I’ve spent months putting together my top traveling and pumping tips to help make travel a bit less stressful for all you nursing mamas. These tips are specifically related to traveling and pumping air travel, but many of them can apply to road trips as well. If you have any additional tips, please share them in the comments below!
TRAVELING AND PUMPING TIPS: SUPPLIES
If you’re going to be traveling and pumping, you need the right supplies. I’ve spent the past four and a half years breastfeeding, and done quite a bit of travel during that time. I’ve personally used almost every item listed in this section. If I haven’t tested it myself, I’ll be sure to mention that.
Medela Pump in Style Backpack
I’ve tried several different breast pumps, but the Medela Pump in Style Backpack is my absolute favorite! I find that I can pump much faster with this pump than any other, thanks to the fact that it pumps both breasts at the same time, has a wide range of suction pressure, and has a one touch let down button. It also can run on batteries so you can use it even if you don’t have a place to plug in.
I also like that it’s a backpack because that makes it really easy to carry while traveling, with the weight evenly distributed on both shoulders. It has a basic classy look, so I can carry it around conferences and trade shows without anyone knowing it’s a breast pump.
A breast pump IS a medical device, so does not count as your carry on or personal item. But you will most likely have to explain that over and over, which I got tired of. For flying, I bring my pumping backpack as my personal item, with my wallet, cell phone, and snacks in the main compartment. My cooler bag of milk then goes in my carry on suitcase, because the cooler would count as a personal item.
Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags
In addition to feeding my two kids, I also donated a lot of breastmilk to other babies. Several people bought various breastmilk storage bags for me to freeze the donation milk in, so I’ve tried many different types. After trying so many different ones, and trying not to cry over ounces and ounces of spilled milk, these Lansinoh bags are the only ones I buy.
They have a double seal closure, reinforced side seams, and can lay flat in the freezer or stand up in the fridge. I have had a few of these bags leak, but that’s out of several hundred. With other brands of bags I would have an average of 1 out of 10-20 bags leak. BIG difference!
If you’re trying to travel light, you can actually pump your milk directly into the lansinoh bags. This smart mama shows you how to buy one box of medela bags to get the medela pump adapters, and then use your lansinoh bags with the medela adapters. Just make sure to cut the slits in your bags before you fly, since you won’t have scissors on the plane.
For a cooler, how big you need it to be depends on how long you will be traveling, and how much milk you pump. I just use a cheap soft sided cooler that we were given at a conference. It’s very similar to this Everest cooler.
I always freeze my bags milk flat at the hotel, and then am able to fit 20-30 in the cooler with ice packs. I love the soft sided coolers because they can get squished up small to fit in your carry on when not in use, but also stuffed really REALLY full of frozen milk and ice packs.
If you are going to be on a long trip, or have a full day of travel, you may want to use on a water tight cooler. You can then ask a Starbucks or other airport restaurant to fill the cooler up with ice. The cooler will count as your personal item, so be prepared to either explain that your breast pump is a medical device, or leave room to store your breast pump in your carry on suitcase.
There are a few specific things you need to know about flying with breast milk and ice packs, so make sure to read those in the “Know Before You Go” section. Especially if you are flying internationally, where the rules are different than in the United States.
We get a lot of free ice packs from various food companies sending us samples of products. Most of them get tossed. But we always keep the Nordic Ice Packs. They have been the absolute longest lasting, toughest, coldest ice packs we’ve used. The gel in them freezes rock solid, and takes much longer to thaw than other ice packs we’ve tried. I’ve traveled over 24 hours with a bag of frozen breast milk and two of these frozen Nordic Ice Packs. At the end of my travel time the milk was a bit slushy, but still had ice crystals, so was safe to stick in the freezer when I got home.
Microwave Steam Bag
These microwave steam bags are great for sanitizing on the go. I’ve tried a few different brands and like the Medela ones the best. They seal really well, are big enough to easily fit breast shields AND bottles (if you’re using bottles), and have a pour vent to dump the hot water out before you open it to prevent burns. I bring two, just in case one gets a hole or lost as I travel.
When I’m traveling and pumping, I usually microwave my bottles and breast shields in it before I leave for my trip. I just keep them in the sterilizer bag (after dumping the water out) until I’m ready to use them at the airport or on the plane. Then I rinse them and put them into a gallon bag in the cooler with my milk and store them there to keep any residual milk on them cold until I’m able to sanitize them again. That way I don’t worry about contamination as I’m pumping on the go.
But some airports also have microwaves available at grab and go food kiosks or lounges that I’ve found people be pretty willing to let me use if I ask nicely.
Make sure to have a few gallon Ziploc bags with you. These are great for holding wet (or milky) bottles and pump parts, and for keeping your bags of milk in just in case one leaks.
