How to Keep Breast Milk Frozen While Traveling: The Ultimate Guide
One thing that you probably never thought about before traveling with a baby: keeping your breast milk frozen. This is a challenge many breastfeeding new moms out there face, especially if you’re traveling without your baby.
The good news is that doing your research and making a plan for frozen breast milk storage before your upcoming vacation will save you lots of headaches (and liquid gold!).
I took a trip to Miami without my baby for a few days while I was still nursing. I didn’t want my milk supply to go down while I was away, so I had to make sure I could pump a few times a day.
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I packed my electric breast pump, all of the pump parts, my Medela breast milk storage bags, and thought I was all set. I didn’t realize until I got to the hotel room, pumped a full bag of milk, and put it in the freezer, that I didn’t really have any way to keep it frozen for the flight back home!
It ended up working out because I bought a little cooler bag at a nearby CVS pharmacy and some freezer packs to keep it cold. Thankfully it wasn’t a long flight back home so that the milk remained frozen for the most part until we got home. But it was definitely a lesson learned that next time, I really needed to be more prepared!
I want to ensure that you avoid a similar situation and that you’re prepared for your upcoming trip! Whether you’re going on a road trip or a flight, I’m going to share with you the most important things you need to know for traveling with frozen breast milk.
How Long is Breast Milk Good For?
Before traveling, it’s important to be thoroughly familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC’s) guidelines on breast milk storage:
- Freshly, expressed milk can remain fresh at room temperature (77°F (25°C) or colder) for up to 4 hours. You should immediately feed fresh milk to your baby, refrigerate it, or freeze it.
- If you keep the milk refrigerated (at temps colder than 40°F (4°C)), then it’s good for up to 4 days.
- For frozen milk, temps must be 0°F (-18°C) or colder and can be good for 6-12 months (with 6 months being ideal and 12 months acceptable).
- You should NEVER refreeze breast milk once it’s been thawed.
- Save breast milk in bags that are intended for storing breast milk. You can also use BPA-free glass or plastic food-grade containers with tight-fitting lids.
- Breast milk can be stored for up to 24 hours in an insulated cooler with frozen ice packs during travel.
Following the CDC guidelines is the best way to preserve the quality and freshness of your breast milk until you arrive at your destination.
Here are some important considerations you’ll want to take while planning how you’re going to keep your breast milk frozen:
- The total length of time it will take to reach your final destination. While a cooler for freshly pumped milk is okay for a short trip, your milk will have to be frozen for a longer trip. The last thing you want to do is let your liquid gold spoil and go to waste!
- How much milk you’re carrying, so you can determine what size cooler you need and how many storage bags and ice packs to bring.
- Whether you will have access to a refrigerator or freezer along the way, for example, if you’re stopping at a family member’s or friend’s house along the way.
How to Keep Breast Milk Frozen During Travel
Here are some general tips for keeping your breast milk frozen while traveling:
- Freeze your milk solid before you leave to go on your trip. If you’re in a hotel room, many rooms usually come equipped with a mini-fridge that has a small freezer you can freeze your milk in.
- Freeze your milk in breast milk storage bags, which are small plastic bags that you can lie flat in the freezer, as opposed to bottles. This will allow you to pack more milk.
- Purchase a breast milk cooler or other well-insulated cooler. Here are some of the best coolers:
- For a great option if you’re traveling with a lot of frozen milk: NorChill Can Insulated Marine Boatbag Soft Sided Cooler
- For smaller options: Teamoy Double Layer Breastmilk Cooler Bag with Ice Pack or a YETI Cooler
- For the best leakproof option: TOURIT Insulated Cooler Bag
- Make sure you have long-lasting frozen ice packs as well, like this one which has over 15,000 Amazon reviews for its effectiveness. Put ice packs on the bottom of the cooler and on the top.
