Can I fly with my expressed breast milk? Robyn Roche-Paull, BSN, RNC-MNN, IBCLC tells you what the rules allow.
In 2016, a California mother, Jessica Coakley Martinez, was made to dump out 500 ounces of breast milk at Heathrow Airport in London on her way home from a business trip. 500 ounces of hard-earned breast milk, expressed in closets, bathrooms, taxis, and conference rooms across four countries, for her baby who was at home. This wasn’t the first time a breastfeeding mother had been forced to dump her milk at the airport, specifically Heathrow Airport. Actress Alyssa Milano also had breast milk confiscated when she was flying back home to her infant.
Why does this happen and what can you do to prevent the same horrible fate from happening to you?
In Jessica’s case, in her carry-on hand luggage, she had a mixture of frozen and fresh breast milk (some of it freshly expressed at that airport). She declared it to the UK Civil Aviation Authority security personnel, who told her that she could not carry the milk on board since she did not have the baby with her. Never mind that the sole reason she had all that breast milk was because her baby was not with her: that is a discussion for another day … She was willing to dump out the liquid breast milk (200 ounces) and asked if she could then carry the rest, which was frozen, on board. That too was denied because of the possibility that the frozen milk might thaw. Jessica then asked if she could check her milk into the hold, which request was again denied, since the milk had been confiscated for being non compliant. And with that, 500 ounces of breast milk was dumped in the trash.
As heart breaking and unfair as this seems, there are rules regarding flying with breast milk, and they do vary from country to country. Within the United States the Transport Security Authority (TSA) has ruled that parents flying without their children from the U.S. may carry breast milk in hand luggage as long as it is declared to security. There is no maximum quantity allowed (the 3-1-1 rule does not apply). Make sure that you:
- declare your breast milk to the security personnel,
- separate the breast milk from other liquids, and
- be prepared to have it x-rayed.
You can decline the x-ray process, but be aware that you may be asked to open the containers, transfer the breast milk to another container, or dispose of a small quantity for testing purposes. Your breast pump may be swabbed and you may have to undergo a pat-down. You can read the details here.
Within the European Union, passengers traveling with children are allowed to bring through a ‘reasonable’ amount of breast milk and baby food beyond the normal 100ml liquid allowance. Passengers traveling without children must follow the restriction limits, of no more than 100ml in a clear container, without exception. Any amount over 100ml must be checked through as baggage and placed in the hold of the aircraft. You can read more here. A check of various other countries and airlines (Japan, Australia, Brazil, UAE) finds that the restrictions mirror those of the European Union with a limit of 100ml of any liquid, including breast milk, when the child is NOT flying with you.
Are the restrictions on flying with breast milk a reflection of the maternity leave policies of the vast majority of countries where it is commonplace to not need to fly with expressed breast milk?
Perhaps. In the United States with a lack of maternity leave, women often return to work when they have very young babies. Such a mother might need to fly without her baby but with large amounts of expressed breast milk. Until the rest of the world realizes that there are many mothers out there who must, for whatever reason, go back to work with young babies left at home, and who need to pump breast milk and fly without the baby, your best bet is to check in any and all breast milk as baggage in the hold of the aircraft (find a step-by-step guide to packaging your milk here). Also keep a copy of your country’s or airline’s rules regarding traveling with breast milk in your carry-on luggage and be prepared to explain your rights. But also be aware that, in the end, security comes first and you may have to dump your milk.
While there have been a few extreme cases of mothers being made to dump breast milk when flying solo, the vast majority of women traveling with breast milk encounter no issues. In most cases, traveling with breast milk poses no problems as long as you are prepared. So plan ahead for all outcomes and you and your breast milk will in most cases make it home safe and sound!
Robyn Roche-Paull, BSN, RNC-MNN, IBCLC, is the award-winning author of the book, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots: A Survival Guide to Successful Breastfeeding While Serving in the Military and the Executive Director of the non-profit, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.