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The TSA Breast Milk Debacle

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

It's tough...trying to figure out how to fly as a nursing mom, especially if you're flying without your infant. While the TSA has pretty clear-cut rules about this issue, they seem to have a lot of problem making sure their own agents know the exact policies.

Now the official TSA policy is NOT difficult to understand.

If traveling with your child, you may bring breast milk on board with you. If you are not traveling with your child, you can either store it in three 3 oz containers in a one quart zip lock bag OR you can check it. Obviously, if you have any quantity of breast milk, it needs to be checked.

Doesn't sound all that complicated, does it?

Apparently, TSA officials can't get it straight. There have been several instances in the last few months of moms being forced to miss flights or to dump their expressed milk. In some cases, that's because the mom hadn't taken the time to familiarize herself with the new TSA rules and is trying to carry breast milk on without properly packaging it. In other cases, the mom was following the rules to a tee and the TSA officers simply didn't understand them or enforced them improperly.

Well, there's another story about this in the news and I'm getting frustrated.

Heidi Souverville of Sacramento is upset because she was told that she could not bring 27 ounces of expressed milk on board with her. (She WAS given the option to check the luggage.)

I can't find any details on how Souverville had her milk packed. I don't know if she had it in three ounce containers and had few enough of them that she could fit them into a one quart bag, or if she simply read the guidelines stating that you could carry breast milk on board and missed the part about needing to have your baby with you. (Yes, I KNOW that rule is idiotic...)

A quote from an article on News10.net:

On the TSA website it said if you were carrying more than three ounces, if it was breast milk or formula, that was OK," Souverville pointed out in an interview at her Curtis Park home.

TSA officers insisted the exemption only applies to mothers traveling with their children, and the rule was stated clearly on one section of the TSA Web site.

CBS13 claims that the TSA updated the site to clarify the policy just last month after the issue happened. Here's what I found on the TSA site today under their general guidelines for what is allowed on board...

Allowed as Carry-On
Baby formula and food, breast milk and other baby items - These are allowed in your carry-on baggage or personal items. You can take these through the security checkpoints and aboard your plane. However, you must be traveling with a baby or toddler. [emphasis mine]

That snippet also linked to the full guidelines on traveling with children (or breast milk.)

The first paragraph on that page has the following line:

If you're not traveling with a baby or toddler, any formula or breast milk you're carrying must meet the requirements for carrying liquids, gels and aerosols (3-1-1).

On the 3-1-1 page:

3-1-1 for carry-ons = 3 ounce bottle or less; 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3 oz. container size is a security measure.

and also...

Declare larger liquids. Prescription medications, baby formula and milk (when traveling with an infant or toddler) are allowed in quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. [emphasis mine]

Now, I can't go back in time and see exactly what the policy USED to say, but I do know that when I flew to Chicago back in December the TSA site was VERY clear on the fact that you either had to have a baby with you or you had to check your milk. (the option of carrying it on via the 3-1-1 rule did not exist when I took my Chicago trip.) It took me less than five minutes on the site (in December) to find out that if I wasn't traveling with my child, I'd need to check any expressed milk.

However, the articles that I've read state that Souverville was given the option to check her bags. I guess I'm not clear on how the option to dump your milk OR check your bags suddenly becomes "being forced to dump breast milk." (According to Souverville, she didn't want to check her breast pump bag because the bag isn't designed to be checked.)

Let me be clear that I have the utmost sympathy for ANY mom that is forced to throw away hard-earned expressed milk, but this issue has been in the news so much, I guess I just don't see how moms can claim ignorance. I had no problem finding the rules back in December (which were stricter than they are now). In fact, any time that I've checked the TSA guidelines in the last five months (and I've checked at least half a dozen times) it has clearly stated that moms traveling with breast milk but without baby must check the breast milk.

So just to be clear, let's summarize...

Traveling with baby = breast milk allowed
Traveling without baby = up to 9 ounces of properly packaged breast milk allowed... check the rest.

For the time being, these are the rules folks. You don't have to like them, but you DO have to follow them. Otherwise, you're going to run into trouble.

Now, what DOES strike me as odd is a line from KCRA 3 that says it wasn't just about the breast milk.

Souverville said she had never had trouble bringing her breast pump on board a plane, until a February flight from Phoenix to Sacramento.

She said TSA agents refused to let her bring on board her pump and 27 ounces of breast milk.

So wait...she couldn't take her PUMP on board? None of the other articles mention the trouble taking the pump on board, so it could be a mistake in this story, but if that's the case, it's something that I can TOTALLY get up in arms about. There's absolutely NOTHING on the TSA site that says there would be any problem with taking a breast pump on board and I'm flabbergasted that a TSA agent would have an issue with it.

