Pumping Breast Milk While Traveling Without Baby

traveling international without baby featured

Last week I traveled to Ireland, without baby. As an EBF mom this was a challenge! I wrote the most helpful items and tips for pumping breast milk while traveling internationally without baby below. But before that, I have to give a shout out to my husband who took care of Aiden by himself while I was gone!

This post is quite long (sorry!), but I believe comprehensive!

Pumping breast milk while traveling

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This is how I go about pumping breast milk while traveling


Sarah Wells “Lizzy” Pump Bag: Most importantly was packing the bag. The Sarah Wells bag is awesome! It has two compartments on the bottom, one for the breast pump and the other you can store an ice pack and your milk. One side is larger than the other so that most pumps can fit in one of the compartments. The top portion of the bag is super roomy so I was able to carry all my pump supplies plus my headphones, Surface, blanket and travel pillow.

I have heard that if you are bringing a breast pump on an airplane it does not count as a carry on bag (meaning you can still bring on a carry on and personal item in addition to the pump); however, I did not want to test this theory, or carry a huge amount of stuff. Luckily with this bag, I  didn’t need to worry about explaining why I had an additional bag. Going through security is hard enough!

Your pump(obviously). I use the Medela Pump in Style.

Battery Pack, Rechargeable Batteries and Charger: You will be thankful you have this when you are in a location without an outlet! The battery pack takes a lot of batteries and they don’t last long so I would strongly recommend investing in rechargeable batteries and make sure you bring the charger!

Medela Harmony Breast Pump: I was leery about using a manual pump, it was very intimidating to me and I had heard mixed reviews; however, not knowing what to expect I got one. I am so glad I did. My trip was back to back meetings so I would sneak away to the bathroom and pump for 10 minutes.

Kiindle Breast Milk Storage Bags: I did not want to bring the pumping bottles on my trip. They take up too much space and are a pain to deal with. I found these awesome bags which you can connect directly to your pump with these adapters. They also have a twist cap so when you are throwing them into your bag you don’t have to worry about them opening up or leaking.  They are also discreet if you have to pump on the plane next to someone, or in public. These were a lifesaver!  Also, the measurement on the front is fairly accurate which is nice.

Cooler: I decided to check my bags of milk on the way home just because I had so much of it and international security is hard enough without having to deal with 40 bags of breast milk! I just used a basic insulated bag. However, if you want to carry your milk on the plane with you, and have more than will fit in your carry on, the ebags crew cooler is a great option. It is actually made for pilots and flight attendants.

Medela Quick Steam Bags

Ziplock quart size bags

Muchkin Pacifier Wipes

What to Wear

What to wear is just as important as what to bring especially during flights. I was on full flights with people right next to me (of course) so privacy was not an option. I used my nursing scarf, but also a travel blanket for added privacy.

Loyal Hana: If you haven’t heard of this brand you should check it out. They make maternity clothes with zipper seams for ease of access. The best part is that you can hardly tell the zippers are there. I wore this dress with leggings on one flight. It made it really easy to just unzip under my nursing scarf and blanket. I also love this sweater. The clothes work well both during pregnancy and post pregnancy for nursing.

Old Navy: Old Navy actually has some great and inexpensive options for nursing. On one flight I wore a t-shirt similar to this one with some jeans. These shirts are nice because you don’t even have to worry about unzipping anything, you literally just move the drape in the front and you have access to pump. The downside is that if it is windy or you accidentally move the drape without noticing, let’s just say people will know you are a nursing mama. I also love this open front nursing cardigan.

Nuroo Nursing Scarf: I am slightly obsessed with Nuroo. I have two of their awesome nursing scarves and the pocket shirt. I wore one of these constantly while I was on my trip (and actually most of the time when I am at work or out and about). There are many different ways you can wear the scarf thanks to the snaps at the bottom and they are wide so they cover everything. While sitting in the airport I would sit in an empty gate and pump covering up with this scarf only and it worked great.

While in Ireland I mostly wore layers and tops/dresses with buttons so I could pump easily on the go wherever I happened to be.

Rumina Pumping Bra: I love this hands free bra. It is similar to a sports bra so there is coverage and it hold the pump flanges really well.

Getting Through Security

I had few issues actually getting my milk through security. It was more an inconvenience than anything. Surprisingly TSA was very nice and accommodating, or more accurately they were like OK whatever. In Ireland I did get stopped and they wanted to test the milk, I also had to explain to the man at security what the bags of milk were which was a little awkward, but if that was the worst of it, I feel lucky.

