When traveling with breast milk, the best way to store it is in sealed containers in a small insulated cooler with ice packs. According to the CDC, breast milk stays fresh for 4 hours at room temperature 77 °Fahrenheit (25 °Celsius) or colder, four days in the refrigerator, and for 6 to 12 months frozen. Once your frozen breast milk has thawed during the trip, you need to use it within 24 hours, and you can’t refreeze it at your destination. Pre-sterilized sealable bags specifically designed for storing breast milk are highly recommended. Hard plastic or glass containers that are tightly sealed can also be used. You may want to put only a tiny amount of milk in each container, 2-4 ounce portions so you’ll have a single serving ready for your baby, and leave about an inch of room at the top of each container to allow for expansion if you’ll be freezing your milk.
Packing and traveling with your baby’s milk can seem like an overwhelming task, especially if you haven’t gotten the hang of it. Whether traveling by plane, train, or car, feeding a baby on the go takes a little preparation.
And because your little one’s food at this stage is breast milk, and you want to make sure that they have enough to take throughout the day, the question then is how do you pack it?
Following recommended storage and preparation techniques can maintain the safety and quality of expressed breast milk for the baby’s health.
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A guide to traveling with breast milk
If you’re going to take a trip while you’re pumping, you will be traveling with breast milk. Below is everything you need to consider when traveling with breast milk, whether driving or flying to your destination or traveling with frozen breast milk or fresh.
🚙 Traveling with breast milk by car
If you’re exclusively pumping, most of what you feed your baby will be the milk you pump on the trip, but it’s not a bad idea to bring a little extra in case of a spill or other mishaps. Here’s how to pack it.
1. Fresh breast milk
If you want to bring a few extra bottles of fresh breast milk, a small breast milk cooler for travel like this one will be appropriate.
Most breast milk coolers come with ice packs. Ensure the ice pack is frozen solid, and make your milk the last thing you pack and the first thing to unpack.
Opening the cooler will increase the temperature, so you don’t want to open it constantly.
2. Frozen breast milk
Make sure the cooler is as full as possible. If you don’t have enough milk, consider freezing water in plastic zip-lock bags and use to fill the cooler.
Keep the freezer closed and refrain from opening it until you get to your destination to avoid decreasing the temperature.
Dry ice is an option for longer trips and if you have a smaller, softer cooler, consider pre-chilling it before you leave.
✈️ Traveling with breast milk by plane
The good thing about flying is that most airlines consider a breast pump a medical device and therefore doesn’t count as a carry-on.
So you can plan to carry your baggage as you usually would.
1. Fresh breast milk
There’s no defined limit to how much breast milk you can carry on, but the TSA guidelines reference a reasonable amount, and the best way to pack it for carry-on is still in a breast milk cooler.
During the screening process, take your milk out while taking out your other liquids, laptop, etc.
Also, tell the screener that you’re traveling with breast milk and have a pump. The milk will likely be examined by x-ray.
If it’s a long flight or you experience delays, and you need ice to keep your milk cool, in most cases, you can get ice from the flight attendants or a restaurant inside the terminal.
2. Frozen breast milk
Checking your frozen milk is another option if you have plenty of frozen milk.
Follow the same guidelines mentioned above for packing frozen milk – pack the cooler full, resist the urge to check on it until you reach your destination and can put it away, and pre-chill it if possible.
Also, check with your airline ahead of time to ensure there are no surprises at the airport.
Breast milk storage while traveling
Breast milk storage while on the move can be confusing, especially to first-time moms.
Follow these practical tips on choosing containers, freezing and thawing breast milk, and more.
- As long as it’s not in direct sunlight or in a room warmer than 77 °Fahrenheit or 25 °Celsius, breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to four hours before it needs to be refrigerated. But if your trip is more extended, you’ll need to cool it down.
- An insulated cooler with ice packs will keep milk cool for up to 24 hours. However, research suggests that the longer you store breast milk, the greater the loss of Vitamin C in the milk.
- Fill breast milk Storage bags no more than three-quarters full, leaving room for expansion. The same applies if you are using bottles and other containers.
- Make sure to label your breast milk appropriately using waterproof labels and ink, and use up older milk first. If you’re storing breast milk at your baby’s childcare facility, add the baby’s name to the label.
- Thaw frozen breast milk by placing it in a bowl of warm water or moving it into the fridge for 24 hours.
Feeding your baby milk on the trip
In most cases, it will be easier to keep your most recent pumped breast milk out at room temperature and provide that to your baby.
Fresh milk can safely be kept at room temperature for up to 4 hours, and you won’t need to worry about warming it while traveling.
If you don’t want to use milk from your cooler or your baby prefers warm milk, you have a few options for warming it.
You can ask a restaurant for hot water in a bowl and put the bottle in it for a few minutes to warm, and you can also use a portable bottle warmer or bring a thermos with hot water and warm your milk.
Things to remember
- Never refreeze breast milk that has either been partially or fully thawed.
- The safest thing to store expressed breast milk in is a sterilized container.
- Do not add freshly expressed breast milk to previously expressed batches of milk.
- Don’t defrost or warm breast milk in a microwave. If you do, the milk may be heated unevenly, creating hotspots that could burn your baby even if the bottle doesn’t feel hot outside. Also, rapid heating can affect the milk’s antibodies.
- After warming your little ones’ milk, test its temperature before feeding the baby by dripping a few drops on the inside of your wrist.
- Everyone who feeds your baby needs to know how to pack and safely transport your baby’s milk, so share this post with all your baby’s handlers to ensure they’re in the know.
Can I store breast milk in bottles with nipples?
You should never store breast milk in bottles with nipples except when you have the cap that goes over the nipple.
Storing breast milk in bottles with nipples will create an environment for germs and bacteria. As a result, it will get worse faster, and the taste will change too.
Can you keep breast milk in a thermos?
Yes, you can keep breast milk in a stainless steel thermos, but you have to use it within the next 48 hours, although it can still be applicable within 6 hours of expressing it at room temperature.
But instead of keeping the breast milk in the thermos, you can easily store hot water, and when you want to use the breast milk, you warm it up using the hot water in the thermos.
How long is breast milk good?
Since you’re going out with breast milk, you need to know how long it should be suitable.
Breast milk is good for up to 4 hours when stored at room temperature of 77 °Fahrenheit or 25 °Celsius, or cooler. It can also take about four days in the refrigerator.
So if you pack the breast milk with an ice pack in a cooler, it should last up to 24 hours, which means it should be sufficient for your day out.
Breastfeeding and pumping from home are tricky, but they get even more complicated when you have to pack up for a day out.
If you’re planning on taking your baby, your breast pump, and a stash of breast milk on the road, more power to you.
But you’ll still have a day out in some way, and you cannot afford to have your baby ruin a good day for you because they didn’t eat enough.
We at 1happykiddo have outlined how to pack breast milk when you step out with your little one and have fun.
What other tricks do you use when you travel with breast milk? Feel free to add ideas in the comments section below.