Any family traveling with a baby will inevitably face the challenge of transporting breastmilk or formula during a trip. Even if you exclusively breastfeed, a stash of milk, whether expressed breastmilk or formula, is one of the most essential travel items for babies. Traveling, particularly by plane, can be very dehydrating. And you don’t want to be empty handed or helpless if you experience an unexpected dip in your supply or your baby needs to nurse more than usual. This is why it’s important to always travel with breastmilk or emergency formula during the baby stage. While the idea of flying with breastmilk may seem daunting, it really isn’t complicated. However, there are a few things to know about flying with breastmilk, liquid formula, or baby food that will make the process easier.
This guide covers the United States TSA guidelines regarding transporting pumped milk and includes personal tips and advice for flying with breastmilk, flying with formula, or taking baby food through airport security.
Our experience flying with breastmilk
Our daughter was exclusively breastfed until she was about nine months old. We began traveling with her shortly after she was born. So, on more than one occasion, we had to fly with breast milk. We even flew internationally a couple of times during those first months and brought expressed milk along for the journey. In fact, when our daughter was 6 months old, we flew to Costa Rica for her first international trip. I was still breastfeeding almost exclusively, but didn’t want to have an infant attached to my body the entire trip. So, we decided to travel with breastmilk that was previously pumped. This was our first experience flying with breastmilk. We didn’t quite know what to expect, but luckily, our family and the breastmilk made it there safely.
In that first year of our daughter’s life, we flew numerous times. We have successfully brought breast milk through airport security and have also flown with liquid formula and baby food without any issues.
What you need to know about flying with breastmilk or flying with liquid formula
Although most things are more challenging when flying with a baby, airlines and airport security agents are more lenient when it comes to the tiniest of travelers. Here are a few things to know about flying with breastmilk or other baby liquids.
TSA liquid limits don’t apply to breastmilk
Although the TSA has a very small limit on the amount of liquids you can bring on a plane. The 3.2 ounce rule does not apply to breastmilk, liquid formula, or baby food. You can actually bring large quantities of these liquids through airport security. Or as the TSA ambiguously puts it “reasonable quantities” of breastmilk are allowed in your carry-on bag. With that said, we have personally brought about a dozen bags of breastmilk, some frozen and some fresh breast milk, through airport security without any problems.
Frozen gel packs are also allowed
Aside from bags of breastmilk or containers of liquid formula, you can also bring gel freezer packs through TSA to keep your liquids cool or frozen. Keep in mind, even in an insulated bag or cooler, ice packs do not stay frozen for more than a few hours. If you plan to fly with frozen milk, be aware once it thaws completely you must use it within 24 hours. So, I would not recommend bringing too many bags of frozen breast milk on a long flight. Consider giving your baby milk from your frozen stash in the days leading up to your trip. Pump when you would typically feed your little one to have a supply of fresh milk ready for your trip.
Breast pumps are typically allowed in addition to your carry-on and personal item
It is important to note that you can also bring a breast pump through TSA or airport security if you plan to pump while on your trip or vacation. Breast pumps are considered a medical device. So, most airlines will not count them as part of the carry-on and personal item allowance. Be sure to check with your airline before your flight. However, most will allow mother’s to bring a breast pump in addition to their carry-on and personal item. Many breast pumps are somewhat bulky, which can make them challenging to travel with. However, there are some great travel breast pumps that are compact and easy to clean when on a trip.
You do not need to be traveling with your baby to fly with breastmilk
If you are a mother traveling solo and are still nursing, you will likely have to pump while on your trip to avoid discomfort and keep your milk supply up. No mom wants to dispose of pumped breastmilk. (There is a reason they call it liquid gold!) But luckily, you don’t have to, at least if flying domestically within the United States. The Transportation Security Administration allows you to fly with a reasonable quality of breastmilk, whether your baby is with you or not. However, that rule does not apply to flying with liquid formula. Although, I don’t know why you would need to fly with formula if your baby is not with you.
Taking breastmilk or liquid formula through airport security
If you plan to travel with breastmilk or liquid formula that needs to be kept cool, keep it in its own small bag rather than placing it in your carry-on luggage. You are allowed to bring a separate bag for breast milk storage or formula in addition to your carry-on bag and personal item. Keeping the liquids separate makes it easier for screening purposes. The picture below is the bag I use and how I pack it when flying with breastmilk. It is an insulated bag that serves as the perfect breast milk cooler so the milk stays frozen or cold longer.
