travel tips, and familiarize yourself with your destination airport’s breast milk travel policies.
Also, prepare that your best option for transporting milk back home is to check and ship it with your luggage. Doing this all depends on the breast milk transportation policies at the foreign airport.
For example, will they allow you to carry on breast milk without your child present? The answer to this question isn’t one you want to find out when you’re already at the airport – pumped milk in hand – ready to return home.
If you plan on checking your pumped milk, we highly recommend shipping a cooler or an International Pump & Check system to your destination before arrival. Give your hotel a heads up that a package is coming and confirm the best shipping address.
When it’s time to return home, ensure that your milk is frozen solid before packing for the most extended lifespan should you run into any travel delays.
Tip: If you are checking your breast milk, inform the agent at the check-in desk that your cooler contains frozen breast milk and ask that a “frozen” sticker be placed on the item.
If you decide to carry your milk on the plane, make sure your milk is frozen and let the security agents know before passing through security. Again, ensure you are familiar with your breast milk-carrying rights in that country.
Airport breast milk policies by country
While this list does not include all countries, it’s a great starting point to reference airport policies for traveling with breast milk quickly.
Make sure to read the policies closely, as they all differ. Refer to your destination’s airport website for the most up-to-date information.
Six helpful tips while pumping and traveling
1. Get organized (way) in advance
Once your travel plans are in place, begin preparing for your pumping-while-traveling journey at least two weeks before departure.
This timeline should give you enough time to order necessary items (check out our essential breastfeeding travel gear suggestions) and get in touch with your destination accommodations to arrange your milk storage options.
2. Call your place of stay before arrival
Make sure to contact your hotel or rental house accommodations before your arrival. Tell them you are planning on pumping breast milk for your baby (who isn’t traveling with you) during your stay and will need some support.
Some essential questions to ask include:
What’s the shipping address? You’ll need their preferred shipping address if you need to ship a cooler or milk transport bag ahead of time.
Then, give the hotel your full name and the name your reservation is under, if different, and supply them with the tracking information for the package once it’s available to you.
Is there a freezer available? If not, you can always try and request that one is added to your room.
If they cannot accommodate that, ask if they can swing by each day to pick up your milk and freeze it in an employee fridge. Make sure to put all your milk in a gallon-size resealable bag and label it with the date, your name, room number, and “please store flat” on the bag.
A little cash tip for your concierge goes a long way here, trust us.
Then, on the morning of check-out, retrieve all of your milk and package it in your decided-upon shipping method.
3. Print copies of each country’s airport regulations (if flying)
Make sure to print out a copy of the breast milk regulations for every airport you’ll go through security.
Once printed, highlight necessary sections that outline the rules (how much milk you can bring, how you can carry it on, etc.) to ensure you are given as little hassle as possible through security.
4. Familiarize yourself with breast milk storage guidelines
Since you’ll be mainly on the go, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the CDC recommendations for safely handling and storing breast milk. You can even screenshot the chart and save it on your phone.
5. Lay your milk bags flat in the freezer
When going to freeze your milk, make sure you empty all the air of the storage bag and lay them flat (vs. standing on one end) to freeze. This flat-freezing method will save you a ton of space when re-packaging your milk to travel home.
6. Purchase a hand pump
A simple-to-use hand pump can be the MVP for pumping and traveling without baby adventure. Not only can you use it to express milk quickly while on the go, but it can also be a lifesaver (or supply saver) if your regular pump gets lost or broken.
Essential breastfeeding travel gear
Here are some must-have items for pumping while traveling without your baby.
Milk storage bags
Your purchase depends on your pump, but a zip-top storage bag works great. If you have the Willow 3.0, you can use the spill-proof breast milk bags for easy storage. Make sure you pack more than you’ll need, whichever bags you choose.
Your preferred pump
You can’t pump and travel without your baby without your pump. Pack your pump (and all required accessories) in a secure travel bag. Remember, in the United States, your pump counts as a medical device and does not count towards your baggage total.
Extra pump parts
Ensure that you pack spare pump parts just in case something gets lost or broken along the way.
Shop breastfeeding travel gear
A hand pump
As mentioned above, a hand pump is a great and easy essential for traveling and pumping without your baby.
There are a lot of coolers on the market; what you purchase will ultimately depend on where you’re traveling, how you get there, and how much milk you need to transport.
This small cooler is great for car rides and carrying on through security. It has a handy removable shoulder strap, too.
A soft-sided cooler is collapsible and offers 24+ hours of cooling protection. Also great for carrying on, but it could be too flimsy for car rides.
This insulated carton is an excellent choice if you need to check your milk when returning home. Just make sure to ship it to your destination ahead of time.
Any ice packs will do. They are for keeping your milk cold until you reach your final destination. As mentioned above, once your milk is frozen solid, it will act as an ice pack in the cooler.
A cleaning system
You’ll need a way to clean your pump parts while traveling. Everyone has a preferred cleaning method, but a travel cleaning system should generally have brushes, soap, and a place to dry your parts.
This travel bottle brush cleaning set is compact and has everything you need (and more). We love that you can add your preferred soap.
You’ll also want some quick clean wipes for convenient cleaning while on the run. They’re alcohol-free, and you can use them without water for cleaning in between sinks.
A permanent marker (or two)
You’ll need one to write relevant information on your pumped milk bags and – if you’re handing off your milk – resealable plastic bags. You can also use it to write notes on your checked baggage if opting for the insulated carton option.
These miniature permanent markers have small clips at the top so you can connect them to your pump bag for easy access.