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How to Navigate Air Travel When You’re Breastfeeding

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Photo: Yaoinlove (Shutterstock)

Flying with an infant is never a low-stress process, but Netflix star Emily Calandrelli’s recent condemnation of the way Transportation Security Administration agents handled the pumping essentials in her carry-on bag this week has drawn major attention to the issues nursing mothers face while traveling.

In a Twitter thread, Calandrelli, who was traveling without her child and had planned to pump milk in the airport, detailed her accusation that male TSA agents incorrectly told her she couldn’t bring partially-frozen or thawed ice packs through the security checkpoint. One reportedly even demanded to know where her baby was.

TSA regulations around what breastfeeding accessories are allowed through security are just one point of confusion for traveling parents, so here is what you need to know if you’re breastfeeding and flying, with or without your baby, so you can be an advocate for yourself.

What breastfeeding necessities does TSA allow in your carry-on items?

Per the TSA’s website, breastmilk is “allowed in reasonable quantities in carry-on bags,” and the same goes for formula and juice. “Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings,” the TSA notes. “You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk.” (Notably, while the confrontation Calandrelli described took place because of two semi-thawed ice packs in her baggage, she said one agent advised “it wouldn’t [have been] an issue” if her son had been with her.)

The TSA website does add a key caveat: “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”

What other items are allowed—at least, until any given TSA officer decides they’re not? Pumps and bottles are allowed, though any bottles with liquid in them should be removed from the bag. The TSA site also has a page dedicated to gel ice packs, which are essential for breastfeeding parents while traveling—and are central to Calandrelli’s story.

Frozen liquid items are perfectly fine at the checkpoint as long as they are frozen solid during screening—but that only applies to gel ice packs that are not “medically necessary,” which are, per the TSA, allowed “in reasonable quantities” no matter their physical state. The agency requests you notify the officers at the checkpoint so they can inspect the packs. If you’re concerned about your cold packs thawing before you get through security, consider packing empty baggies in your carry-on and asking for ice at one of the restaurants or newsstands you encounter before you get to your gate.

When heading through the checkpoint, remove your cooler, any milk you’ve packed, your pump, and your cold packs out of your bag so they can go down the conveyor belt on their own. TSA agents may want to test your milk if it’s not frozen, but you can ask them to use an alternate screening procedures, or at least wear fresh gloves.

Can you breastfeed on a plane?

If your baby is with you, you may wonder if you can breastfeed on the airplane itself. The answer is yes: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even recommends you nurse during takeoff or landing, if possible, to protect the baby from ear pain due to cabin pressure changes. Otherwise, you are permitted to feed your baby on demand.

Most airlines explicitly allow you to breastfeed while in your seat, though others do not have a specific policy. For instance, Delta’s website notes the company, “fully supports a woman’s right to breastfeed on board Delta and Delta Connection aircraft and in Delta facilities.” Delta also notes that many airports offer private lactation rooms or spaces, so you can pump or nurse even before you board.

In the event you have frozen milk and a bottle with you and can’t (or don’t want to) nurse on the plane, ask a flight attendant for a cup of hot water to help you thaw it out.

What about pumping while onboard?

Most airports have special rooms or spaces set aside for breastfeeding parents to pump or nurse, but you are also generally permitted to pump on the plane while in your seat or in the lavatory. Consider letting a flight attendant know what you’re up to if you plan to spend a while in the bathroom. They’re trained to handle all kinds of things and may be able to offer you additional privacy or, at least, will be less likely to start banging on the door when you fail to reappear promptly.

Know your rights, and keep receipts

Print out (or keep a screenshot of) the TSA’s rules for breast milk, pump, and cold pack allowances in carry-on luggage, as well as the breastfeeding policies of any airlines you’ll be traveling with.

Feeding your baby where and when you need to is your right, even when you’re traveling. If anyone makes it an issue, whip out those policies—but just make sure you’re following them to the letter.




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