Pumping While Traveling: A Preparation & How-To Guide

Last Updated On: 

January 7, 2019

Pumping can be a hassle no matter where you’re doing it, but when it’s on a flight, in an airport, or in a moving vehicle? Those are some serious challenges for pumping moms, whether it’s their first trip or their tenth.

Whether or not you’re bringing your baby along with you for the adventure, there are a few things you need to know about pumping during your travels.

Beyond the basics of knowing how to use your pump and maximize your output, there’s a lot more to remember to make this as much of a success as possible.

So, here’s everything you need to know about pumping while traveling, plus a how-to guide to get you started with as little stress as possible.

Can I Pump While Traveling?

While it might seem challenging, it’s totally possible for moms to pump while traveling.

Also, if you’re worried about not having the right to do so, don’t be! There are laws which govern moms’ rights to express milk for their babies no matter where they happen to be.

Here’s more on the ins and outs of what’s allowed when it comes to pumping while traveling.

What Does the Law Say About Where Moms Can Pump?

In general, breastfeeding laws state it’s okay for nursing moms to feed their babies in any public place and any private place the mom is allowed to be at the time. So, for example, this means a nursing mom can feed her baby while she’s dining at a restaurant because she’s a patron of the restaurant.

Of course, the law won’t stop critics of breastfeeding or other patrons in a store from complaining or harassing a nursing mom. Nonetheless, it’s good to know what your rights are so you can stand your ground if this type of problem arises.

However, when it comes to pumping, there are no state or federal laws in place. And while it’s disappointing to realize there are no legal protections for moms who need to pump, expressing milk is a necessity for nursing moms – something just as important as moms who directly feed their babies.

For this reason, we suggest lactating moms be discreet about pumping in public (solely for your own convenience and privacy), but also stand up for their rights should they be called into question.

After all, you’re providing food for your baby, and if it makes other people uncomfortable, it’s not your problem to cater to their insecurities. At the same time, it does pay to be courteous of others while expressing milk during your travels, particularly if you’re in close quarters with them while you’re pumping.

Places Traveling Moms May Need to Pump

Wherever you’re traveling to, if you’re hopping on a plane to get to your destination, you’ll face some unique challenges when it comes to pumping.

Here’s a list of some of the most common places lactating moms will need to pump while on a trip, as well as some useful tips for how to deal with things when you’re there.

A) Pumping at the Airport

As the world is becoming both more accepting of and friendlier toward nursing moms who have to do what they have to do outside the house, special nursing stations have popped up all over the place.

From nursing “pods” in international airports to designated lactation rooms at others, there’s usually no shortage of pumping spots to make use of when you’re traveling via plane.

Before you leave for your trip—and ideally before you buy any tickets—it’s a smart idea to check out what amenities the airports you’re utilizing offer.

If you and your baby are traveling together, a nursing pod might be ideal—but you also need to know if there are outlets available in case you need to use an electric pump while you’re there.

You’ll also need to be smart about things and plan for every scenario to avoid any unwanted surprises that throw you off your game, including needing to pump in a less-than-private area.

B) Pumping on the Plane

Depending on the type of pump you have, you may be able to pump discreetly while in your seat on the plane. And while each mom may feel differently about pumping while rubbing elbows with her seatmates, there are ways to make it easier!

For example, you could have all your pump parts pre-assembled in your breast pump bag. This way, you don’t risk dropping a piece under the seat in front of you or having to explain to your seatmates what it is you’re doing.

You could also use a pump that’s quieter in small spaces, or even a hand-pump for a practically noise-free experience. These days, some pumps are small enough to fit in your purse or even in your hand pretty comfortably, reducing the need for a lot of extra space to get the job done.

Still, most moms won’t be comfortable with pumping in the middle seat of the row, especially if they don’t know their neighbors. It’s one thing to do this next to friends or family members who happen to be traveling along with you, but with total strangers next to you? That’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Another option is to ask a flight attendant if there’s another space you can use at the rear of the plane.