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  1. Blogger Mommy's Getaway | 2:26 PM |  

    This is very interesting.

    The thing that I don't particularly understand is HOW in the world could a breastfeeding mom check her expressed milk for a flight over an hour long and expect that milk to be usable. Do you know if they allow the milk to be with ice packs when checked? I couldn't find any info on that. If the ice packs aren't allowed, then the request to check the milk (weighed with the safety issues) becomes at odds with any breastfeeding/pumping mom to not waste hard-earned milk. And then it almost is impossible for a pumping mom to expect to use the milk that she pumped if she is flying anywhere.

    I do agree - those are the rules and as long as they are being administered fairly, there isn't much anyone can say about them. But I also thought that TSA agents could use their discretion - for example, knitting needles. They are allowed BUT a TSA agent can refuse to let a person who has them, even if there is a project that is obviously going on, on board unless they either check them (which is usually impossible to do once you get to the security gates - you have already checked your baggage and can't add to it) or throw them away or put them in an envelope and send them to yourself.

    This is definitely something that should be looked at - especially the part about whether or not they would allow the pump.

    Very interesting, indeed.

  2. Blogger Jennifer | 5:57 PM |  

    Yes, you can pack your breast milk in ice while you check it. In fact, you can check it in dry ice if you want.

    I've spoken with some moms that take coolers specifically for this reason. You can easily take a soft sided freezer cooler with you and then pack your milk in ice and put the soft sided cooler into your checked luggage.

    Yes, it sucks if you don't plan to check luggage, but hey...the TSA policies aren't convienent for ANYONE, are they?

  3. Anonymous Eilat | 8:25 AM |  

    I think as activists on behalf of breastfeeding and babies who breastfeed, its important to fight against bad rules.

    I know it seems fair to say you may check your milk in the luggage, but luggage can get lost or held up and your ice packs can melt...

    I am linking here a story printed in the New York Times in October. I believe its one of their free articles so you don't need TimesSelect to read it.
    The story is of a pumping mom and her traveling woes which include being told to dump lots of milk and having her cooler lost by the airline for over 24 hours.


    I hate to say it, but if everyone just followed TSA's silly rules (that are very un-friendly to pumping moms) then they would have no incentive to change them. As activists, we should do what we can to bring attention to this problem. I do hope they come to their senses soon and adopt more sensible rules for babyfood on planes.

  4. Anonymous Jake Marcus | 8:55 AM |  

    The 3-1-1 page went up late last year, so it may not have been there when you traveled in December. Also for a while there was no link to 3-1-1 from the main page regarding breastmilk so it was hard to find.

    These press peices seem a bit confused. If she was, as it says, trying to bring on the pump AND 27 oz of breastmilk, it would be the breastmilk they would stop her for, not the pump. I have heard other stories of women getting harassed about breast pumps but it is usually because they have milk stowed in the side pocket.

    The biggest problem now, aside from the absurdity of the policy itself, is that TSA personnel at the gate are absolutely clueless about TSA policy. I am working with a few women filing complaints with the TSA because their properly packed 3 oz containers were tossed by TSA security officers who insisted they could not bring on any milk without a baby. I now advise all moms traveling with pumped milk to print out the TSA web site pages and carry them with them. Anyone who wants help filing a complaint can post me.

    For moms who need to check milk, Kittie Frantz has a brand new article with great info: http://www.mothering.com/articles/new_baby/breastfeeding/traveling-with-breastmilk.html

    Jake Marcus, J.D.
    Birth Without Boundaries, International

  5. Blogger rachel | 9:10 AM |  

    Have you heard of any upper limits of how much breastmilk you can carry when you are traveling with your baby?

    You wrote that traveling with the baby the you can only carry up to 9oz of properly packaged breast milk. Why that limit? Wouldn't it be what you could fit in a quart size bag? I haven't tried, but I think I could fit 4 of those 80ml medela containers in a quart size bag.

  6. Blogger Jennifer | 9:22 AM |  

    Rachel, know that I'm not picking on you, but I guess this goes to show me how easy it is for people to get confused. :)

    I wrote that if you are traveling WITH your baby, breast milk is allowed. If you are traveling WITHOUT your baby, you are limited to 9 ounces. (Three, three ounce containers in one zip lock bag.) Now that's the limit to carry on board, if you are checking your milk, you can take as much as you want.

    Is that more clear?

  7. Blogger rachel | 12:16 PM |  

    I guess I am confused..

