For context, a breastfeeding mother traveling without her infant will need to pump while she is away from her baby, both to maintain her milk supply and to collect milk to feed her baby upon her return. Moms who exclusively pump must do the same, even if their baby is with them.
By necessity, these women will be traveling with a breast pump, expressed milk, and the gel packs necessary to keep their breast milk cold and prevent it from spoiling while they travel.
But anyone who’s flown in the US since 9/11 knows about the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. That’s the rule that restricts liquids (and gels and aerosols) in carry-on baggage to travel-sized containers of no more than 3.4 ounces or 100 mls, not to exceed a total of a single quart-sized bag per passenger.
So, what’s a breastfeeding or breast pumping mom to do?
Fortunately, TSA classifies breastmilk, and formula, as medically necessary liquids not subject to the 3-1-1 rule that other carry-on liquids are subject to. From the TSA website:
“Formula, breastmilk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 mls are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk. Breast milk and formula are considered medically necessary liquids. This also applies to breastmilk pumping equipment (regardless of presence of breast milk).”
They go on to state,
“Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice- regardless of the presence of breastmilk – are allowed in carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above.”
So far, so good. In another section under, “Gel Ice Packs,” the TSA website states:
“Note that medically necessary gel ice packs in reasonable quantities are allowed regardless of their physical state of matter (e.g., melted or slushy) with or without the presence of breast milk. Please notify the TSA officer at the checkpoint for inspection.”
In other words, breastfeeding (and pumping) moms for the win! What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, the TSA website also includes this proviso:
“The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.“
And there’s the rub.
Somehow, these same TSA rules that affirm the necessity of travel with breastmilk, formula, and the gel packs required to prevent spoilage, are subject to misinterpretation by individual agents, resulting in upsets in the TSA screening line, and worse.
To wit: Just the other day, Emily Dawn Calandrelli, host of the Netflix show, Emily’s Wonder Lab, was refused travel with her gel packs, as they were slushy and not frozen thoroughly. According to Ms. Calandrelli, two TSA agents and a supervisor all told her that if she had any pumped breastmilk with her, or if she had her baby with her, they would have allowed it, but since she had neither they would not allow her to pass through TSA with her partially frozen gel packs.
Ms. Calandrelli had no choice but to do as they said, even though they were going against their own policy. She was forced to check her gel packs and pump, and forego a planned pumping session prior to boarding.
This is not a matter of simply being inconvenienced.
Breastmilk is food for babies. Preventing a mom from keeping her milk cold—or even making her dump her milk, heaven forbid! —is taking food from a baby.
Interfering with a mom’s access to her breast pump is interfering with a baby’s food supply.
And not just in the moment. Missed pumping sessions can potentially reduce the mother’s milk supply—the baby’s food supply—over time.
It’s always mattered, but given the horrors of the current nationwide formula shortage, incidents like these take on a new significance for all mothers and babies. No, scratch that: A new significance for everyone. It’s just not right that a mother’s ability to perform such an essential act as providing food for her child should be thwarted by a misinformed TSA employee. Where is the training? Where is the accountability?
The Good News
Ms. Calandrelli’s emotional airport tweets and Instagram post went viral. Countless moms have had similar experiences, and they commented and shared, finding validation and community in their real-life experiences of breast pumping while traveling.
Ms. Calandrelli is now using her platform to call out TSA for their capricious interpretation of the rules and their insensitive treatment of those travelers who are simply trying to provide food for their babies. Ms. Calendrelli has enlisted the help of the Congressional Appropriation subcommittee chairperson who oversees the TSA budget, California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard. Royball-Allard has long been a friend and ally of traveling moms, and has been instrumental in calling for accountability from the TSA regarding proper enforcement of their own policies on traveling with breastmilk and formula.
Said Ms. Calendrelli during an interview on CNN, “From the TSA perspective, they messed with the wrong mom, but for moms around the country, from their perspective, they messed with the right mom.”
Brava. We agree and applaud Ms. Calendrelli for using her considerable influence to do something about this state of affairs.
Those of us active on social media can support the cause by following the conversation, commenting, sharing, and tagging @tsa until our message is heard.
For Moms Who Must Travel:
Mamava.com (the company that manufactures and installs those airport lactation pods) has a great article with information and hacks for breastfeeding and pumping moms who are travelling with or without their babies.
TSA offers this video with more information for traveling moms.
Finally, one lactation consultant offers a clever hack for keeping your milk cold while traveling that is sure to get through TSA: Skip the gel packs and use a bag of frozen peas (as quoted here). It makes this writer chuckle.
Cheers to you on your (literal) breastfeeding journey!