Airports are never a picnic—long lines, delays, and an endless revision of regulations (can you take toothpaste onboard this week?) make it difficult to know what to expect. Add in trying to pump during the ordeal and you’ve created a crazy minefield of potentially explosive situations (your breasts being one of them). Will you get in through TSA with your gear? Where will you pump pre-flight? Can you manage to pump in flight without distress or drama? And how about getting that milk home?
We’ve all heard horror stories of milk being confiscated and flights being missed in the process of protecting our liquid gold. And while you may have the very best equipment and outstanding support, what you really need is a plan. And the best insight comes from experience.
For this we turned to the mothers who’ve been there, done that. We asked pumping moms who often fly the “friendly” skies to share their wisdom and tricks for getting through the airport relatively unscathed. (You can also learn a few tips about when and where to pump while traveling.)
Mamas judged airports based on easy access to a pumping space. What we discovered was your terminal determined how likely you were to have a positive experience.
BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport (Baltimore), for example, was mentioned over and again as being friendly to pumping mothers, but a deeper dive showed that these mothers were in terminal D or E where there is a Mamava (a modular suite thoughtfully designed for lactating moms; check their website for airport locations) situated on the connecter. But it’s unfortunately not accessible to those flying out of terminal A or B.
Here are a few more tips from pumping mothers in flight:
“Pittsburgh also has a nice, private room with a comfy chair and ottoman. The only thing it’s missing is a sink. Chicago O’Hare has a sink, but the chair isn’t as comfy. But agreed that any room purposed for pumping use is a huge upgrade over bathrooms/chairs near the gate.”
“If you ever have a reason to fly to Wisconsin, definitely fly through Madison. It’s a 14-gate airport, plus they have (at least) two mother’s lounges that are large rooms with a comfy chair, power outlet, side table, sink, paper towels, and NO toilets.”
“SFO (San Francisco) has at least one nursery room for nursing, pumping, changing diapers, etc. It’s nice! Though, as someone who usually pumps in bathrooms and at gates, it doesn’t take much!”
“When making connections in the Charlotte airport, I saw this in the women’s restroom: a nook next to the changing station, labeled “Nursing Mothers Room.” I applaud their efforts to support nursing moms, but I’m not sure this qualifies as a “room.”
“I recently pumped in the Austin airport family bathroom. They at least had a long table, outlet, and a chair”.
Try to figure out where you’ll pump prior to getting to the airport. Is your terminal equipped with a mother’s lounge (most airport websites will have a map with these areas marked)? Is it single or multi-use? How close is this room to your gate? And of course, time and plan accordingly.
You can also keep abreast of national legislation designed to support breastfeeding mothers in airports, so you have a better idea of what your rights are.
Getting pumped milk, equipment, and ice through TSA requires patience and a great deal of luck. Despite legislation passed under the Obama administration, (the Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening Act requires an increased training and a more uniform approach to TSA procedures around pumping equipment and breast milk) the landscape hasn’t really changed.
What this means for anyone traveling with a pump, storage supplies, or pumped milk is that your experience will be defined by the TSA agent and the leadership specific to TSA at your airport.
We recently heard a story about a dad, a Senior VP at a multi-national communications firm, that was held at Boston’s Logan Airport because the TSA agents could not understand why he was traveling alone with breast milk—answer, he had left his wife and baby in Boston and was traveling home.
His situation underscores the need for better-informed TSA agents and makes a case for education and self-advocacy. Some of what we heard felt obvious, but certainly not to those getting started with pumping and TSA.
Mama’s share their TSA tips:
“Show up with confidence and patience, lots and lots of patience—TSA agents react to you, so kill them with kindness and knowledge.”
“Ice packs are a trap. Bring double Ziplock baggies if you can manage to go without the ice pack. The main reason is that even slightly melted ice or slushy ice packs set off alarm bells. Get through TSA with nothing, and gather ice for your baggies from restaurants and coffee bars on the other side of the gate.”
“Hard-sided cooler packs are a major find. I invested in a costly one but have not regretted it—it makes a big difference with TSA.”
“I use a milk shipment service [like Milk Stork] on business trips and my firm pays for it. This reduces so much stress and strain and saves me time as well.”
TSA has a long way to go. Bring your patience and perfect your pumping and flying in real-time as you go, by communicating with friends and associates and keeping well informed of changes in regulations and legislation.