Flying with breast milk

Traveling by plane is stressful enough on its own, but when you add breast milk and a breast pump to the list of things you have to figure out how to fit into your regulation-sized carry-on bag, just the thought might be enough to send your stress to the next level. Fortunately, TSA regulations do take the need to carry and pump breast milk into consideration in setting up exceptions to their rules about liquids, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities to run into trouble on your way into the air.

What TSA and international regulations allow 

Both the TSA in the US and the European Commission’s department of Mobility and Transport limit liquids that are allowed in passengers’ carry-on bags to an approximately equal amount – 3.4 ounces allowed by the TSA and 100 ml allowed by Mobility and Transport. Different countries have different regulations for liquids allowed on airplanes, but this amount is fairly standard. It’s also pretty limited, but in the US, breast milk, like baby food, is an exception to the rules against liquids, although it does have to be declared to and searched by the TSA.

Breast milk is exempted under the rule against carrying liquids or gels onto an airplane, but gel ice packs used to keep that breast milk fresh in a cooler are not. Gel ice packs that are frozen solid are sometimes but not always allowed through, since they can melt back into their gel state. To avoid risking running into an argument over ice packs, you can use hard-sided ice packs or fill plastic bags with ice that can be thrown out before going through security and then refilled by a restaurant beyond the gate.

For very long flights, or to avoid having to change the ice, it’s also possible to pack breast milk with dry ice. Dry ice may be necessary to keep breast milk frozen on flights lasting longer than 12 hours, but it can also be a dangerous substance, so if you’re considering using it, always make sure to wear heavy gloves, glasses or goggles, and to only handle dry ice using tongs.

Declaring breast milk may involve calling the airline ahead of time, as well as telling the gate agent that it’s there directly when you reach security. Separate breast milk from other liquids in preparation. When you’ve declared your breast milk, the TSA or airport security agent will send it through the X-ray machine. The TSA’s website reports that there are no proven negative effects to X-raying breast milk. However, if you feel uncomfortable letting breast milk be X-rayed, it is within your rights to request an alternate search. Instead of X-raying breast milk, an agent may search you more thoroughly, including a pat down and a bag search. Many of these regulations also apply to baby food for when your baby is a little bit older, and ready to move into the next stage of development.

A breast pump doesn’t count as your carry-on bag because it falls into the category of medical equipment. However, the cooler used to carry breast milk generally will count as a carry-on.

TSA regulations allow for carrying breast milk even if you’re not traveling with your child, but airports in the European Union only allow breast milk in larger quantities than 100 ml if you’re traveling with your child. Other countries like Japan, Australia, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates have policies closer to that of the European Union than the US. If you’re traveling internationally, you can make your trip run much more smoothly by calling the airline you’re flying with to check the specific regulations and policies ahead of time.

Trouble with the TSA

Although the TSA regulations state that it’s fine to bring breast milk onto airplanes as long as it has been properly searched, there are still cases where parents run into problems while traveling, often because the security agents they meet may not be familiar with the regulations surrounding breast milk. While it isn’t always possible to avoid these situations, calling the airline you’ll be flying ahead of time to confirm the rules and regulations surrounding flying with breast milk and printing out a copy of TSA guidelines can help you avoid or navigate difficult situations.

  • Robyn Roche-Paull. “Traveling with Breast Milk.” Breastfeeding Today. La Leche League, May 7 2016. Web.
  • “10 Tips for Traveling with Breast Milk.” Children’s MD. Children’s Hospital, St. Louis, February 25 2013. Web.
  • “Liquids, aerosols and gels.” European Commission. European Commission, November 18 2016. Web.
  • “Liquids Rule.” Transportation Security Administration. Department of Homeland Security. Web.
  • “Traveling with Breast Milk.” Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2016. Web.
  • “Traveling with Children.” Transportation Security Administration. Department of Homeland Security. Web.
  • “Travel Recommendations for the Nursing Mother.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 17 2015. Web.
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