Just a bit of a year ago, Chris and I returned home from a wonderful trip to Ireland (which I never finished recapping ... ). At the time of the trip, Ryan was almost eight months old, and, being the milk fiend that he was, still nursed almost every two hours. He ate some solid food, but since I have as much sap as a maple tree, I wasn't pushing the solid food because somehow Mum-mums and Cheerios meant that he wasn't my baby anymore. It was quite the change in attitude from the first three months of his life when I didn't know if I could keep breastfeeding. Ryan also only occasionally took a bottle and didn't like formula. I think I tried three kinds in that frantic last month before we left. You would think that I would have practiced more, but do you know how easy it is to exclusively nurse (once you have it down) compared to all of the prep and cleaning that comes with bottle feeding?? (just my experience from being a full-time nanny a bottle fed baby). On top of this formula refusing, kind of solid-eating, lukewarm to bottle catastrophe was the fact that I didn't even know how much milk Ryan drank a day. All of this summed up to a recipe for a wife who tells her husband on the hour, every hour that, "Should we really go?!" when most of our trip was being generously gifted to us.
1. The one time he drank a bottle of formula and got my hopes up about the prospect of a backup plan 2. Not happy campers
We were going to be apart from Ryan for twelve days. I was estimating that I needed twenty ounces a day so I needed at least 240 ounces of breast milk by the time I left to take Ryan to San Diego to stay with Chris' parents (you're welcome for that tough math calculation). I had about forty ounces or so already back in San Diego from when we were out there visiting. Too bad I had only allowed myself a month to create the remaining of such a must-have stash.
The month of August was basically me, myself, and my pump. I do not know how mothers who exclusively pump do it! I would wake up early to pump, pump after every time Ryan ate, which was often, pump right after Ryan went to bed and again before I went to bed. I drank water like a fish, ate enough lactation cookies to feed a month of La Leche League meetings, and sipped Mother's Milk Tea like I was from across the pond. Somehow, my pile of Lansinoh freezer bags finally reached 200+ ounces.
Now the question was ... how do I get it to San Diego?
After my initial research, I planned on shipping it with dry ice which seems to have worked for several people according to the internets. Then I realized that that would cost quite a bundle and that I already had a plane ticket for myself and my own bundle of joy. Can a mom check a bag of frozen milk? I looked more into that option and found out that yes, we can do it! That became my plan for about the time of one pumping session during which I spent imagining my beyond precious luggage getting lost. Can a mom carry on a cooler of frozen breast milk when they are so strict about carry on contents?
Yes. Yes, she can. Here is how I did it:
1. I bought a cooler that was small enough to count as a carry-on and easy to tote around for a day, but large enough to contain the frozen milk. I used a 16 quart cooler with a padded strap except surprise, surprise mine wasn't camouflage. I made sure to have my contact info in the cooler pocket and tied a ribbon on the strap so I could easily identify it in case it was lost.
2. I printed out the Traveling With Formula, Breast Milk and Juice, page from the TSA website. It clearly states that frozen breast milk is not only permitted, but also allowed to be larger in amount than the normal three ounce guideline. I made sure to have the paper within reach when we went through security in case the TSA worker was unfamiliar with the policy.
3. By the time I flew, I had about 230 ounces of frozen breast milk with me which was almost forty bags of six ounces each. I didn't have much room for freezer packs, but I stuffed a few in there where I could on the top. I waited to pack the cooler until right before we had to leave so it stayed in the freezer for as long as possible.
Liquid GOLD. My frozen assets.
4. Declare the breast milk right away once you reach the security belt. The TSA man just opened the cooler to see what was in it, swabbed it down to test it for anything of warning and then also swabbed down our Ergo that Ryan was in and tested that. It was all very quick!
5. Relax and travel!
After almost a four hour bus ride, two hour wait in the airport, four hour plane ride from Chicago to San Diego and then about an hour more until we arrived at the freezer at my in-laws, the breast milk made it to its destination! Since the frozen bags cooled one another very well throughout the day of travel that most of the cooler was still frozen. Only the top few bags had started to turn a little bit slushy. Success! And I am happy to say that the Ryan drank his last six ounces on the plane ride back with his Oma to be reunited with us!
Leaving Ryan and then pumping throughout the trip will be a story for another day.
So if you are a mom on a business trip or just a trip without your baby and are pained to have to throw away all that breast milk, just fly home with it!