How to pump at the airport: Breastfeeding and travel

Breastfeeding can be many things—beautiful, painful, sweet, frustrating—and if you are breastfeeding while you travel, it can also be inconvenient. Add in having to pump at the airport and you have a whole new set of challenges to overcome.

There are many reasons you might need to pump at the airport: Maybe you’re going to travel without kids, or you exclusively pump, or you pump in addition to breastfeeding. Point is, pumping at the airport is sometimes necessary—but it doesn’t have to be terribly hard.

Although I weaned my youngest this summer, I still have a lot of thoughts about breastfeeding and pumping milk. I also have a lot of experience, since I breastfed my two kids for a total of more than three years and had to pump in all sorts of situations, some of which were really awkward.

Pumping wasn’t my favorite task even in the best of situations (thank you, Husband, for bringing me ice cream while I pumped at home!). But figuring out the logistics of how to pump at the airport, carrying milk in my carry-on and managing to not miss my connections: That sounded like a plot line from one of those terribly uncomfortable Judd Apatow movies I can’t watch because they make me break out into hives.

But maybe, just maybe, pumping in the airport doesn’t have to be such a nightmare. In the hopes of keeping your worries from reaching 30,000 feet, here’s my hard-won wisdom on how to pump at the airport.

How to pump at the airport: breastfeeding and travel. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

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How to pump at the airport: Tips for your whole trip

In security

Choose your line strategically. I picked one with a female security officer even though it was longer. I felt less awkward about saying “breast pump” to a woman.

Take out your pump. The TSA requires you to treat medical equipment (read: your pump) like your laptop. So take it out of your bag and put it in a separate bin. And tell the TSA officer it’s a pump—it’ll be less likely to raise red flags.

Know your rights. Be confident that you are 100% allowed to bring your pump and all pumping accessories. (A [male] TSA officer once gave me a hard time about packing a bottle of Medela quick-clean soap, which I swear by, until a [female] officer came by and stuck up for me.)

Tip: Print out the TSA page that lists your right to bring a breast pump and your right to carry breastmilk. You’ll have them on-hand to show any security officer that gives you grief.

How to pump at the airport when you're breastfeeding and have to travel. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Pumping in style

Get a room. Before you head to the airport, google “your airport mother’s room.” Most airports have facilities for nursing mothers, and guess what—you count! They usually have a comfy seat, an electrical outlet and a sink.

If you can’t find one—or if the mother’s rooms are in the pre-security section (grrrr PHX I’m looking at you)—look for a family bathroom. It’s never great to pump where, you know, people pee, but family bathrooms are spacious, private and have a deadbolt.

Bring a cover. You can also pump at your gate. Sure, the whomp-whomp of your pump may make the person next to you feel a little awkward, but it sure beats engorgement! Find a place along the wall next to an outlet.

You’ll want to have a breastfeeding shawl to cover up. I’m all for public breastfeeding (yay #normalizebreastfeeding!!!) but even I draw the line at letting strangers see my nipples sucked through those clear plastic flanges.

Carry a hand pump. If your flight is long, you’ll want to have a hand pump, at least as a backup. And even if your flight is short, it’s a good safeguard to ensure you’ll be able to pump if you can’t find an electrical outlet, or your batteries fizzle out. (Mine saved the day when the outlet in the family bathroom I found didn’t work.) Bonus: It’s much quieter, so no one may realize what you’re doing. #secretagentpumping

How to pump at the airport: breastfeeding and travel. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

After pumping at the airport

Do a quick clean-up. So you have a short layover. (Yay!) That also means you don’t have long to pump at the airport. (Boo!) Skip any steps you can by just rinsing your pump parts and using those magic cleaning wipes. You can do a more thorough job once you arrive at your destination.

Ice that milk. Carry a small, soft cooler that you can store your milk in; an ice pack will keep it cold. Alternately, ask someone at a fast food place for some ice and put it in a ziplock.

If you don’t have ice, remember that breast milk stays good at room temperature for 6 hours.

Remember why you’re pumping. I was super-anxious about having to pump at the airport—and simultaneously bitter that my awesome alone time was being monopolized by my need to drain the girls. (Yes, when you’re busy with kids every day for the last n years, speed-walking from terminal A to terminal B counts as alone time.)

It helps, though, to make a mental list of why you’re pumping. It prevents engorgement! It makes delicious milk for your munchkin! It makes you feel less guilty that you ate that Cinnabon when you were waiting to board!

How to pump at the airport: breastfeeding and travel. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

So if you happen to see me sitting by a gate, half-hidden under a scarf, with a mysterious whomp-whomp sound emanating from a black backpack next to me, don’t alert the authorities—it’s just me rocking a pump at the airport. So do a sister a favor and bring me one of those Cinnabons.

12 thoughts on “How to pump at the airport: Breastfeeding and travel

  • January 8, 2018 at 10:46 am
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    I’m so glad those days are behind me, but these are great tips for making air travel with a baby less stressful.

    Reply
    • January 8, 2018 at 2:08 pm
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      I’m (mostly) glad these days are behind me, too—but hope the tips help someone who still has to fly and pump!

      Reply
    • January 8, 2018 at 3:59 pm
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      Super sneaky!!! 😉

      Reply
  • January 8, 2018 at 3:42 pm
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    I give you a lot of kudos for pumping at the airport! You are super mama! I never traveled without my kids when I was still breastfeeding, so I was always able to attach a kid when they needed to eat, or if I needed to get some out!
    I love the advice of printing the TSA printed rules so you can safeguard yourself in case they try to challenge your pump! Smart thinking.

    Reply
    • January 8, 2018 at 3:59 pm
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      Information is power! (especially dealing with pushy, inflexible TSA agents)

      Reply
  • January 8, 2018 at 8:58 pm
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    Oh man, I just went on a huge air travel trip and it was hard enough just getting myself place to place and keeping a good attitude! I applaud you for these awesome tips.
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    Reply
    • January 9, 2018 at 10:05 am
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      HA! So true! I definitely appreciate my relatively hassle-free flights now that I don’t have to pump at the airport.

      Reply
  • January 8, 2018 at 9:48 pm
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    This is such a helpful post! I loved breastfeeding my kids but honestly do not miss all of the worries and logistics of pumping at work, while traveling, etc. I am sure this post will help so many mamas!

    Reply
    • January 9, 2018 at 10:04 am
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      You’re so right, Marlynn. Breastfeeding is a privilege, but it’s also a huge challenge!

      Reply
    • January 9, 2018 at 10:06 am
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      Unfortunately there’s not a lot of understanding and education across the board—it’s very hit and miss, which is why it’s important to arm yourself with information and know your rights.

      Reply

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