This blog was originally posted in 2019 when I was still breastfeeding, and has since been updated according to the most recent information from TSA.
This seems like such a complex, complicated topic that everyone always has questions about. I want you to feel confident when you’re traveling, especially when you’re traveling with precious cargo like breastmilk, and that confidence starts with knowing what to expect. So here are seven helpful things to know when traveling with breastmilk.
If you still have questions by the end, please leave a comment or contact me and I’ll be happy to help! You can also contact TSA directly by calling 1-866-289-9673 with any questions (screenshot or save this number for your trip), or sending them a tweet @askTSA.
1. Yes, you can fly with breastmilk!
And rejoice, dear reader, because breastmilk, formula, and juice for your baby are exempt from the liquid limit of 3.4 ounces. Bring however much breastmilk you think you’ll need, or every last drop of what you pumped while on your getaway.
My husband and I took a post-baby-moon to Hawaii and I had four days worth of breastmilk to be screened. I encountered zero problems through the checkpoint and I had over 40 ounces in multiple milk bags (some still frozen, some slushy).
2. Your breastmilk does not need to go through the X-ray or be opened.
Always let the screening agent know right away when you have breastmilk, ice packs, and/or an electric pumping device. Also let the TSA agent know that you do not want it to be opened or put through the X-ray. Easy enough! You and members of your party may be subject to undergo additional screening methods, which includes a more thorough review of your carry-on items and/or a pat-down.
3. Frozen breastmilk is usually visually inspected and does not require additional screening.
You can keep your breastmilk frozen by using freezer bags, ice packs, and/or gel packs. Those items will go through the checkpoint just fine so long as the ice packs keeping the milk frozen are completely frozen. If your ice packs are melting or partially frozen, they will be subject to the 3.4 ounce liquid limit.
4. Partially-frozen, slushy, and liquid breastmilk are subject to additional screening one bag or bottle at a time. You have the right to decline additional screening.
While you can certainly combine your milk into larger containers for your trip to make the screening process faster, I preferred to leave my milk in individuals bags or bottles in the rare instance there was a discrepancy with the screening. I didn’t want to take any chances in having to toss a bag or two if the milk alarmed for some reason (which, it never did in my experience). Having fewer bottles, however, will help expedite the process for you.
Remember, you have the right to decline the additional screening. If you decline, you may receive a pat-down and/or have a more thorough review of your carry-on items.
5. Here’s what “additional screening” looks like for partially-frozen, slushy, and liquid breastmilk.
The TSA agent may or may not put on a new pair of gloves to handle the bottles and milk bags. You can ask them to change their gloves and they will oblige. I’m not a germ freak, but for some reason I always feel better about the agent using a clean pair of gloves. In some airports, the agents may not handle the milk at all and will ask for you assistance in collecting a sample.
The additional screening is usually a simple dipstick that tests for the presence of explosive material. I mean, yes, breastmilk is the bomb… but not in a threat-to-national-security kind of way! You can request that the agent use a small sample rather than putting the dipstick in the full bag of milk if you’re worried about contamination. I have no idea what’s in the dipstick test, so I definitely prefer that they pour out a small sample into a separate container to test. Each bag or container of milk that contains partially-frozen, slushy, or liquid, will typically be tested individually, one at a time.
When starting our return trip from our post-baby-moon, we ended up spending the night in the Honolulu airport with my frozen breastmilk due to a flight cancellation. I was terrified of going back through security with so much thawing breastmilk. I didn’t know at the time that I had the right to decline the screening or I would have, just to save everyone the hassle. All in all, the process took about 15 minutes and I was able to keep all 40 ounces of milk.
6. Pack with purpose.
Pack your cooler, breast pump, bottles, and all breastfeeding/pumping supplies together in one bag so they are simple to remove and hand over for screening. When you get to the security checkpoint, keep your breastmilk separate from your other liquids, gels, and aerosols.
7. You can fly with your electric or manual breast pump. Just confirm with your airline if this item counts against your carry-on allotment.
Electric and manual breast pumps are considered medical devices by the FDA, yet somehow this remains a gray area for the airlines when it comes to carry-on allotments. Sure, you can put the breast pump in your carry-on bag, but they can be bulky. I recommend double checking with your preferred airline about whether they consider breast pumps a medical device, and plan accordingly from there about how to pack it.
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