When you’re traveling and pumping, it’s likely that you’re pumping a lot more than you normally do. This can cause soreness and irritation, so make sure to have some nipple cream with you just in case. I LOVE the Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple cream. It’s also small enough to bring in your quart sized bag on the plane, although it’s a salve (not a gel or liquid) so technically doesn’t need to be in it. But I put mine in just in case!
Hands Free Pumping Bra
A hands free pumping bra can be a lifesaver if you need to work while pumping. I especially like having one if I need to pump in public, because I can use it under a nursing cover or scarf, and still read a book or eat and be a little less obvious about the fact that I’m pumping under there!
Bringing a nursing cover is totally optional. I am usually able to find somewhere private to pump. But every once in a while I end up having to pump in my seat on the plane, or in a corner somewhere. If that happens, I feel a lot more comfortable under cover! But I have also just put a loose sweater on backwards to work as a cover as well.
Another optional item is your favorite water bottle. It’s easy to get dehydrated while traveling and pumping, so make sure you’re hydrating as you go. You can bring an empty water bottle through security, then fill it up once you’re inside the gate area.
My new favorite water bottle is the Pura water bottle. They are 100% plastic free, and all the lids are the same size so you can interchange different sizes of bottles and different styles of caps. I love the sport flip cap.
You can also buy a bottle of water once you’re through security. Make sure to have water with you if you plan on rinsing pump parts or bottles on the plane. More on that in the next section!
TRAVELING AND PUMPING TIPS: KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Here’s some preparation tips and tricks to help you feel like a traveling and pumping pro, even if it’s your first time!
Places to Pump in Airports
Before your trip do some research on each airport you’ll be flying into and out of, even if you don’t think you’ll be pumping there. You never know if there will be a delay, or
something else that causes you to need to suddenly pump. Many airports have nursing rooms, or Mamava suites, available for moms to breastfeed and pump in private. You can usually find these on the airport website, such as this listing for SeaTac breastfeeding spots, or by googling the name of the airport and breastfeeding.
If the airport doesn’t have a designated area for pumping, or the area is too far away for you to access during your layover, there are other options. I fly through Chicago’s O’Hare regularly, but am almost never near one of O’Hare’s four mother’s lounges when I have a short layover. That means I’m stuck finding a spot to pump, or pumping on my next flight.
Fortunately, they have several unisex/family companion restrooms all over the airport. The photo to the right is my pumping set up in one of those restrooms. There’s a big counter I can sit on, an outlet to plug the pump in, and a sink to be able to wash my pump parts. While it is a private restroom, there aren’t any indicators outside the door to let people know it’s occupied. Just make sure it’s locked, and then put in some headphones to block out the disconcerting sounds of people trying the handle!
You can also set up in a corner of a gate, or even at an airport restaurant. I just ask for a table in a corner, where I can face the corner for some feeling of privacy. Then I set up with my hands free pumping bra, a cover over the front, and my sweater on to cover my back. I’m able to pump pretty discreetly while grabbing a bite to eat.
How to Pump on an Airplane
VERY IMPORTANT! Before we go into how to pump on an airplane, I want to make sure you know NOT to wash your pump parts with tap water on the plane. EPA tests found about 1 out of every 10 airplanes has potentially dangerous bacteria in the water. So make sure to bring a bottle of water on the plane, or ask the flight attendant for bottled water if you forget.
If you’re going to need to pump on the airplane, it’s a good idea to give your flight attendant a heads up. Some mothers have even had flight attendants offer to let them pump in the flight attendant area for privacy.
If you decide you want to pump in the airplane lavatory, definitely let a flight attendant know because they are trained to be aware of how long people are in the lavatory to look out for medical emergencies, drug use, etc. Being in there for a long period of time and lead to an embarrassing and upsetting encounter if they don’t know what’s going on.
When I will need to pump on a flight, I reserve a window seat because I can get a bit more room and privacy (I do the same when I’ll be breastfeeding on a flight). If there is someone seated next to you, just let them know before the flight takes off that you will be pumping during the flight. They may say that will make them uncomfortable, and that’s okay! Because you brought it up early, there’s time to ask a flight attendant to help with moving passengers around before take off.
It’s sad that there are still people with judgmental views about pumping and breastfeeding, but it’s a reality. Make sure to keep your cool, be as matter of fact and kind as possible when letting flight attendants know you will be pumping, and know that moms like you are making a huge difference in normalizing breastfeeding!
There are a lot of Facebook groups focused on breastfeeding and pumping where you can get support and tips. We love Boobs on Board!
TSA Rules for Traveling with Breastmilk
The good news for traveling and pumping moms is that breastmilk is not required to stick to the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Your bags of milk can contain more than 3 ounces of breastmilk. I store frozen bags of milk in gallon Ziploc bags inside my cooler full of frozen gel packs. Carrying it in the gallon bags is simply for my comfort. I don’t need to worry about leaks, and they will usually inspect the milk through the bag so they aren’t touching the actual milk bags.
