A Working Mom's Guide to Traveling Internationally With Breastmilk
Sometimes when you're a working mom it becomes necessary to travel for work. Heck, even if you're not a working mom it can be necessary to travel, can we say vaycay? If you're a breastfeeding mom traveling without your babe OR if you're an exclusive pumper traveling with your babe here is some advice for getting through security with your breastmilk.
- Label your milk bags. Date, time, and the number of ounces at the very least. This will help speed up the process should your cooler need to be inspected.
- I chose a soft sided cooler so I could fold it up while it wasn't in use. You'll want to choose a cooler that conforms to the carry-on size restrictions. Planes are quite small and other than by your feet and in the overhead compartment, there isn't anywhere to store your cooler. It will need to fit in one of these two places.
- I brought along a handful of the gallon-sized freezer bags. I used them to store the breastmilk bags. It's easier to move one-gallon sized bag vs several 6-ounce bags of milk. I could fit about 8 or 9 6-ounce bags in one gallon-sized freezer bag. This was especially helpful during security when the TSA officer needed to check under my bags of milk. I also used the gallon-sized freezer bags to fill with ice to keep liquid gold cool during the flight and travels to our destination. If you need ice or if your ice has melted we had no problems stopping at one of the restaurants in the airport and asking to fill our bags with ice. On our way to our destination, we stopped at the Starbucks in the Milwaukee General Mitchel International Airport and they gladly helped fill our bag with ice. I chose to use freezer bags instead of regular bags because they are a little more sturdy, and I have not had any issues with the ice melting and leaking out of the freezer bags. These are the ones I used, but I'm sure any gallon sized freezer bag would work.
- When you get to security place your cooler on the conveyer belt along with all of your other items. If they choose to do further screening follow their instructions. They may scan the milk or they may have you dip your finger and taste the milk yourself. Then they will send you on your way. You are allowed to carry an unrestricted amount of breastmilk on your flight, regardless of whether or not you are traveling with your baby. I have no had an issue with any TSA Officers, a little spat with a flight attendant, but more on that later.
- IF needed you can bring your pump on as an additional carry-on. It is technically considered a medical device so it can be brought on in additional to your carry-on and personal item. This is the only time I have ever had any issues traveling as a breastfeeding mother. Two years ago on my way home from WPPI, a Wedding and Portrait Photography Conference, in Las Vegas, I got through security no problem, but the flight attendant almost didn't let me on the plane because I had "three" carry-ons. I calmly explained to her that my "third" was a breastpump which is a necessary medical device. Haha, this is where all my breastfeeding/pumping mama's are screaming "Hell ya it is!" and for those of you that are not, go ahead and google "engorgement" or "mastitis." Not cool! The flight attendant was adamant that I could not carry it on. I asked to speak to her supervisor who kindly cleared up the issue.
Flying internationally is a whole new set of rules and issues. Each country has it's own separate rules and regulations. You will want to research the rules for the country that you are traveling to. I was traveling from the US to the Cancun, Mexico specifically. When ressearching Mexico's rules and regulations for traveling with breastmilk I found that they do have some similar rules and one that is not so similar. A mother can travel with unrestricted amounts of breastmilk, but only while traveling WITH their baby. Unfortunately, when traveling for work or going on vacation without your baby, this is a big problem. To pump all that milk and have to dump it seems like such a shame, and not only that, but some moms barely make enough milk. That milk is needed.
Once I learned of this unfortunate rule, I set off to travel blogs and forums to see if anyone has been able to get around this rule as I was not traveling to Mexico with my baby. Here are some ideas and tips that I used that allowed me to bring five days worth of breastmilk back to the United States from Mexico.
- Firstly, follow all the tips I listed for flying domestically with breastmilk.
- Prior to your trip print off a copy of the TSA rules for traveling with breastmilk. You can find them here. When you pass through security there is a chance if you show them the TSA rules they will allow you through.
- Choose a line with female security officers. I read this on several forums and I am the last person to be sexist and I hated thinking this way, but if it was going to allow me to bring my milk back I was going to try it.
- They WILL ask you where your baby is. You will need to explain that your baby is in the United States and that your baby is small, so he/she needs this milk. Fortunately enough for me, I speak some Spanish, I actually did my student teaching in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico, so I was able to converse with the security agent in Spanish. If you do not speak Spanish you may want to ask to speak with a security officer that can speak English if you are having troubles communicating with the security officer in your line. Try, do your best, and stay calm.
Here is how my experience went: I followed all the guidelines above. I packaged my milk in the gallon sized freezer bags and used a gallon sized freezer bag to fill with ice prior to leaving our hotel. When we got to security I put all my items through the security scanner. The security officer set my bag aside for additional screening. The officer asked me to open the cooler and had me show her under and between the gallon sized bags of milk, and under my ice bag. She did ask me where my baby was. I calmly explained he was in the United States and that is was very small and needed this milk. She called over her supervisor to asked for my boarding pass. The supervisor took my boarding pass, I still have no idea where she took it. The supervisor came back with my boarding pass with a signature on it and sent us on our way! It was that simple! I didn't even need to show them my copy of the TSA rules. Again I may have had an easier time because this whole exchange did happen in Spanish, it may be a little more difficult if there is a language barrier.
****I should note that there is no guarantee you will be able to bring your breastmilk home with you from Mexico, I got lucky. I would hope if you follow my tips that you too would be able to bring your milk back, but I cannot guarantee it. ****