Flying with Frozen Breast Milk
As I began to prepare the move across the country from Denver, Colorado all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania I was conflicted about what I should do with my pumped breast milk. I wrestled for some time if I would try to take it or not. In the end I decided to take it on our journey. I tried researching and looking in many places on the internet and asked a lot of moms and birth professionals if they had ever taken a large quantity of breast milk on a plane. No one in my immediate circle ever had. I found information on flying with fresh milk but very little on the transportation of frozen milk. The only helpful information I came across was a woman transporting a very large cooler of milk on Youtube. Still, this is more for an extremely large supply of milk which I don't think many people would need to do. Needless to say, the lack of information on the subject matter made me a little nervous trying to fly with it. I mean what if they said no, even though the rules state I can, and I had to find some way to give a gallon's worth of milk away right there at the airport!? What if the milk thawed out on the way and it all spoiled!? What if it got lost if I checked it!? All the worst case scenarios ran through my mind. All of them made me cringe and shutter with fear!
Tips on How to Prepare Your Milk For Flight
- There are a few ways to do this but it also depends on the quantity of milk you are transporting. In my case, I was transporting a little over 50 4oz bags (about 1 gallon or so). I know it is not a huge amount but I believe it is a nice personal emergency/doula out at birth amount. The most important tip I learned is finding a cooler that will snugly fit your milk. You really want to be able to fill every nook and cranny of your cooler you can. Your milk will keep itself cool for quite some time (10-12 hours) if you pack it in well and seal it up properly. I was fortunate to have a small easily portable cooler that fit all my breast milk perfectly!
- Next, you want to start saving up some newspaper and grocery store coupons/adds from the mail. You will need them to insulate all of your milk inside of the cooler. Once you pack in all your milk into every possible spot you need to fill in the holes and leftover empty space with all the newspaper your milk cannot fit into. Some people choose to wrap each bag but I think that may be excessive and you can risk thawing out the milk by handling it too much and having it out too long.
- Once your milk is inside and you have insulated the cooler with newspaper you want to seal it up. Use some good strong tape (like duct tape) to wrap around the lid and any other areas that my leak cool air from inside.
*Note: If you decide to use dry ice, which is much more complicated in rules, policies, and handling you must use a Styrofoam cooler and not completely seal it up because it can explode because air needs to release from inside.
The Big Day: How It All Went
After I prepared and packed my milk we left for the airport. It is important to note that you will want to prepare your milk right before you go or if possible put your cooler in the freezer until it's time to go (mine totally fit inside because it was small and my freezer was empty at that point).
As we were getting onto the shuttle to go to the airport from the car rental drop-off my cooler dropped from the baby stroller and the handle flew off! That was my first mishap of the day. The lid, did NOT fly open and spill my precious milk all over the ground because I taped that lid up like a champ! I was able to pop the handle back on and all was well.
Then was one of the big moment of checking in. I wasn't sure if I was going to check it or try and take it through security and have it with me on the plane. I was leaning more toward checking it as luggage. One of the employees at check-in convinced me to take it with me because of the varying temperatures on the bottom of the plane and the possibility of them opening it up and not taping it back up properly. Again, if you have a large quantity checking the cooler may just be your only option. I am also a true believer that Southwest Airlines is the way to go with their carry on and checked luggage policies. So to TSA we went.
TSA was the absolute late place I wanted to go with my precious liquid gold. I was really nervous going through security. Of course the item was flagged. I told them what it was and they told me they would need to open it up. From what I read it seemed like technically they should just been able to leave it alone but I didn't want to ruffle any TSA feathers and I complied. That is why you MUST bring your duct tape with you to the airport. The TSA lady opened it up and respectfully handled the milk with care and tried her best to not to mess up my system (she did mess it up but not too bad). If your milk is frozen they should not test it. That is important to remember. I sealed it back up and made it through. I was so relieved when that was all over! Now I had my milk and it was not going to leave my side.
We boarded our plane and made it to our new home: Pittsburgh. We got a rental car to get to our new place and after driving for over two hours to get through because we just happen to come into the city the night the Steelers just finished playing a game and construction/shut down a major freeway we made it. I opened my cooler and my milk MADE IT! It was still frozen 9+ hours later.
Most Important Takeaways:
- Yes, you can take your frozen milk on the plane. It just takes a little preparation
- Find a cooler that will fit your milk
- Seal that baby up real good
- Bring duct tape to the airport
- Always add a few extra hours because you never know when the Steelers will be playing the Thursday night football game.
- It's not as scary as it seems. You can do it!