Airport Security & Breast Milk

Four years ago, midway through 2016, I had the pleasure of going on a business trip. Of course I knew the rule of liquids being no larger than 3 ounces and they must be in a clear container. I think everyone knows this rule by now. It’s been in effect for a long time. The question for flying momma’s that breastfeed is, how does this rule play an effect on pump equipment and breast milk? Does the ounce amount change? What about keeping the milk cold?

How to get breast milk through airport security

My baby still nursed and I pumped at work. She was 15 months old and going strong without any indication that we would stop our amazing journey any time soon. I was ok with that. In fact, I absolutely loved this aspect of being a mother and the close bond it has built between us. I needed her as much as she needed me.

Pumping, on the other hand, was not fun. It was also not very fun when traveling. Let me just say, it really sucked. I had a love-hate relationship with my pump. I still do, when I need it. I’m a work at home mamma now and mainly use my Hakaa pump for overflow.

Well, when on the road, a mamma has to first find a place to pump the milk. Then that mamma has to keep the milk cold ALL DAY LONG. If mamma is flying, that milk has to get through security in order to get on the plane. I wasn’t about to put my pump or the milk in a checked bag. I view it as medical equipment. It’s sensitive equipment I NEEDED so I was not about take the chance that the airline baggage department would misplace my bag or potentially break my equipment due to rough handling. What on earth would I do then! Hand expressing the milk took me twice as long and wasn’t nearly as effective for me so it was not an exaggeration when I said I NEEDED my pump.

La Leche League Milk Storage

In preparation for the trip, I did some research on TSA’s (Transportation Security Administration) website regarding transporting liquids. It looks like the actual ounce limit is 3.4 ounces. Just enough for an extra day of shampoo, maybe?

Anyway, they have an exceptions section related to traveling with children and their dietary needs.

What is allowed?

  • Size – Unlimited. They ask that it is separated from the other items that are limited in size.
  • Liquids Allowed
    • formula
    • breast milk
    • juice
    • jarred baby foods
    • gel or liquid teethers
    • ice packs
    • gel packs
    • freezer packs

Potential Extra Screening

Since you’re carrying liquids, TSA may do some additional screenings on your items. These screenings may include:

  • X-ray
  • Possible opening of the container
    • Be sure to say something if you don’t want the container to be opened! They will take different steps to screen the item.
  • Transferring the liquid to a separate empty container
  • Dispose of a small quantity of the liquid, if feasible
  • More arduous screening of other carry-on property
  • Pat-Down

X-ray Screening

The Food and Drug Administration states that there are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages and using medicine screened by X-ray.

TSA Proceedures – Traveling with Children

The main thing to remember here is that their job is to keep us and the other travelers safe. That means they may subject us to some additional screening. I can attest to it. An agent did a full screening of my other property and a pat-down on me when I went through security for my return flight.

After my bag went through the x-ray machine, I saw the agent looking at the screen pull my bin to the side. I knew exactly what the cause was. I had 14 ounces of breast milk and a feeezer pack in the cooler pocket of my pump. It was separated out into a 5oz, 2-4oz and 3oz packages. All were clearly labeled and the pouches were see through.

I told the agent that came to review my bag that the liquids were breast milk. She said, “Ok. Will anything in the bag harm me?” I’m thinking, I just told you it was breast milk, no, nothing will harm you because I feed this to my baby. I just told her “No.” She’s just trying to do her job and keep herself safe. It’s probably procedure to ask.

She proceeded to take the milk bags out and one at a time she put them in this little machine. Not once did she explain what she was doing with the bags. I was in front of her and couldn’t see what she was doing so I moved to the other side of the counter. She got a worried look on her face but I was more concerned that she’d open the bags and contaminate my baby’s milk. If you breastfeed and pump you know how precious that stuff is!

Anyway, after going through each bag she showed me one. She said, “This one is making the machine go off. I’m going to have to pat you down.” My thoughts on the subject: What the hell would make her machine go off? Are you serious!? I’m wearing tight fitting clothing. What could I possibly hide in my skinny jeans that are falling off me without the belt that is in the bin, the tight under shirt, super soft flowing over shirt that shows all my little rolls and tiny flat shoes that show the outline of my foot?

After pat-down
After my pat-down.

I did ask her the first question. To which she just said she didn’t know. She asked if I wanted a private room, which I declined. I think that would look worse. Being carted off to some private room. At least those watching will know I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m not carrying anything that will hurt them. Sheesh. No. Just pat me down here and let me go.

Pat down commenced….

I was a little annoyed but overall I found the whole thing pretty funny.  That could have something to do with the fact that I had half a VERY strong margarita at dinner. Or it could be that my travel partner in crime was making all kinds of crazy faces and comments at me since she’d had 1 and a half of those VERY strong margaritas.

Either way, the pat down ended, I put my belt and shoes back on and we headed to our terminal and gate. I found a family bathroom to do one more session before our flight left, then we were homeward bound.

Have you had to travel and pump? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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