Oftentimes mothers who breastfeed may feel tied to their breast pump and feel they need to say no to travel. Traveling while breastfeeding is more than just purchasing a wearable pump. When a mother is away from their baby, in a different state or country, and needs to express milk, a host of challenges can be present. However, all is not lost! Just as breastfeeding is a very personal journey for a mama, so is traveling while pumping.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing a breastfeeding mama friend who experienced traveling while pumping firsthand.
Lynsey is a multi-passionate girl mama of 2 (two years old and six months old), who fully believes that the small everyday choices you make are building a legacy. Through healthful living, heartwork, and home hacks, she shares tips to help other mamas—with full hearts and hands—simplify life.
J- Hi, Lynsey! Tell us a little about why you choose to breastfeed?
L- Truthfully, I had an innate desire to do so! I went into my first pregnancy not knowing anything about breastfeeding and not having anyone super close to me do so. I sought out resources before baby was here to help prepare as best I could—so that I wasn’t going in completely blind. It has been the right choice for us and I’m so incredibly grateful for the ability and opportunity to do so. It has blessed both me and our babies!
J- It's so inspiring to see breastfeeding mothers travel. How does bringing a pump on a plane work?
L- First off, do your research so you feel as prepared and confident as possible (reading this is a great start)! I also recommend looking up TSA guidelines and your specific airline to be sure.
A breast pump is considered a medical device. It does NOT count as a carry on item. This means it can come with you at all times and can be treated as a separate personal item to bring on board. The same can be said for your breastmilk cooler. (Although I’d recommend a traveling case for both for convenience sake—more on that later). It can be included in checked baggage. However, I highly recommend keeping your pump and parts with you in an easily-accessible carry on in case something happens to checked luggage.
Before the airport. Pack efficiently and try to consolidate as much as possible (see packing tips in question 5). Think through your logistics of what items you will need, when. It may be helpful to write out a little pumping schedule ahead of time. Some airports have a specific mom/baby area or a lactation room so you can research that before you go, especially if you have a layover (check out Lactation Room Resource).
For getting through security. Go through security as you normally would (maybe allot for 10 extra minutes). Ice packs and both thawed and frozen breastmilk are allowed. As you’re adding items onto the belt, tell the attending TSA agent that you are traveling with a breast pump and/or a cooler so they have a heads up. They will likely flag your bag regardless and may do a search in front of you. There should not be any question as to their allowance. One tip is to find your airline’s guidelines and have the link to pull up on your phone if needed.
At the airport. Find the lactation room if needed. If there isn’t one, you have options like the restroom or a private family restroom. (I wish there were more universal options for moms!) You can also pump in public with a cover up based on your comfort level.
On the plane. You are able to keep the pump bag with you and store it under the seat in front of you, or put it up in the overhead bins. This is based on the size of your pump bag, at what point in the flight you need your pump (if at all), etc. Again, check your airline’s guidelines ahead of time. If needing to pump on the plane, you can do so in your seat or in the bathroom. (It may be a good idea to let a flight attendant know if you are doing the latter).
J- What about keeping the milk fresh?
L- Again, this depends on the logistics of your trip! Bring a cooler to fit your breastmilk and that can be used on-the-go depending on the nature of your travels. Fully frozen ice packs are preferred (if possible) to make the security screening more straightforward. You can also ask an airport restaurant or a flight attendant for ice.
Follow the CDC guidelines for breastmilk storage throughout the trip. Label appropriately. And if in doubt, toss it out or reuse in a baby milk bath.
J- What other pumping items are good to bring?
L- Here’s a quick list of ideas to help make your traveling easier:
Travel bag and/or cooler combo. This is convenient for keeping all of your pumping and breastmilk items in one place for easy access, and so you know exactly where the are. You don’t need to get a separate bag for traveling (especially if you already transport your pump for work). Look for something easy to carry and with a built in or separate cooler ability (like this)
Gallon plastic bags. Use these to store, easily pack, and see your different pump parts at quick glance. Also use to keep clean and dirty pump parts separate. Label the bags appropriately and be sure to rinse and wash parts as soon as possible according to health guidelines.
Extra burp cloths or paper towels. Use this for spills, quick wipes, or to set in counters at your destination to let pump parts air dry.