- You can use dry ice as well for longer trips (you can find dry ice at your local large grocer like Costco or Walmart). Dry ice is much colder than ice made from frozen water, so it will be more effective at keeping your breastmilk frozen. It also doesn’t melt; instead it will turn to gas as it warms up. However, this option can get complicated when traveling by air so make sure you check the TSA guidelines on traveling with dry ice.
- If you’re able to fit it, pack the cooler and put the entire cooler in the freezer the night before your trip.
- Avoid opening the cooler until you reach your destination. Every time you open your cooler, the temperature of the breast milk changes. The best way to keep your milk frozen is to keep your cooler closed while you’re traveling.
- Once your arrive to your final destination, transfer all of the milk immediately to the freezer.
Traveling with Breast Milk on a Plane
Air travel with breast milk presents unique challenges, including making sure it will pass the security checkpoint. If you’re flying within or to and from the United States, be aware of the guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on the screening process for breast milk (which you can find on the TSA website):
- Breast milk is permitted in reasonable amounts (does NOT have to be less than 3.4oz) and must be screened separately from your other belongings.
- Any accessories you bring to keep your breast milk frozen (including ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs, cooler bags) are also allowed. Airlines don’t typically count these items against your carry-on limits.
- However, for dry ice, it gets a little more complicated. The FAA limits you to 5.5 lbs of properly packaged dry ice (the package is vented) in a carry-on or checked bag and it must be clearly marked as dry ice. However, airline approval is required so ensure you speak to your airline before taking this option.
- You don’t need to travel with your child in order to bring your breast milk.
- You should inform the TSA agents at the beginning of the screening process that you are carrying breast milk.
- Breast milk is typically screened by X-ray. The TSA officer may also ask you to open the container or transfer a small amount of liquid to a separate container. If your breast milk is only partially frozen, TSA might open and test each bag, which is a great reason to travel with frozen solid breast milk to avoid this extra screening.
- If you don’t want your breast milk to be opened or X-rayed, you can inform the security agents. They will take additional screening measures such as pat-downs and screening of your remaining personal items.
- An electric pump is also allowed through screening. However, you should also research your airline’s specific rules regarding breast pumps. Most airlines consider an electric pump to be a “medical device” and don’t count them as carry-on. But there might be additional restrictions. For example, Jetblue allows breast pumps to be used in-flight only if they are battery-powered.
- You could also check your breast milk cooler but personally, this would give me anxiety! Luggages get lost all the time and since you can’t keep your eye on it, there’s no way of knowing whether the cooler was opened and sealed back up properly or what temperatures it was stored in.
As long as you follow the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk, you should be fine. I had no trouble when I did it, except that it took some extra time to screen. You may want to take that into account and get to the airport a little earlier.
To avoid a hassle with a TSA agent over permitted items, you should also print a copy of the relevant rules from the TSA, FAA, or your airline so that you can quickly refer to them.
If you’re traveling outside, make sure you check your destination country’s rules on carrying breast milk. There have been shocking reports of women being forced to throw away their breast milk (for one woman it was up to 500 ounces!!) because the international airports they were in only permit breast milk on the plane while a child is present.
Shipping your Breast Milk
Although it’s an additional cost, you can also choose to ship your breast milk to your final destination using a service like Milk Stork. Milk Stork takes care of the heavy lifting for you, and will help you move or ship large quantities of refrigerated or frozen breast milk. They offer several convenient shipping options. Their “Stash” option promises to keep milk frozen for up to 96 hours!
If you’re shipping your breast milk while traveling for a work trip, your employer may be able to cover the shipping expense. Before traveling, review your employer’s policies or speak to them to see whether they can reimburse you for shipping your breast milk back home.
You can also pack and ship breast milk yourself using a company like Fedex. Since this can get costly, try to ship as much milk as you can in one large container instead of multiple containers. You’ll also need to pack it in dry ice. If you’ve never shipped anything using dry ice before, check out this helpful video that will show you how.
Although it takes some planning, it is definitely possible to travel with breast milk and keep it frozen. It will be well worth it too, as you can continue building up your milk stash while on vacation and ensure not a drop of liquid gold is wasted.
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