After all, there are areas out of public view where flight attendants can sit down or take a break. Depending on the attitude of the staff you’re dealing with, you may find using this area is the best-case scenario concerning pumping on the plane.

And finally, pumping in the bathroom is never recommended, but it is a last-ditch option if you don’t feel comfortable or aren’t given accommodations elsewhere.

However, keep in mind that this isn’t a great solution if it takes you a long time to pump, as airplane restrooms are typically busy and you’re bound to get rushed. Also, if you plan to store your milk, we would be concerned about overall cleanliness, too!

C) Pumping at a Hotel

Most of the time, when you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll at least have a few working outlets and hopefully a miniature fridge to store milk in.

But what if your trip doesn’t involve an overnight stay? In this case, it helps to know the location you’re heading to for meetings or other business.

If you are attending a conference at a hotel, for example, you can ask the front desk for a space to pump. Larger hotels may have their own lactation rooms, but even smaller hotels often have an empty space to loan out for half an hour or so.

The up-side to pumping in an empty hotel room is you also have access to a sink to clean your pump parts afterward. In most cases, there are even microwaves, so you can also steam clean your parts if you have the right equipment to do so.

Safety Tips for Pumping While Traveling

While it’s generally alright to pump milk while traveling, there are some instances when it’s not exactly safe.

Here are our tips for staying safe and productive while traveling and pumping.

Only Pump Mid-Flight

If you’re flying on a plane, it’s not a great idea to start pumping either during takeoff or during landing.

If you have your equipment set up—including a wearable pump or another hands-free type—it might be helpful to keep it “on.” But, you shouldn’t be actively pumping when the seat belt sign is on.

After all, you could sustain breast damage if there’s turbulence jostling you and your pump around.

Pump While Driving the Right Way

If your destination is closer and you’ll be driving for travel, you can still pump on the go!

All you need is a hands-free pump setup—whether it’s a regular double electric pump with a pumping bra or a hands-free in-bra variety—and a nursing cover if you prefer one.

You can get your pump all set up (but not turn it on) during your pre-trip prep, and then once you’ve started the car, turn the pump on. If everything is comfortable and working correctly, then you can drive.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that your main focus is the road, so if pumping becomes uncomfortable or a part comes loose, you’ll need to stop and pull over to check things out safely.

Don’t Pump Too Long

While it’s understandable not to want to mess with your pump setup while you’re mid-flight or mid-drive, pumping for extended periods (or just longer than usual) can cause damage to your breast tissue.

It can also negatively impact your supply, or even cause blisters or other problems you surely don’t need while on a trip!

Pumping While Traveling Best Practices

Although continuing to produce milk while away from your baby is your top priority, there are a few other things you should consider, too.

For example, being courteous to your seat mates while on a flight or speaking respectfully to the staff at a hotel while attending a conference can make all the difference between a successful pumping session and an awkward or nonexistent one.

Here are some best-practices tips to keep in mind.

Be Courteous of Neighbors

When you’re trying to manage a bulky pump and milk cooler while in your plane seat, you might get looks from the people sharing your aisle.

Ideally, you’ll feel comfortable enough explaining you need to pump, but regardless, you should try to keep your belongings out of your neighbor’s space and be as quiet as possible.

Don’t Expect Special Treatment

It’s a great idea to ask flight attendants, hotel receptionists, and any other staff for assistance when trying to find a place to pump – but keep in mind these folks don’t owe you anything, so you shouldn’t expect special treatment.

Keeping a positive attitude and a polite tone can go a long way in getting the assistance you need, so always try to ask nicely whether you need a place to pump or some extra ice for your milk cooler.

Time Things Right

Hopefully, you already know you need to pump regularly to help maintain your milk supply. Of course, when you’re traveling, it can be tough to keep to a set schedule.

Wherever you’re traveling and however you plan to get there, giving yourself extra time for every leg of the journey can help ensure you won’t run out of time to express milk.