Small bag of dish soap, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing spray. Keep this in your pump bag or cooler. (I was able to bring this through security, separate from my 3-1-1 carry on liquids, because it is a pumping “accessory.”) These are my favorite baby safe and low-toxic options.
Sanitizing wipes. For your hands and also if your pump allows for wipes as a “quick clean” before a thorough cleaning.
Extra breastmilk storage bags. Freezing and storing bags flat will make for easier packing and traveling when going home.
Pens. For labeling. Bring a couple because these get lost quickly!
Charging abilities and/or a back up charger (depending on your pump).
Back up small parts (like the duck valves). Anything that could get easily lost, it doesn’t hurt to bring back up parts if you have them. You can probably keep these in checked baggage.
J- How does traveling home with expressed milk work?
L- Breast milk is considered a medical liquid that is not subject to other restrictions on quantities of liquids, and you’re allowed to carry on a “reasonable amount.” If your destination has a freezer, I recommend freezing all breastmilk flat so it has a longer “travel” life and is easier to pack.
Keep in mind: Frozen breast milk that has started to thaw but still contains ice crystals can be refrozen. If your breast milk has completely thawed but still feels cold, put it in the refrigerator and use it within the next day or throw it away. (CDC / KellyMom)
There are also services like Milk Stork, that ship breastmilk from your destination back to your baby at home if staying for longer periods of time or if you have larger quantities of milk. (Have not personally used this service but have heard good reviews.)
J- Are there handy tips and tricks to pumping when you're out at en event, away from your home, and without baby?
L- Get comfortable with your pump beforehand! Know the settings that work best for you. If you feel confident with your pump at home, it will make for an easier experience when you’re on the go. (Bonus: This will also hopefully help store milk before your trip if traveling without baby.) It also might be handy—no pun intended—to pack a manual hand pump as a backup option. (In some cases, I personally prefer it!)
The more relaxed you are, the better pumping goes (in my opinion). Have a favorite playlist ready or scroll through favorite pictures of your baby to help. You can even put on a familiar scent (hello essential oils!) that make you think of your babe. If possible, have a set “pumping spot” where you are staying for the trip.
Remember: Where and how you pump is based on YOUR comfort level. A private room with a place to sit is ideal, yet it may not always be possible (unfortunately). If you aren’t comfortable with using only a nursing cover up, that is OK! Find a plan B and try to be as flexible as possible. Problem-solving is a mama strength. You can do it!
J- What's the most difficult part of pumping while traveling, and how can mamas navigate through the issue?
L- Three challenges come to mind.
Scheduling time to do so.
Anything that is unknown tends to scare or intimate us. It’s simply human nature! The best way to overcome that is to have a game plan.
Before you leave on your trip, write out a “draft” pumping schedule so you can picture and plan for when, where, and how often you’ll be pumping—based on you and your baby’s needs. It’s OK to give a time range and to not know exactly. This is simply a blueprint to give you peace of mind.
So what about FOMO? FOMO is the “fear of missing out.” Depending on the nature of your trip, you may have to sacrifice a small amount of time for your pumping needs. This means potentially a little less time at the pool, sight seeing with friends, or leaving dinner a bit early to accommodate. It’s hard to feel like you are missing out (especially in a group setting). Remember the why behind what you’re doing. Look for a supportive friend or loved one to go with you or let them know how they can best support you. Take along something special like a new book to look forward to.
Setting expectations ahead of time—for both yourself and those who you are going with—is key!
J- What are some words of encouragement that you can give to mothers who choose to travel while they are breastfeeding?
L- Know that it is 100% possible with a little preparation and determination. Mothers travel every day, and you are not alone!
J- What's the best advice you can give to moms on the go with a pump?
L- Remember WHY you are doing it. This can be a deeply personal reason or as simple as “I want to nourish my baby.” Write it down if needed. Do some preparation beforehand. Confide in a friend. Ask for the support you need.
As a mom, you are strong already! Believe that you can do it.
Happy traveling, mama!
Lynsey and her husband live in Northeast Ohio, where they are big fans of intentional, slow living. She stays home with their girls as her number one and most important job, and she runs two businesses alongside that. She's obsessed with: country air, lists for everything, personal development, and popcorn.
If you have any questions, comments, or would like to chat about your upcoming travels with a fellow mama, you can connect with Lynsey on Instagram at @hellolynseypipino , read more posts like this on lynseypipino.com, or send over a message to firstname.lastname@example.org