    I don't see where it says you are limited in terms of the number of containers you can put in your quart size bag. On the 3-1-1 page it just says that the quart size bag limits the total volume, but I think I could fit 4 of my little medela containers in a quart size bag. Where does it say you can only bring 9oz (3-3oz) containers?

    I know the above is for traveling without baby, but my other question was separate. Have you heard of any limits when traveling with baby. The TSA website says "You are encouraged to travel with only as much formula or breast milk in your carry-on needed to reach your destination." Does that mean that if you have a 2hour flight you are limited to only a few bottles or could you fill your carry-on with milk.

  8. Blogger Judy | 12:42 PM |  

    Why is the rule idiotic that you have to have a baby with you to carry as much milk on board as you want? It seems to make sense to me.

    People are trying to blow up planes. I hate the security measures, but if liquid explosives can use any liquid to blow up a plane, then any liquid needs to be treated with suspicion.

    It's not like terrorist are above using a breastfeeding mother to blow up a plane. To think so is naive, especially in light of what happened in Iraq last week when bombers had kids with them to appear like a family to get through a checkpoint, then left the kids in the car when they blew it up.

  9. Blogger Jennifer | 12:52 PM |  

    Wow, now don't I feel like a dork.

    Rachel, I owe you an apology.

    You are correct, what it says is that you are limited to 3 ounce containers, it doesn't say how MANY 3 ounce containers you are limited to. I swore that I'd read that you could only have THREE 3 ounce containers, but I don't see that there now.

    And no, they don't say how much you can take if baby is traveling with you, which is ridiculous. I would imagine it's because they'll base the amount of how long the flight is, but still...it certainly qualifies as being "fuzzy" in terms of information.

    I'll be honest with you guys...if I was traveling without Emmitt, I would be shipping my breast milk home via overnight mail and packing it in dry ice. There's no way I would chance the TSA folks.

    But that said, I think Jake is spot on. Print out the policy and take it with you.

  10. Blogger Jennifer | 12:57 PM |  

    And to note, I agree with Judy.

    I know it's not a popular opinion in the Lactivist community, but I do NOT have a problem with the fact that they limit the amount of breast milk you can carry on board if your child isn't with you to drink it.

    Yes, it sucks. Yes, it's inconvienent and yes, I wish we could go back to the good old days.

    But that's not reality. Everyone finds the new TSA rules to be annoying and to make life difficult.

    Take what you need to pack your milk for putting it in carry on luggage or ship it home via FedEx.

    As Judy said, while chances are small (minute rather...) that anything would happen, the fact remains that there are people out there that will do anything and everything to blow us up.

    There ARE other ways to get your milk home, even if they aren't ways that you happen to like.

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 2:17 PM |  

    Today I rang an airline that I will be travelling with and they told me that I cannot take my electric breastpump on board with me. It's a 7 hour plus flight and I will need to pump my breasts as I can't imagine my baby nursing on board with all the distractions. what am I supposed to do? I can't get enough out with manual ones and they take forever. why can you take cameras and laptops and not pumps? I feel discriminated against.

  12. Blogger Jennifer | 1:56 PM |  

    Hmm...you should call the TSA direct if you are traveling within the United States.

    I've never heard of an airline refusing someone to take a breast pump on board and there is no TSA guideline prohibiting it. I've traveled with my own pump several times.

    Also, don't be so sure that your baby won't nurse...planes are loud, but it's a constant loud, so most babies still nurse just fine.

  13. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:16 PM |  

    The TSA doesn't know what they are doing. I just came home 3 weeks ago from a business trip (flying out of Dulles a 5 hour flight home) where I did >not< have my 6 month old with me. I read the TSA site and in fact carried a copy with my itinerary in case I had any questions. I pumped 3 oz in each of the 15 bags I pumped while I was gone for 3 days and put them in 1 1-quart see through ziploc bag and tried to take them on the plane with me. I let the TSA know I was carrying them and at first they said NO BREASTMILK unless I had a baby. I explained the whole issue as if they needed to know - that I wouldn't need to pump if I HAD the baby with me. I then pulled out their rules which stated the 3-1-1 rule would apply. After 10 minutes of going back and forth, they finally told me I couldn't take the milk on because the containers were over 3.4 oz (they were in 4 oz breastfeeding bags. Rediculous! I was so emotional I cried all the way to the gate. I followed all the rules...it's so hard to pump and then to get to the airport once you think you are doing everything right and they take your breast milk and just dump it in the trash...

  14. Blogger The Lactivist | 7:19 AM |  

    Have you contacted the TSA to file a complaint?