Let the TSA agent know your traveling with breastmilk or formula
When you arrive at the security checkpoint, tell the TSA agent you are flying with breastmilk or formula. Then, put the bag on the conveyor belt for inspection. It will need to be sent through the X-ray machine. Don’t worry, the X-ray machine does not harm the breastmilk. If you do not want it to go through the X-ray machine, you will need to inform the agent. You can opt-out of X-raying the milk. In that case, however, your milk or formula will likely be opened and have to go through additional screening.
Security agents will test some of your milk
TSA will inspect, and even open your breastmilk to run tests on it. The process doesn’t take long and doesn’t taint the milk. If traveling with powdered formula instead of liquid you can also bring bottled water through security. You just need to specify that the water is for the baby.
Allow extra time
Always when traveling with a baby or toddler, you should allow yourself extra time at the airport. The additional screening of your milk will take some extra time, although not much, but you may also have extra gear, like a travel stroller that needs to be broken down, or a framed child carrier for a toddler, that will have to be removed and sent through the X-Ray machine. However, if you plan to wear your baby in a baby carrier while traveling, most of them do not have to be removed to go through security screenings. In fact, babywearing at the airport is one of the best ways to save time and make flying with a baby easier.
Shipping breastmilk is an alternative to flying with breastmilk, and luckily there are companies that specialize in this. There are several options to easily and effectively ship breast milk. Here are some convenient ways to ship breastmilk if you prefer to do so rather than fly with breastmilk.
- Milk Stork is a company dedicated exclusively to shipping breast milk. They send containers that you can fill and ship overnight.
- FedEx also has a milk shipping program, where they can overnight breastmilk in refrigerated containers. Similar to Milk Stork, you can pre-ordered milk bags to fill up. Then, just drop them off at a FedEx location for overnight delivery.
What you need to know about flying with baby food
Traveling with baby food falls under the same category as traveling with breastmilk or formula, with a few exceptions.
You are allowed to bring enough for the duration of your trip. If you are gone for a week, that is quite a bit of baby food pouches or jars. I recommend the baby food pouches when traveling with a baby and especially when traveling with a toddler. They are much easier to use on-the-go, and many older babies and toddlers can even feed themselves.
Like breastmilk and formula you will have to separate baby food from the rest of your carry-on luggage and declare it with the TSA officer. They will likely inspect it and possibly open one of the containers. If that happens, plan to use that one first since once opened baby food should be used within a day.
Giving Your Baby a Bottle of Breastmilk or Formula on the Plane
If you prefer to give your baby a bottle instead of breastfeed on the plane, you can request a cup of hot water from the flight attendant upon boarding. Put a bag of cold (not frozen) breast milk in the cup for a few minutes to warm it up, if your baby will not drink it cold. The water can also be used to mix dry formula if needed. Nursing or bottle feeding during take off and landing will help avoid any ear discomfort for your little one caused by the pressure change when ascending or descending.
Flying internationally with breastmilk, formula or baby food
While we have never personally had a problem flying internationally with breastmilk or baby food, it is important to note that other countries may not be as lenient. Each country may have its own rules and restrictions that apply. Be sure to check with your airline or the international airport from which you will be flying prior to your trip.
Although we have never had an issue, we have read stories of moms having to dump out breastmilk before their flight.
Final thoughts on flying with breastmilk, formula or baby food
Whether you breastfeed, exclusively pump, formula feed or choose a combination of those methods, flying with breastmilk, formula, or even baby food doesn’t have to be difficult. When you travel with breastmilk, baby food, or formula, plan to pack enough for an extra day or so. Traveling can be unpredictable, flights can get cancelled, you may have an unanticipated long layover, and your trip may end up being longer than expected. So be prepared, and pack accordingly. For this reason, we do not recommend traveling with breast milk in your checked luggage.
Do you have a question or comment about how to travel with breastmilk, formula, or baby food? We’d love to help. Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.
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This post about flying with breastmilk and flying with liquid formula was originally published in December 2015 and was updated in June 2021 for accuracy and current information.