Also, adding in shorter but more frequent pumping sessions can do wonders for your milk supply, even if you’re flying across the country. Then, when you reach your destination, make sure to schedule a regular pumping session to get back on track.

Have a Backup Plan

If you don’t have access to a power outlet for your electric pump, you won’t be able to make any milk—unless you have the time, space, and know-how to hand-express.

Regardless, you should always have a backup plan to express milk, whether it’s a manual pump, a single-electric, or a smaller, portable one.

A backup gives you peace of mind, but it also means you can still get the milk out in a pinch.

Expressing & Storing Milk While Traveling

Even if you’re familiar with pumping at work and transporting milk home, going on a national or even international flight is a bit different.

Whether it’s a work trip or a vacation destination, you will need to plan and make sure you’re covered for making and storing your breastmilk.

A) Preparing to Store Milk During Travel

Clearly, you’ll need a way to store your milk and also a way to keep it fresh while you’re on the road (or in the air).

Here are a few tips for ensuring your milk stays fresh and safe during your travels.

Pack Plenty of Milk Storage Containers

Whether you decide to use bottles or bags, make sure you have plenty of milk storage containers available during your trip.

With bottles, these often take up more space and also can’t be as full as bags because the milk expands when frozen.

With bags, you should pack more than you think you’ll need just in case of product failure. One torn bag could throw off your entire milk storage plan, so pack at least a few spares to stay on the safe side.

Check Out Hotel Amenities

Before you plan a trip anywhere, make sure you can get the amenities you need to safely and securely store milk.

At a minimum, access to ice is a necessity. But if your trip will last longer than overnight, you will probably want a refrigerator, too.

Which brings us to the next point!

Make Special Requests

Before you arrive at your destination, see if you can make special requests.

Even if your hotel is a smaller one without a concierge who can hand-deliver ice, you may still be able to trade rooms to secure one with a mini fridge.

You may also find the staff is more helpful if they’re aware of your needs ahead of time rather than at check-in.

Pack Dry Ice

Dry ice is amazing for keeping expressed milk cold during your travels, as it can keep the liquid either frozen or chilled for up to 48 hours.

Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide, which is super cold and doesn’t melt.

As long as you handle it safely—and don’t let it touch your bare skin—it can help make your travels go much more smoothly!

Find a Fresh Ice Source

If you don’t want to deal with dry ice or can’t find any for your trip, figuring out where to get fresh ice can be a doable solution.

In restaurants, at the airport, and even on a plane, you can always request ice from the serving staff. Similarly, even hotels without accessible ice for guests will often provide ice if you ask nicely.

Packaging Milk for Food Safety

Although most nursing moms sometimes have to “wing it” when it comes to milk storage, the idea here is not to have to take any chances!

To keep your milk fresh and safe, you should store it individually in small amounts, such as in bags or bottles. Then, you should place the milk in a cooler and pack ice around it.

With dry ice, you’ll need to use a cooler which allows the vapor to escape—dry ice doesn’t melt, it evaporates into the air. A foam cooler is ideal for this purpose, but you can use any cooler with standard ice.

Keeping your cooler closed as much as possible will help preserve the milk until you reach your destination, or until you can replenish the ice.

B) Bringing Pumped Milk Home Via Airplane

If you’re on a trip via airplane and need to bring expressed milk home, there may be a few extra steps involved in your airport check-in.

Here’s what you need to know about bringing pumped milk on a plane.

Checking Milk with Your Luggage

When you check a bag, it goes into the plane’s cargo hold and isn’t subject to the same rules as your carry-on items.

Of course, bags are still checked as they’re processed for loading, but in general, breastmilk is an acceptable item in your checked bags.

The key to packing your milk in a checked bag is making sure it’s adequately packaged to prevent leaks. If possible, try to pack towels or clothing around the bags or bottles to keep them from jostling around during transport.