    If you had pumped 3 oz into each bag, then they should not have given you ANY problem.

    I'm finding that while TSA's national policy is pretty clear cut, the way that individual agents enforce it needs some SERIOUS attention.

  15. Blogger m.r.smith | 8:15 AM |  

    Yesterday my wife and I experienced something interesting at a TSA secuity point in Chicago. The officer made us dump the water that was in the baby's bottle that was in the mouth of our 10 month old son. Does anyone know if we were violating the TSA policy? Did the officer have the right to do that? He said it would have been fine if it was juice or formula...but the baby can't be drinking water. Maybe he thought we were conditioning him to drink gasoline... Where's the common sense?

  16. Blogger The Lactivist | 10:07 AM |  

    Yep, that falls within TSA policy...no liquids save breastmilk and formula. To the best of my knowledge, you would/should have had to dump juice as well.

    No biggie really, you just refill it with water on the other side of the security checkpoint.

    But there's any number of things that something could be that looks like water. They don't let adults carry bottled water through either.

    I just can't say that I have a problem with that particular policy.

  17. Blogger Natasha & Kimbo | 6:39 AM |  

    I'm flying soon and will be checking about 20oz of milk. My question is HOW to pack it so it dosent leak. How much room should I leave in the container to accout for the change in pressure? Any tips would be much appreciated.

    Yours in the Pumping,


  18. Anonymous Amy | 7:26 AM |  

    Hi everyone, I'm grateful for this site, as I'm traveling for the first time while nursing this coming week.

    Here's a question-- I arrive at the airport WAY early in the morning for a 6 am flight, go through security with just a pump and accessories, but no milk....and pump once inside before I board. Any rule on toting that along?

  19. Anonymous Amy | 7:30 AM |  

    What if I pump once I go through security, before I board? Is that allowed on the plane?? Am not sure how to interpret the policy if I have no liquids when checking, but pump afterwards..

  20. Blogger The Lactivist | 9:10 AM |  

    Natasha and Kimbo,

    I think if you pack your milk in bags like the Medela or Lansinoh freezer bags you'll be fine. If you want to be extra careful, put 4 oz in each bag instead of the 6 that they'll hold.

    I'd personally take along a soft sided insulated tote that was much larger than the milk would be and I'd tighly pack it with freezer packs. Another option is to find one of those new "super cool" insulated totes. You freeze the insulation part the night before and it claim to keep items cold for up to 12 hours. I've seen them at Kohl's, they're about the size of a six pack of pop.


    Once you have gone through security you can take any type of liquid on board with you. You'll have no proble if you pump AFTER you go through security, though you will have to pack it in ice to keep it fresh and of course work out a way to get it home again.

  21. Anonymous Kerry P | 7:13 PM |  

    Well, I am planning my first trip post baby #2. I remember after my first traveling back with 4 days of milk in my carry on - but thought I would share this email straight from TSA. I read on a Mom's board out of Chicago that you could get it on board with a DR's note. Here's their response. Right now I am planning on checking it. I pray they don't loose my luggage.
    Thank you for your email message regarding the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) policy that concerns traveling with breast milk.

    The current restrictions on bringing liquids, gels, and aerosols through security checkpoints respond to a threat revealed when British authorities arrested a number of extremists engaged in a plot to destroy multiple aircraft flying from the United Kingdom to the United States. The plot consisted of bringing liquid explosives onboard the flights to be detonated in-flight. We believe that the arrests have significantly disrupted the threat, but we cannot be sure that the threat has been entirely eliminated or the plot completely thwarted.

    We understand that our new security measures may be inconvenient. They are, however, a regrettable necessity given the nature of the threat. We cannot rule out the possibility that liquid explosives could be disguised as milk, juice, or other similar products. As a result of extensive explosives testing, TSA determined that it is possible to allow limited quantities of liquids into the cabin of commercial aircraft. Although TSA now only allows travel-size quantities (3 ounces) of liquids in a 1-quart zip-top bag through the screening checkpoint, we made a risk-based decision to exempt breast milk from this restriction to accommodate mothers traveling with their children. We must anticipate and counter all threats related to liquid explosives, including the possibility that a terrorist might carry liquid explosives labeled or described as "breast milk." Requiring that the child be present helps to mitigate this possibility.

