How to Keep Breastmilk Frozen for 14+ Hours While Traveling
During our most recent move, I had to figure out how to transport 400 ounces of pumped, frozen breastmilk. After many hours of research, I found the most efficient, and cost-effective, way to transport milk via plane. It wasn’t using dry ice. It wasn’t shipping it via a next day service provider.
While researching, I kept reading about using dry ice. Did you know that for the dry ice to effectively keep items frozen, you have to pack one pound of dry ice for every pound of frozen breastmilk? Well, 400 ounces is equal to 25 pounds. So I would need 25 pounds of dry ice. Meaning, my bag would probably be over 50 pounds. I would be paying an extra fee for “heavy luggage,” or I would be lugging around a 50+ pound carry-on bag. Dry ice is expensive too, typically $3 per pound.
While researching dry ice options, I called a local butcher where I could purchase dry ice. He was the go-to guy for buying dry ice in our city, but he recommended NOT using dry ice. He said that dry ice often changes the flavor of food, including breastmilk. Many mothers had reported back to him that their baby would not take the frozen breastmilk after using dry ice to keep it frozen. So using dry ice from the local butcher was out.
The next option was to use a courier delivery service, similar to FedEx or UPS. I would have to purchase specific boxes with dry ice compartments. But, I already learned: Dry ice = bad! I would have to pay for overnight shipping. The largest box available cost $150 and would hold 200 ounces. I also had to pay for overnight shipping, which cost $200. Therefore, transporting 400 ounces would have cost me $700. It would have been cheaper to buy my breastmilk a seat on the plane as we moved.
I am also a bit of a control freak, so the thought of dropping off breastmilk to be shipped and hoping it arrived at the next location was daunting. I would also have to plan to ship the milk the day before we left for a house-hunting trip so we would be there when it arrived. We already had a long to-do list when we landed in our new city, and the thought of trying to remember to pick up a couple of boxes of breastmilk was stressful. And there was always the fear of, what if they lost my shipment?
So, after researching, I had to choose between transporting icky tasting breastmilk on my own or paying someone to ship breastmilk that would still use dry ice. Neither option was good enough for me. So, I came up with an even better option. I knew we would be making one more home-searching trip before the final move. My in-laws lived near our new town. So, I was going to find a way to take milk with me.
My husband and I went to a sporting goods store and bought the best cooler they had, as well as reusable ice blocks. I was able to pack 200 ounces in the cooler, along with the ice packs. Because I couldn’t fit 400 ounces in the cooler, I had to transport the breastmilk on two separate trips.
On our first trip, I packed the cooler the night before we left for the airport and stored it in our freezer. Twelve hours passed from the time we headed to the airport to the time we got to my in-laws’ home where I could pack the breastmilk in their deep freezer. When we arrived at their house, the breastmilk was still frozen solid.
The second trip was our final moving trip, and I could put the frozen breastmilk into our freezer right away.
Below are a couple of tricks you can use to ensure that your breastmilk stays frozen and travels safely on your plane ride.
Tips for Transporting Breast Milk on a Flight
- When freezing your milk, lie it down flat in the freezer. Use a plate or a pan to hold the bag flat. Thin, flat bags of milk are much smaller. You can get a lot more milk in a cooler when it is flat.
- Purchase a cooler that has a leakproof zipper and closed-cell rubber foam lining to ensure milk will stay cold. I used a YETI cooler and it kept milk frozen for an entire day! You can find it on Amazon, here! Since our trip, YETI has come out with a backpack version of the cooler which I think is even better. Easier to carry on your back and it looks like it has more space.
- Pack the cooler with one reusable ice block on the bottom and one on the top.
- Pack the cooler the night before your flight and put it in the freezer to stay cold. Make sure the zipper is completely sealed close.
- Don’t open up the cooler again, but one time when required to at security checkpoint at the airport. It’s tempting to keep opening the cooler and checking your milk. Don’t do it. Each time, you are letting warm air into the cooler.
- Security will inspect your breastmilk at the airport. They will open the cooler and take out each bag of milk. You can minimize the handling of individual packets by packing them in quart-size plastic bags. If milk is frozen solid, they will only look at the bags. If breastmilk is in liquid form, they will test each bag. Which is why I recommend traveling with breastmilk frozen instead.
- Watch the security folks like a hawk and ask them to put on clean gloves. You want them to know you are watching every move and that puts the pressure on them to work quickly to get milk back in the cooler asap.
- Once you arrive at your destination, put your breastmilk in the freezer right away. If you cannot, transfer breastmilk to a deep freezer right away, place the cooler of frozen breastmilk in a large cooler with ice to continue to keep it cold until it can be put in a freezer.
Keeping breastmilk frozen while traveling, whether for a vacation, a one-way move, or something in between can feel a bit overwhelming. Follow these tips to help keep it simple and reach out to me if you have any questions along the process. I’ve helped numerous moms troubleshoot how to travel with breastmilk and I’d love to help you too.
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