Carrying Milk on the Plane

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), formula, breast milk, and juice are permitted in “reasonable quantities” through the security checkpoint.

While you may not want to, and may have a hard time bringing hundreds of ounces of milk on the plane with you, a few days’ worth isn’t typically a problem.

Pumped breast milk does not have to follow the TSA guidelines for other carry-on liquids, so you can have more than 3.4 ounces per container.

Most liquids are screened via X-ray before you get on your flight, but some locations may require you to open a container so they can test the contents further.

For this reason, you should plan for extra time with TSA when carrying on breast milk. Also, you can tell the TSA agents if you do not want the stored milk to be opened. But if you do so, they will need to take “additional steps” to verify your liquids are safe. The process can involve additional screening procedures, including a pat-down for both you and your child if they’re traveling with you.

However, you do not have to have your infant or toddler with you to be able to transport breastmilk. According to the TSA’s website, you just have to make sure the milk container is separate from your other luggage so TSA agents can investigate it.

If you have dry ice in your cooler or milk storage back, be sure to tell TSA agents immediately so they can perform whatever screening and tests necessary to ensure your belongings are not a threat. Of course, with frozen milk, there is often less testing as a visual inspection tends to suffice.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to each TSA agent’s discretion whether items are allowed to pass the security check or not. Being patient and well-prepared can definitely help ease frustrations, however, and gives you the best odds of returning home with your entire milk supply in hand.

C) Sending Pumped Milk Home Via Postal Service

While sending milk via the postal service is often a necessity, it’s not our first pick for getting pumped milk back home to your baby. However, sometimes you find you’re left with no other choice, so there’s not much you could do about it.

The good news is that plenty of parents have milk delivered for their babies from milk donors across the country all the time, so it definitely is doable.

You have the option to either package and preserve the milk yourself (dry ice is the most logical and lightweight option here) or use a service to handle it for you. FedEx, for example, offers cold shipping boxes for nursing moms to use for their milk.

Cold packs activate with the press of a button and then you put the milk in the box and schedule pickup. FedEx’s packages maintain a steady temperature for up to 96 hours to ensure the milk is appropriately cool upon arrival.

With the United States Postal Service (USPS), you can also ship your own package with dry ice to keep your milk cool. However, the USPS does not allow you to ship dry ice internationally, and there are limits to how much you can send per package.

How to Pump While Traveling

At this point, you may have been pumping for some time already and know how to assemble and use all the parts.

You might not realize, however, that pumping and cleaning all your pump parts might be a little different while away from home.

Here’s our guide on pumping, cleaning all the parts, and more when it comes to pumping while traveling.

Packing for a Trip

When preparing for your upcoming trip with a breast pump (and potentially your nursing baby as well), it pays to think ahead.

Depending on how far you’re traveling and how long you’ll be away, you will need at least a couple of sets of pumping parts, which vary depending on what type of machine you’re working with.

But you’ll also need other items you may not always use at home. Here are the basic items you will want to bring along for use during your trip:

  • A drying mat, towels, or burp rags – for laying pump parts out to dry
  • A way to clean your pump parts (soap and a bottle brush)
  • Steam sterilizer bags for the microwave
  • Gallon-size Ziploc bags for storing frozen or fresh bags of milk
  • Pump sanitizing wipes (single-use towelettes for cleaning pump parts in a pinch)
  • A manual pump if you use an electric one regularly
  • Lubricant for use while pumping (food-grade olive oil, coconut oil, or lanolin, for example)
  • A nursing cover
  • Newspaper, paper towels, or packing material to insulate and protect bags or bottles of milk

Cleaning Pump Parts on the Go

Although the best way to wash pump parts and bottles is to use mild dish soap and a baby bottle brush or scrubber, you may not always have access to a sink while traveling.

For this reason, carrying a set of spare parts is a great idea.

If you don’t want to do that, though, here are a few other solutions to washing and drying the pieces every time you pump.

