If you’re a new mama heading on travel, there are all sorts of things to think through before you hop on a plane, train, or other mode of transport. There’s the emotional dimension to leaving baby, to be sure. And for those of you who are breastfeeding, there are all the logistical challenges to breast milk storage, not to mention pumping, and transporting the milk in cooler bags.
By now, we’ve all heard about the companies that will ship milk home for you, like Milk Stork and FedEx milk shipping services. But what if your employer doesn’t cover the costs (and you don’t want to foot the bill yourself)? Or perhaps you’re traveling abroad – what then?
I queried a group of the smartest new working mamas I know, and these Mindful Return alums were eager to share their advice about breast milk storage, particularly which cooler bags were their favorites.
3 Best Cooler Bags for Transporting and Storing Milk
It’s not cheap, but mamas swear by the ability of this bag to keep their milk cold and frozen. Yes, they’re heavier than normal coolers, but they’re remarkably durable and work fine as carry-on luggage. One mama said she got the smallest size for a 3-day trip from US to Canada, and it fit all her milk with room to spare.
Much less expensive than the Yeti, mamas also thought this was a great option for breast milk storage. Fits about the same amount of milk as the small Yeti, and gets the job done.
Best for shorter trips, or those when you’re carrying your baby with you and only have to carry a small amount of milk. It holds four full Medela bottles (so approximately 36 ounces in total), and it keeps milk cold for a full work day. One mama took frozen milk in it on a 24 hour plane ride, and the milk was still cold (but not completely frozen) by the time she arrived.
What About the Ice?
When it comes to breastmilk storage and transportation, these were the crowd-favorite, by far. Just add water when you arrive at your destination, and freeze. Especially if you’re going abroad and can’t figure out dry ice logistics, these are a life-saver. You can bring them empty in your suitcase, fill them with water when you get to your hotel, and then ask to put them in the hotel’s freezer about 2 days before you leave. They’re awesome for transporting frozen breastmilk home.
What if you have no ice for breast milk storage? One mama who had a 12+ hour trip without ice used some S’well Bottles (other insulated bottles would work, too). And her milk stayed cold for the entire trip.
A Smattering of Other Great Pumping-on-Travel Tips
- Check out the Spectra S1 pump, which has a built-in battery that stays charged for several days’ worth of pumping.
- If you don’t have a Spectra, bring your external battery pack (like this Medela one) and a million batteries.
- Ask your hotel to store your breast milk in their freezer at the end of each day.
- For longer international trips, try to find a dry ice delivery service at your destination.
- Check whether your power adapter is compatible for 220V. Consider buying a universal one to get your pump to work overseas.
- Don’t fret about needing to pump in your airplane seat. The white noise of an airplane is VERY loud!
- Consider bringing a hand pump, as one mama says, “in case you fry your electric pump”!
Bon voyage, mamas, and safe travels!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
I haven’t used it yet, but after much research, I decided to get two PackIt Freezable Lunch Bags to transport my milk when I go away next week. You freeze the whole bag so no need for ice packs. My plan is to freeze them with the milk every night at the hotel so the frozen milk will act as extra ‘ice packs.’ I also splurged on a Sarah Wells breast pump bag. It’s large and has compartments for the pump and milk, and is plenty big enough to put all my carryon items in.
Thanks for sharing these great tips, Bonnie!
I had much better luck with other coolers than with the Medela one, which has thin sides and only room for the one special Medela ice pack. I ended up mostly using a regularly 6-pack cooler I bought at Target and putting ice packs all around my milk, then wrapping it in dish towel (or paper towels). I found that the square ice packs worked best when I had access to a freezer; they stayed cold much longer than the flexible kind. I also tried the Packit bags that go in the freezer for road trips, but they didn’t seem to help much, weirdly!
Thanks for your input here, Sarah! Very helpful.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to find your site! As a mom who recently returned to work in a group almost exclusively comprised of men, I have been struggling to stay organized, keep up with breastfeeding, stay ahead of my work and make it all look effortless…and it has been going pretty well. Your site offers such great advice and support.
During the transition, what really surprised me was the lack of convenient safe breastmilk storage options for moms without a minifridge in their office or room for a cooler in their carry-on. So I decided this mom was going to do something about it and I patented the Ceres Chill bottle.
Please check out our waste-saving breastmilk thermos system at http://www.cereschill.com I would love your feedback and any help to get the word out. As a mom and professional, I know I am only as strong as the network I turn to and work to strengthen. Thank you again for the work you do!
Ceres Chill Kickstarter April 2, 2019!
Thanks for your kind words, Lisa – and congrats on your patent! Best of luck with your launch; the thermos system looks awesome.
Lisa, this looks amazing. Thanks for inventing it!