Brave New Motherhood
KB Survival Guide: Breastfeeding and Pumping While Traveling
Nursing and pumping while traveling can feel daunting. Some babies roll with changes to their routine; other babies get distracted, tired, or anxious and nurse more or less frequently than usual. Whether you’re considering taking your breastfeeding baby on a vacation or you need to be away from him or her for a few days, we’ve put together some tips to help you plan a successful trip. Have any other great advice for nursing and pumping while traveling? We’d love to hear it! Please comment below.

Tips for Breastfeeding on a Road Trip

breastfeeding on a road trip

  • Packing: Create a readily accessible “command center” stocked with clean diapers, a wet bag, plastic shopping bags (for the dirtiest diapers), wipes, and spare clothes. Don’t forget nursing pads; your breasts may not be used to schedule changes, and you don’t want to sit in wet clothes for hours! Also be sure to pack healthy breastfeeding snacks.

  • Pumping: If you’re pumping, in addition to bringing your pump, parts, and bottles, bring extra parts and bottles so you don’t have to wash everything right away. For an electric pump, bring a battery pack or an AC/DC converter/car adapter. You may also want to bring a hand pump, which is great if no outlets are available. Wearing a hands-free pumping and nursing bra or tank is a huge help. If it makes you more comfortable, bring a nursing cover. Don’t forget to bring ice packs and storage containers for pumped milk. After pumping, you can give your pump parts a quick once-over with breast pump wipes, throw all the parts into a Ziploc bag, and put them into a cooler to wash later.

  • Timing: Some moms swear by traveling at night – topping off their babies before their usual bedtimes and placing them directly in their car seats to take advantage of the naturally soothing rhythms of a moving vehicle. Whatever time you travel, most moms say that nursing your baby is one of those things you absolutely must do before getting into the car – just like going to the restroom.

  • Stopping: Plan for frequent pit stops. You can’t breastfeed in a moving car, and babies are not always keen on taking a bottle if they’re only used to nursing. If your baby typically wakes up screaming to eat, you may consider instead gently rousing him or her for a top up or dream feed at planned intervals.

  • Connecting: If possible, try to sit in the back while someone else drives. Don’t try to rush your baby back into the car seat immediately after nursing. A few minutes of post-nursing snuggling can go a long way! If your baby uses a blanket, lovey, or pacifier, make sure to pack it, and bring spares!

Tips for Breastfeeding on a Plane

breastfeeding on an airplane

  • Booking: If possible, consider flying through an airport with a designated breastfeeding room or nursing pod installed. Download the Mamava app to locate breastfeeding suites in airports and other public places. You can also check out Moms Pump Here for additional locations.

  • Seating: Until your baby is two years old, you can have him or her on your lap; babywearing is a great option in this scenario, and it allows for easy nursing. Some moms choose to purchase an extra seat so they can bring on a car seat, giving the baby a specific area to sit and sleep. Many nursing moms opt for the window seat, which can minimize distractions and allow for greater privacy. You may prefer to sit in the back of the plane, where you can take your time packing up and have easy access to the restroom. You may, however, feel there is not enough privacy in the back if people are waiting to use the restroom.
  • Timing: Breastfeeding during takeoff and landing helps equalize pressure in your baby’s ears. If he or she won’t latch, give your baby a small snack (if eating solids) or a pacifier.

  • Clothing: Breastfeeding-friendly layers are a great idea for air travel. In case the plane gets cold, bring an open-front sweater, like our nursing cardigan, for easy breastfeeding access. Also, make sure to bring extra clothes for both you and your baby; two extra outfits for each of you is always a good idea!

  • Privacy: Breastfeed in whatever way makes you comfortable! If you like a little privacy, some moms use a blanket or nursing cover. A good nursing top and bra will help too!

Tips for Pumping on a Plane

breast pump

  • Packing: Many moms recommend packing everything you might need in one carryon. Pick a bag with lots of pockets and compartments, and pack your double electric breast pump, parts, bottles, extra parts and bottles, milk storage containers, adapter, batteries, overseas power converter (if necessary), cooler, frozen ice packs, snacks, ID, and boarding passes. Even if you don’t plan to pump on the plane, do not risk delay, loss, or damage by packing your pump in a checked bag.

  • Screening: Check out TSA’s guidelines for traveling with breast milk. You might want to bookmark this page on your phone or print it out in case you run into any difficulties. It’s perfectly legal to board an airplane with a pump, but you may need to separate and declare your breast milk, pump, and bottles at the security checkpoint. The three-ounce rule that applies to other liquids does not apply to breast milk, as it’s categorized the same as liquid medicine. Ice packs, freezer packs, and frozen gel packs are allowed. TSA officers may ask you to open your containers for testing. You can request that your milk isn’t x-rayed or opened, but you may be asked to undergo additional screening. Make sure to leave enough time for extra screening.

  • International Regulations: Breast milk carryon regulations may vary by location. For instance, if you’re flying in the UK, you can carry on as much unfrozen breast milk as you want, but each container can hold no more than two liters. You also can’t carry on any frozen breast milk. Before traveling internationally, make sure to check the rules at the specific international airports you will be using.