Make sure that you let someone know that you have breast milk and a pump. Take the pump out and put it in a bin (like a laptop). Do not attempt to bring ice through (you can supposedly take the cooler block things but they have to be completely frozen so I didn’t bother). I just asked for ice from a restaurant. Try to keep your bags to 3.5 oz and in a quart size plastic bag. If you do this, in my experience they don’t ask questions or try to test (your milk will still go through the x-ray machine) but I couldn’t really find anything to say it was bad. I do suggest knowing TSA rules and having them ready on your phone in case you do run into something. It’s better to be over prepared then get stuck at security.

Where to Pump/Strategy

This one is tough. I pumped just about everywhere I think! If you are in the US, I suggest downloading the Moms Pump Here app. It is available for Apple and Android. I would check the app first to see if anything was available before setting off to find some semi-private/makeshift pumping area.

Generally, my strategy was to do more frequent shorter pumps (like 5-10 minutes per side depending on how long I had). I also pumped more often at night (woke up every three hours) so that I wouldn’t hurt my supply if I didn’t get as many pumps in while I was on the go during the day. I asked restaurants/flight attendants for ice  and would put those in my bag to keep any milk I had cool.

After each time I pumped I would wipe down the parts with the munchkin wipes to keep them clean and store everything in the cooler section of my Sarah Wells bag in a Quick Steam Bag.


I was able to find two actual nursing lounges in the airports I went through (but could only use one because the other was in a different terminal). This was obviously the nicest place to pump and had everything I needed (except a sink…interestingly).  My second choice was an empty gate facing away from the main flow of traffic. I could put my bag on the seat next to me and cover up with my scarf and I highly doubt anyone would have noticed anything. My third choice was a mother’s changing room in the restroom.

I would pump as soon as I got to the airport and then about 30 minutes before boarding (quick 15-minute pump).


There are not a lot of options here. Hopefully, you don’t have  a full flight and you can find a seat with an empty seat next to it. I had no luck so I pumped as politely and discreetly as possible in my seat next to others.

I  had layovers so if the flight was 2 hours or less I did not pump on the plane, I would pump as soon as I got to my next gate. For the longer flight (6-7.5 hours) I tried both the manual pump and the electric pump. The electric pump I tried once about three hours into the flight and it was not as easy as I had hoped, so I just pumped the one time.

On my flight home, I pumped using the manual pump every two hours for 10 minutes (5 minutes per side) under the nursing scarf and a blanket. This worked a lot better. I would cap the milk and put it in my bag and then pump into the same bag the next time it was time to pump.

After each time I pumped I would wipe down the parts with the munchkin wipes to keep them clean and store everything in the cooler section of my Sarah Wells bag in a Quick Steam Bag.

Out and About

I almost exclusively used the manual pump while I was sightseeing or in and out of meetings. I would find a handicap bathroom and just pump 5 minutes on each side as often as possible. It was not glamorous or convenient but it worked. The manual pump did not take up a lot of room and I only needed to pump into one bag so I didn’t have to lug my huge bag around. Once I filled a bag I would fill one of my bags with ice and keep it in my purse with the milk. I would try to make it back to the hotel a few times a day to do a longer session with the electric pump.

Packing Everything Up

I put all my cold milk (not frozen) in an insulated bag with a bag of ice. I probably should have brought two insulated bags or a larger cooler because I had more than really fit, but I put the extra bags in a plastic bag with another bag of ice. I checked my bag. When I came home the milk was still cold so I think this method works well for a short international work trip.

A Few More Tips For Pumping Breast Milk While Traveling:

  1. Ask your hotel for a refrigerator for medical reasons and confirm it is in your room upon check in. Also, remember if it has not already been set up in your room and they need to bring it, it will take a while to get cold so make sure you have ice.
  2. If you are traveling internationally and you are going to bring your power plug for your pump make sure you have a converter; otherwise, you will blow out your pump and possibly the power in your room. I brought my power plug and a converter and didn’t really use them. I mostly stuck to the battery pack.
  3. Make sure you pack light or bring an extra carry on. Once the milk is added to your bag it is going to be much heavier than when you started. You don’t want to pay fees for an overweight bag!

Pumping breast milk while traveling doesn’t have to be difficult but it does take a lot of coordination. Have you had to manage pumping breast milk while traveling? Let me know your tips!

If you liked this post check out A Schedule of an Exclusively-Pumping Working Mama and Tips to Increase Milk Supply.

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Hi, I’m Melissa! I am a mama to an energetic preschooler and newborn, a wife to my amazing husband Dan, and I work full-time as a meeting planner. I started this blog because, after having my first little guy, I quickly learned that exhaustion and baby brain causes you to forget some of the amazing (sometimes horrible and sometimes wonderful) details related to the first several months of raising a baby. Realizing that we would probably have more kids in the future, I wanted to document everything, so we would remember what worked the first time around, and hopefully help other first time mamas along the way!

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