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Keeping Breast Milk Cold While Traveling

by Kathryn Walsh

Traveling always disrupts your daily routine, but it doesn't have to disrupt your baby's schedule. Keeping his breast milk adequately cold allows you to feed him wherever and whenever necessary without worry. And if you're not available, another adult can feed him when he's ready to eat. Though carting around breast milk in addition to your luggage does create some extra bulk, it's well worth the trouble to keep your infant a happy traveler.

Traveling with Liquid Milk

Though freshly pumped breast milk can be stored in a refrigerator for several days, it should only be kept in a cooler for up to 24 hours, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Pump just before leaving home, or thaw frozen breast milk in the fridge overnight before your trip; once thawed, it should be used within 24 hours. Store the milk in clean bottles with solid caps that create a tight seal, and carry bottle nipples in a separate bag for feeding time. Designate one small cooler for breast milk. If you're traveling with other cold items you'll need to access during the trip, place them in a second cooler to protect the breast milk from warm air. Nestle the bottles of milk in between layers of ice packs. Each bottle should be in contact with an ice pack.

Traveling with Frozen Milk

If you need a stash of breast milk to stay fresh for longer than 24 hours, freeze the liquid for travel. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breast milk can be frozen for up to 12 months and still be usable for your baby. If you choose this option, fill each bottle with enough milk for one feeding so you can thaw bottles only when you need them. A cooler with ice packs won't keep breast milk frozen for long. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia suggests packing frozen breast milk in a foam cooler of dry ice. Bring an oven mitt or tongs with you to use when retrieving bottles and store the cooler in the trunk if you're driving.

Flying with Breast Milk

The Transportation Security Administration limits the amount of liquids passengers can bring through airport security in a carry-on, but these limits don't apply to breast milk. If you're flying with liquid breast milk, pack it in a soft-sided cooler bag with ice packs. When you arrive at the security checkpoint, tell an agent that you have breast milk, as the bag needs to be inspected by hand. If you're flying with frozen breast milk packed in dry ice, the TSA won't object. The Federal Aviation Administration allows a traveler to bring up to 5.5 pounds of dry ice, as long as it's packed in a container that allows the release of carbon dioxide gas, like a foam cooler. Write "Dry Ice, Breast Milk" on the cooler, along with the total weight of the dry ice contained inside. Verify that your airline allows dry ice before traveling.

Preparing Milk for Baby

Feeding your baby during travel takes a bit of advance preparation. If your baby doesn't like cold breast milk, run the bottle under warm tap water for a minute, or submerge the bottle in a container of warm water; in a hotel room, use the ice bucket. You can thaw frozen milk this way, too, though you might need to let it sit for several minutes. Thaw frozen milk in a refrigerator, if you have access to one during your trip, thawing only one day's supply at a time. Another option is to travel with a portable bottle warmer. If you're traveling by car, look for a warmer that plugs into your car's adapter outlet so you can keep baby happy on the go. Travel with dish soap and a bottle-cleaning brush to make bottle cleanup a breeze.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

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