If you’re breastfeeding and have to travel without your baby, you’ll need to pump to keep up your supply. Here’s how to express on the move and transport your expressed milk safely.
Whether for business or pleasure, there may be times when you need to travel away from home as a breastfeeding mum. It might be a work trip, a wedding, or a night away with friends.
But being away from your baby doesn’t mean he has to stop having your breast milk. With the right information and equipment, you can express on the go to maintain your milk supply, store breast milk while travelling, and transport milk home for your baby.
Planning for travelling and pumping
If you’re travelling by rail or road, consider whether you can express on the move or need to plan stops. Train carriages often have electrical sockets but no private space, and roadway services may have a private room but not always sockets. Many electric breast pumps can also be battery-operated – just make sure you carry enough batteries! Some pumps have a built-in rechargeable battery, which makes them even easier to transport, as you can simply plug in to charge when required.
“I used to travel regularly for work, so I expressed milk in many different places,” says Karen, mum of one, Netherlands. “I always informed the organisation I was visiting in advance, telling them that I needed a few breaks per day, and a private place to sit. I had a good breast pump with a battery, so I could express anywhere.”
“When my girls were babies I worked largely from home but often had to travel by train to meetings several hours away,” remembers Hazel, mum of two, UK. “At home I used a Medela Swing Maxi double electric pump after breastfeeding, to build up a supply of expressed milk so my partner could do the feeds when I wasn’t there.”
Yolande, mum of three, Kenya, says: “I attended a three-day conference overseas, away from my breastfed nine-month-old. I confirmed with the hotel beforehand that I would have a fridge in my room and identified where in town I could get dry ice. I pumped throughout the conference, put each milk bag in a portable cooler, and transferred them to my hotel fridge each evening.”
Air travel with a breast pump
If you’re flying, contact your airline in advance to let them know you’ll be travelling with a breast pump and/or expressed milk and ask about any rules for carrying these in your cabin bag or checked luggage – the rules for frozen milk may be different to those for liquid.
Airline staff may also be able to advise you where you can express in the airport and on the plane.
“On the morning of my flight, I packed my milk bags into a cooler with dry ice,” says Yolande, mum of three, Kenya. “At the airport I showed the check-in agent the airline’s instructions on flying with frozen breast milk. The milk travelled from New Orleans to Nairobi, via Atlanta and Amsterdam, and by the time I got home almost 30 hours later, it was still perfectly frozen.”
Essentials for expressing on the go
Having the right kit is vital for successful pumping, particularly if you’re doing it for extended periods.
A double electric breast pump enables you to express simultaneously from both breasts, saving valuable time as well as yielding 18% more milk on average than pumping from each breast in turn.1 Or you may prefer to use a single electric breast pump, a manual pump, or even express by hand.
You’ll also need to contain your milk – either in a plastic bottle or breast milk storage bag – and somewhere to keep it frozen or cold, such as a cooler bag. It’s also useful to pack a travel-sized hand sanitiser gel and a plug adaptor if travelling abroad.
“I expressed everywhere I went – in the car, on planes, in public toilets, you name it,” says Aisling, mum of one, Ireland. “I always had a stock of storage bags and an electric pump, a portable charging battery pack and a manual pump for emergencies.”
Pumping when you’re staying away from home
If you need to stay away from home, contact your accommodation in advance to book a room with a fridge or ice box, or ask to use the hotel fridge or freezer for storing milk. Pack plenty of breast milk freezer storage bags as well as a breast pump and cooler bag. Transport frozen milk home using ice packs, but if the milk thaws during the journey make sure you use it within 24 hours. Some mums even courier their milk home in dry ice, as discussed above.
Storing breast milk while travelling
Sometimes travelling mums express simply to relieve engorged breasts or keep up their milk supply. But if you want to save the milk for feeding to your baby, then you need to make sure it remains safe to drink. Store your milk in sanitised plastic bottles or breast milk storage bags and label it with the pumping date so you know how long it’s safe to use.
“While away, I used a Medela Harmony manual breast pump so I could express on the train, at the office, in restaurants, or wherever, without needing an electrical socket or batteries,” says Hazel, mum of two, UK. “Mostly I pumped just to maintain my supply and ease discomfort, but sometimes I would take a freezer pack and storage bags with me to bring the milk home.”
During the day, keep your milk in a fridge or freezer before transferring it to a cooler bag. If you’re using a shared fridge label your container clearly so no one puts your carefully collected milk in their coffee!
Transporting your breast milk
Take expressed milk home or to a childcare setting in bottles or bags, inside a cooler bag with a freezer pack. If your ice packs are defrosting then ask for a bag of crushed ice from a fast food outlet or cafe. Bear in mind that breast milk is safe at room temperature for up to four hours. In the fridge it can be kept for three days and in the freezer for up to six months.2,3
“Work were very supportive and flexible with my need to express,” says Karen, mum of one, UK. “I travel a lot in my job, and wherever I was I would just ask to use a room and store milk in their fridge. I even did this at conferences and events. I only once left a bag of breast milk in a conference centre’s fridge!”
- Prime DK et al. Simultaneous breast expression in breastfeeding women is more efficacious than sequential breast expression. Breastfeed Med. 2012;7(6):442-447.
- Eglash A, Simon L. ABM Clinical Protocol #8: Human Milk Storage Information for Home Use for Full-Term Infants, Revised 2017. Breastfeed Med 2017; 12(7):390–395.
- Human Milk Banking Association of North America. 2011 Best practice for expressing, storing and handling human milk in hospitals, homes, and child care settings. Fort Worth: HMBANA; 2011.