Store the Parts in the Fridge or Freezer

If you can’t wash the parts right away but have access to a fridge or freezer (or even your chilled milk-storage bag), bagging your pump’s flanges and valves can help keep them fresh in between pumping sessions.

Since the milk residue inside the valves is refrigerated, it won’t go rancid and therefore can’t taint the milk next time you pump.

Of course, this solution will only work for a pumping session or two; ultimately, you’ll still need to wash the parts at some point!

Use Super-Hot Water to Rinse

Because breastmilk has antibacterial properties, the concern with washing your pump parts is more about contaminants getting in there rather than the milk harboring bacteria.

So in a pinch, you can use hot or boiling water to clean your pump parts even if soap isn’t available. It’s not ideal, but it will flush out any milk stuck in the valves, at least until you can give the pump a proper cleaning.

Microwave Sanitizing

Many moms have steam sterilizers at home on the countertop, but there are some varieties which work in microwaves.

Still, packing a bulky microwave steam sterilizer in your luggage isn’t a smart thing to do. An alternative is microwave bags for sterilizing, most of which last for a handful of uses before you dispose of them.

The bags store flat and only require a few ounces of water before you can drop your pump parts (and bottles) in to sterilize them.

Just be sure to check the watts on the microwave in your hotel or conference room before using the bags—the timing to sterilize depends on how many watts your machine is.

Pump Wipes

Many companies, such as Medela, now offer single-use sanitizing wipes for pump parts.

These cloths contain food-grade ingredients and the contents are safe if ingested.

And while you will still want to wash the parts eventually, the wipes can help prevent bacterial growth and other nastiness while you’re traveling.

Pump Problems During Travel

Although every nursing mom hopes her pump will be the workhorse she needs it to be during this crucial time, it doesn’t always meet her expectations!

Here are some common pump problems moms can face during travel, as well as ways to deal with these issues.

Incompatible Power Adapters

If you’re traveling internationally, you may find your pump won’t work with the outlets in your temporary home.

Fortunately, you can do your research in advance of your trip and find out what type of electrical outlet you’ll need an adapter for.

You may also want to bring a backup manual pump or one with a rechargeable battery.

Dry Ice Becomes Damaging

Although dry ice can be a lifesaver for many, it can also cause problems with your milk storage components. If dry ice directly touches your milk bags or bottles, it can cause the plastic to become brittle and break.

The solution to this problem is simple, though: use towels, newspaper, or another suitable material to create a barrier between your milk storage container and the dry ice.

You may also want to double up layers when storing the milk, in case there’s a failure due to dry ice or any other reason.

Using gallon-size zipper bags can help, as these will contain the milk so you can potentially salvage some if it does leak.

Consider an Alternative Pump

These days, there are all kinds of different pumps available to nursing moms. And while insurance covers some, others must be financed by nursing moms themselves.

For many moms, especially those who exclusively pump, using a hospital-grade model is a necessity to ensure an adequate milk supply.

But if you know you’re coming up on an extremely long flight in coach with two seatmates, you may want to consider a more discreet breast pump for your travels. Then, you can check or carry-on your larger pump for use at your destination.

Pumps like Freemies and other self-contained models are more discreet as they go underneath your shirt, and you can even place them in the airport restroom before boarding your flight (but obviously, after security!).

Or, you can excuse yourself to the airplane toilet to place your pump.

Wrapping it Up

Although traveling while expressing breastmilk can be challenging, it’s certainly not impossible—especially when you’re well-prepared and have done your homework beforehand.

Whatever you decide to do—whether that’s pumping in the air, on the ground, or on the go, or to ship your milk or carry it on—knowing you have the power to provide your baby with the best nutrition possible no matter where you are at the time is an amazing feeling.

And, fortunately, it’s not that complicated after all!

From knowing how to properly store your expressed milk to recognizing the challenges of getting through airport security with a cooler full of it, we have you covered when it comes to navigating the experience with confidence!

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