  • Travel Pumps: Generally, the best pumps for traveling are small, cordless, and double electric. You might also consider a hand-pump for when you’re in a pinch. Make sure you’re familiar with how the pump works before you board.

  • Seat Pumping: Traveling mamas say there is so much white noise on the plane you can barely hear the pump. While it’s absolutely your right to pump whenever you want to, some moms like to let the person next to them know they intend to pump at some point during the flight.

  • Restroom Pumping: If you’d prefer to pump in the airplane restroom, the line tends to be the shortest during beverage/meal service or during a movie. Worrying about being disturbed may impair letdown, so it’s not a bad idea to give the flight attendant a heads up to ensure greater privacy. Avoid using the water in the airplane restroom for cleaning your pump. Sanitization wipes are safer.

  • Airport Pumping: You can avoid pumping on some flights if you pump in the car before entering the airport, in the airport restroom or nursing room just before boarding, and in a quiet section of baggage claim after landing. If the airport doesn’t have a specific area for nursing or pumping, you can often get some alone time at an empty gate. Just remember to wear a hands-free pumping and nursing bra or tank to make it easier.

  • Storing: If you’re pumping on a longer flight, you can ask the flight attendant for a cup of ice to put your milk bag into. You can also pack a small cooler with freezer bags. Some moms have asked to use a fridge onboard the plane for their milk, but don’t count on that. Consider bringing a cooler if you’ll be spending extended time in airports catching connecting flights. Travel back home with your pumped milk frozen in a cooler, where it will be safe for up to 24 hours. The TSA allows ice packs, freezer packs, and up to five pounds of properly vented dry ice. 

Packing and Storing Breast Milk While Traveling

breast milk storage

  • Containers: Expressed milk should be stored in clean, tightly sealed, see-through containers, like bottles, glass containers, and milk storage bags. Since transferring from pumping bottles to bags or other containers may be tricky while traveling, you might want to bring extra bottles.

  • Storing: Expressed milk can be safely stored at room temperature for up to six-to-eight hours prior to refrigeration. Breast milk can remain fresh with frozen ice packs in a cooler bag for up to 24 hours as well. For tips on using dry ice in a cooler, check out this blog. If you’re staying at a hotel, book a room with a mini-fridge/freezer, which can keep your milk cool for up to a week. Not all mini-fridges are the right temperature, though, so make sure the one you have is cold enough to safely store your milk. For more breast milk storage guidelines, read our blog.

  • Cleaning: If your hotel room happens to have a microwave, disinfecting bags work well for cleaning pump parts and bottles. If not, you can scrub the pump parts as you normally would; make sure to pack a travel-size container of dish soap and a brush. Another helpful tip, especially when you don’t have a full-size sink, is to throw all the pumping parts into a Ziploc bag and store it in the fridge or your cooler after each pumping session. This prevents bacterial growth without having to wash your parts after every session. Wash and sanitize the parts once at the end of the day.

  • Shipping: Rather than carrying and storing breast milk with you at all times, you may find it more convenient (albeit much more expensive) to ship fresh or frozen milk home to your baby. You can ship it overnight in a cooler with ice packs or dry ice via UPS or FedEx. Check out this video tutorial or these detailed instructions on packing breast milk with dry ice for shipping. We recommend using companies that specialize in breast milk transport, such as Milk Stork. If it’s within your budget, you may value the peace of mind you get from knowing experienced professionals are shipping your milk.

Maintaining Milk Supply and Preventing Engorgement While Traveling Without Your Baby

Pumping while away from baby

  • Supply: If you’re not traveling with your baby, pumping or expressing your milk will help protect and maintain your supply. While tossing your liquid gold can feel wrong, if your baby has enough milk at home and handling the storage of your pumped milk feels too demanding, you might consider “pumping and dumping.”

  • Lodging: Look for hotels that offer amenities such as a mini-fridge/freezer and microwave. You can keep your ice packs solid, any pumped milk cold, and pump parts sterilized in a microwave disinfecting bag.

  • Frequency: According to IBCLC Shantel Harlin, “To maintain and protect your milk supply while separated from your baby, pump every two-to-three hours during the day with a four-to-five hour stretch at night.” If your baby is older than six months and your supply is well established, pumping on his or her regular feeding schedule should not harm your supply. If you feel your supply is decreasing, add in an extra pump or two. A week-long separation or less where a mother pumps at the recommended intervals poses no major threat to the mother and child’s breastfeeding relationship.

  • Engorgement: Pumping is generally less efficient at removing milk from the breast than nursing. Frequent pumping is one of the best ways to avoid engorgement. Hands-on pumping can also help increase milk output and pumping efficiency. If your hotel has a microwave, a heated neck wrap may improve letdown and get your milk flowing. Massage any lumps that form to release a mild plugged duct. It may take several pumps to get rid of it.

traveling with your baby

Traveling while breastfeeding poses unique challenges, but it’s nothing you can’t handle with a bit of preparation. If you’re bringing your baby with you, know that in spite of some complexities, trips with your little one can make lasting memories you’ll cherish for years to come. For more tips, including intel on airports and hotels, reach out to mom friends or ask the wonderful mamas who follow our Facebook page or are in our Facebook group, KindredMamas. Also be sure to check out KB Moms Travel Tips.