When you get to the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint, let the TSA agent know you are carrying breastmilk, and show them your cooler. If the milk and gel packs are completely frozen, you shouldn’t need additional inspection. If some of it is liquid or slushy, they may individually inspect the bags of milk. Make sure to (politely!) ask the TSA agent to change their gloves before handling your milk.
According to the Health Psychics Society, which studies the effects of radiation, it’s perfectly safe to put bottles through the X-ray machines used in airports because the minute amounts of radiation from such things as airport scanners and medical diagnostic procedures do not harm breast milk. Some moms choose to ask for alternate screening, but I have not found any scientific studies supporting the need to skip the xray, so I just let them put it through the X-ray scanner. But TSA rules do state that you may ask for alternative screening for breastmilk, so do your research and print off the rules to bring with you if you want to avoid the X-ray.
These rules are specific to travel within the United States! Read on for tips on International Travel.
International Rules for Traveling with Breastmilk
For international traveling and pumping moms, I’m sorry to say you may have a rough road ahead of you. Several mothers have been forced to dump hundreds of ounces of breastmilk at Heathrow airport. If you are going to be traveling Internationally, make sure to research the specific rules for the country you’ll be in.
For instance, the UK does not allow frozen breastmilk in your carry on luggage. They do allow liquid breastmilk, but the amount allowed depends on whether or not you have your baby with you.
Also, if you are traveling internationally, make sure you have any sort of converter or adapter you may need for your pump.
Freezing and Heating Options at Your Hotel
Anytime I am traveling and pumping, I call ahead to the hotel to request a freezer and a microwave in the room. There is almost always a microwave available, and at least a mini fridge if not a freezer. If the mini fridge has a freezer section, you can often turn the fridge to its coldest setting and pack the freezer part and the area of the fridge around it.
There is also usually a staff freezer at the hotel that they will be happy to keep your cooler of milk in. I often end up using the staff freezer on check-out day if my flight is quite a bit later than check-out time.
The microwave is simply for sterilizing your bottles (if you’re using them) and pump parts in sterilization bags.
Safety Guidelines for Freezing and Thawing Breastmilk
Here’s Le Leche League International’s safety guidelines for freezing, storing, and thawing your milk. Important to note is that if your milk starts to thaw and get slushy, it is still considered frozen. It’s safe to put the milk back in the freezer, as long as it has ice crystals in it. If it has thawed completely with no ice crystals, it needs to be refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
TRAVELING AND PUMPING TIPS: KEEPING YOUR MILK SUPPLY UP
It can be tough for traveling and pumping moms to keep their supply up, or to let-down, especially if you’re not used to pumping. Here’s a few tips to encourage milk production, and make it easier to let-down.
- Stick to a Schedule – Stick to the same schedule you use to feed your baby. This is often difficult, but so important in helping to keep your supply up. If your supply dips a little while you travel, your baby will often bring it back up when you return. Of course, that’s depending on how long you are gone.
- Fenugreek – Fenugreek is a supplement that promotes lactation. I used it regularly when my daughter started daycare two days a week and I noticed my supply start to dip. Just be warned, fenugreek makes your sweat smell like maple syrup!
- Lactation Cookies – I think I may need to eat lactation cookies forever, even once I stop breastfeeding! They are nutrient densed, and packed with ingredients that encourage lactation. Here’s my recipe for the best lactation cookies, made with all natural unprocessed ingredients.
- Lactation Bars – If you don’t want to make your own lactation cookies, there are all sorts of lactation bars available. I love the natural ingredients and superfoods in the Oat Mama lactation bars!
- Mother’s Milk – Mother’s Milk tea is another great natural product to promote lactation. You can use the coffee machine in your hotel to brew hot water for your tea.
- Tips for Let-Down – Sometimes it can be hard to get your milk to let-down while pumping. This is especially true if your baby is older. Using a pump with a let-down setting is helpful, but you can also look at pictures and videos of your little one, and bring a onesie that they’re worn for you to smell. If all else fails, watching YouTube videos of crying babies gets me every time!
- Find a Local IBCLC – If you are going to be away from your baby for a week or more, it may be helpful to find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant nearby. For US travel, you can search for a lactation consultant on this site. Traveling internationally? Try googling the city and country you’ll be in along with IBCLC. Then you can use this site to verify that they are a certified IBCLC.
SHARE YOUR TRAVELING AND PUMPING TIPS
One of the best ways to normalize breastfeeding and pumping is by building a strong community and supporting each other. What tips do you have for traveling and pumping? Please share them in the comments below!