Travelling with Frozen Breastmilk

Last summer I travelled to Europe with my 3-month-old and I was still breastfeeding. To be more specific, I was exclusively pumping, which meant that there was a lot of breastmilk waiting to be consumed. I was really nervous that the flight over would somehow impact my supply. I get really dehydrated when I travel on planes and I had a feeling that my supply would dip. At this point in my pumping journey I was pumping every 3 hours to ensure I had enough milk for my bebe. When I arrived I began pumping right away and put myself on a 2-3 hour pumping schedule to ensure that my supply kept up with my bebe’s demands. Well, that resulted in a huge overproduction that I really didn’t need to establish. The good thing that came out of it is that I had about 250oz of frozen breast milk by the time I was scheduled to return home – about a month later.

I considered donating the milk while I was still in Europe, but the red tape around doing so and the amount of work that would have gone into researching and bringing it to a collection site was just too much for me at that point. Besides, my baby could use the milk too. I decided that I was going to attempt bringing the milk back to Canada with me. Below you will see how I successfully brought 250oz of frozen breastmilk back home: in my checked luggage, across an ocean, 15 hours outside of a freezer.

Before I begin, I should mention that if you live in the United States, you might be able to benefit from breastmilk shipping services. I haven’t used any of these, and they cost money, but if you’re able to spend on shipping breastmilk, then it may save you some unnecessary stress. You can ship with the following companies:
Milk Stork
FedEX
Maven Clinic (they even have international shipping kits to check your milk)

Required Materials:

Step 1: Organizing your frozen milk

  • Put your frozen breastmilk bags into one of the large ziploc freezer bags.
  • It’s important to maximize space, so organizing them so that each other one is facing a different direction (up or down) should help you save space.
  • You want to get as close as possible to a rectangle shape.

Step 2: Preparing the Freezer/Cooler Bags

  • In order to ensure that your freezer bags keep in the cold, you want to line them with aluminum foil. You can do this twice if you prefer. Ensure you get all sides lined with aluminum foil and the corners as well so as to ensure no cold air escapes. This doesn’t need to be perfect, but you want to do your best to ensure your precious milk stays frozen. I used small bits of duct tape to ensure that the aluminum foil didn’t come off.
  • After the aluminum foil has been added, use your ice sheets and line the freezer bag as well. You may need to cut the ice sheets to size. Ensure that all sides have some ice and that you also have some to go on top.
  • If you’re using dry ice, I would likely put the ice in after step #3 to ensure that the freezer bags are well cushioned with ice.

Step 3: Place your breastmilk in the insulated thermal bags

  • If you can find insulated thermal bags, this is ideal, but if not, wrap each freezer bag with aluminum a couple times.
  • Insert each freezer bag into the thermal bag and close, then seal with some duct tape to ensure no cold air escapes.

Step 4: Fill in empty space

  • This step is really important because you want to ensure that there is minimal airflow inside the freezer bag.
  • Once you have put in as much frozen milk as possible, add another ice sheet on top.
  • After this, get your magazines out and begin ripping out pages.
  • I recommend magazines, specifically, because they are less likely to absorb any moisture that comes from the cold ice packs and therefore will repel the cold as opposed to absorbing it like regular paper would.
  • Scrunch them up and start stuffing them into the bag to fill in all empty spaces.
  • You may need to remove the top ice sheet to ensure you have everything and then replace it.
  • Ensure there are magazine sheets on top of the ice sheet as well.

Step 5: Close and seal your freezer bag

  • Once you have added your bags, your ice and your magazines, kiss your breastmilk goodbye and wish it luck.
  • Zip up your freezer bag.
  • Apply duct tape around the zipper. This ensures that no air escapes through the small holes in the zipper. I also duct tape around my duct tape to make sure it’s extra secure.

Step 6: Add to your checked baggage

  • Add the bags to your checked luggage suitcases.
  • Put some clothing items around each bag to ensure that they are not damaged or bumped in the transportation process.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations:

  • This method is not guaranteed to work, but it did for me.
  • If you can, prepare your bags the night before your flight and then put them back in the freezer to ensure everything reaches the same freezing temperature together.
  • Each freezer bag weighed about 25 – 30 lbs. You may need to purchase another suitcase and/or more luggage weight in order to bring your milk back. Check with your airlines on weight restrictions.
  • You may find that one or more of the outermost breastmilk bags have slightly started to defrost. I would take those out and use those in your baby’s next few bottles over the 24 hours after you arrive back home. I had about 5 individual bags that I felt were starting to defrost so I thawed them out and used them.
  • If any milk has defrosted, you cannot refreeze them. Use them in bottles, or use them to give yourself and your baby a relaxing and nourishing breastmilk bath. You deserve it after all that travelling!
  • Do some research on your home countries regulations around bringing breastmilk home. You shouldn’t have any problems with this, as most airlines and governments are very good about allowing mothers to travel with breastmilk. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be very well informed about your rights. Print out copies of government and airline regulations or save them to your phone so you can use them if you come up against any obstacles.

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