    TSA's current policy requires that a mother must be traveling with her infant in order for breast milk in excess of the travel-size limitations to be allowed through the screening checkpoint. This does not prevent mothers traveling without their children from bringing breast milk through the checkpoint but, like other liquids and gels, it must be in containers of 3 ounces or less in a 1-quart zip-top bag. Only one zip-top bag is allowed per traveler. TSA does not prohibit a mother from bringing any number of empty breast milk containers through the checkpoint that she can fill with breast milk that she expresses following the screening process. She would not, however, be able to take the filled containers through a subsequent security checkpoint, for example, to catch a connecting flight.

    We understand the challenges mothers face transporting breast milk, which unfortunately, do not outweigh the need to counter known security threats. We also understand the need for mothers to continue expressing their milk to maintain milk production and to store ample amounts. However, mothers do have options within the current restrictions, which include planning in advance for trips by expressing milk and freezing it at home, pumping breast milk after passing through the security checkpoint and carrying it onto the aircraft prior to departure; and pumping breast milk during the flight and having it cooled onboard. Breast milk can also be pumped during a layover and carried onboard the plane, as long as the mother does not need to be rescreened. All these measures are consistent with our effort to prevent the introduction of liquid explosive devices.

    Given that options are available, and that liquid explosives are a heightened threat,

    we cannot waive the restrictions on the carriage of breast milk by nursing mothers traveling without their children.

    We appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns and hope this information is helpful.

    TSA Contact Center

  22. Anonymous Anonymous | 7:09 AM |  

    It is so sad that so many intelligent people are accepting of a rule that makes such little sense. A terrorist disguised as a nursing mother with a breast pump and expressed milk????? Please don't lose perspective and please work to get some sense back into our country. If someone wants to commit a heinous terroristic crime, making us check our breast milk isn't going to prevent them from executing their plan.

  23. Blogger Erin | 12:43 PM |  

    I recently flew from Stewart Airport in NY on my way to Charlotte NC and was traveling with my 4 month old son. I was beyond upset when I was hassled to no end regarding my milk and $300 pump I was carrying with me. First they make my son take of his soft sole shoes, that got me going, then they wanted to take the ice pack that was keeping my milk cool. I keep everything very sanitized and the TSA agent with their dirty blue gloves just starts going through my diaper bag and pulling things out. The TSA Agent then asked me to take out all empty bottles as well and place them in their dirty bins. After pleading with them to keep my ice pack so my milk wouldn't go bad, they ordered a security check on my Pump Bag. So I asked the TSA Agent to change her gloves while she touches my sons food and repeatedly asked her to keep her hands off of the bottles and to allow me to repack everything. (SHE DID NOT CHANGE HER GLOVES) She then continued to try and rip the PUMP out of the back pack (It is connected very securely by Velcro and really doesn't come off) Here I am pleading with this woman to no end to please be careful that this device is very expensive. She failed to get it out of the bag and called someone else over to help her. I pleaded with him as well to take it easy on the pump, he then went to go and get his dirty old security wand and ran it around th e pump. After all of that, all my bottles pumping utensils where scattered everywhere and with no regard walked away and left a complete mess for me to clean up, not to mention no regard for the germs everything came into contact with.

    Shouldn't their be some regulation when handling sanitary items. If they want to take apart breast pumps it should be done discreetly in a clean atmosphere with clean gloves on. I was so upset and steaming mad that this airport would be so thoughtless to a mother and child.

    I should mention the terrible double standard TSA has since when I flew from Charlotte to NY, they didn't ask me to even take out my breast milk and just let me walk through with everything. Hmm?

  24. Blogger Michael | 5:21 PM |  

    The latest content on the TSA web site seems to say that you can bring > 3 oz of milk regardless of whether your child is with you or not...

    TSA web page on breastmilk


  25. Anonymous Anonymous | 8:02 PM |  

    5/6/08 - Today I traveled home from Boston Logan following a 2-day work trip. I had with me in my carry-on 35oz of breast milk (it's like gold to me!). Current TSA regulations allow breast milk to be carried on if it is declared in advance, however the TSA folks at Logan do not seem to be aware of this July 20, 2007 update and insisted that it was only allowed if my child was with me. After much panic, speaking to several TSA agents and managers, one of them made a "special exception" for me and conducted the inspection himself and allowed me through. I have been upset ever since - I'll have to travel to Boston again in 3 weeks...do I have to keep my fingers crossed that I run into someone nice? That will be a day trip, so checking a cooler for ~15 oz of milk seems ridiculous, and I worry about lost luggage.

    How can I convince TSA Logan of the *real* regulations? Help!

    --VA Mom

  26. Blogger nora | 9:16 AM |  

    To the PP looking for a way to clue TSA employees in to the new rules:

    Print the TSA policy page:

    Declare that you have milk with you when you get to security and have the current policy ready for them to read.

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