Mom’s Breast Milk Missing from Checked Bag

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When everything works as it should, nursing your baby can be special, healthy, simple, and mutually beneficial, but it gets very tiring and very complicated quickly when modern day life intercedes. If you, your partner, or a close member of your circle hasn’t yet nursed a little one for a period of time, I doubt I can adequately describe how much of a challenge it can be when what is an evolutionary biological norm hits 2018 working parent life. I could go into much greater detail about the highs and lows from my own years of nursing, but instead let’s fast forward to a story about a mom I first saw on Facebook this week, that has now hit the media circuit, too.

The story goes that a nursing mom was flying United from Honolulu to Newark to Richmond to get home to her seven-month-old. She was not in Hawaii for vacation without her baby, but rather was there for a 15-day deployment exercise as she is a Captain in the Air Force. She had a hard time keeping up with her pumping routine both due to her busy military schedule and trying to keep up with her body’s normal schedule from the east coast. If you haven’t done it, you may think that time difference is trivial when it comes to pumping milk, but this schedule disruption unsurprisingly resulted in her getting mastitis three days into the trip. Milk is used to coming out at certain intervals and in certain amounts, and when it doesn’t, bad things can happen. Mastitis is no joke. It is painful, can come with a nasty fever, and has to be treated.

This military mama pushed, fought the mastitis, didn’t quit pumping, and 9 days into the trip proudly sent this photo of her ‘liquid gold’ (and it absolutely is) to her husband back home.

At the end of her time away she filled an Igloo cooler all the way to the top with her frozen pumped milk and was ready to bring it home to her baby who had more than gone through her stash of pumped milk while she was away. When she landed in Richmond, this is reportedly all that was left in the cooler. The overwhelming majority of the milk from the previously filled cooler was mysteriously gone.

The United baggage staff in Richmond reportedly asked her “what they were supposed to do about lost breast milk” and asked, “who would want to steal that?” Not only was most of her milk now missing, but she was being treated as if that was a very trivial happening. I have no clue if it was stolen or simply somehow fell out, but it was gone. Breast milk being stolen isn’t that far-fetched of a concept as it has a resell value that ranges from about $2 – $5 an ounce, much more if you go through a milk bank. If a baby drinks 30 ounces of purchased breast milk in a day, that is $60 – $150 per day. Multiply that by the 10+ days of milk this mom was missing and it is actually a pretty big sum.

How to fly with frozen breast milk

Transporting breast milk by plane is not actually that easy or straightforward at first glance. Even if you are 100% prepared and read all of the regulations from the airline and from TSA it is not simple once you add in the element of humans making stuff up as they go (or stealing?!). I’ve read way too many accounts of things going wrong when nursing moms are trying to bring milk home to their babies by plane. That said, things really should be better now than even a few years ago thanks to BABES Act that went into effect in 2017 and includes more training for TSA staff on traveling with milk.  

This traveling mom did nothing wrong as she froze her milk, put it in a cooler, and followed the airline’s instruction to her to not tape it up. That said, the TSA does allow breast milk to be brought as a carry-on even if you are not flying with your child. It will be subject to additional screening, but it is expressly allowed. There is the ambiguous statement that it is allowed in “a reasonable quantity”, but hopefully the amount you pumped while away from home for two weeks will be considered reasonable for the situation.

My recommendation for moms who are flying with pumped milk would be to freeze it and fly with it in a cooler as a carry-on that remains with you at all times. You are also permitted to have frozen ice packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to keep the milk frozen. While the TSA and FAA permit dry ice up to certain quantities in both carry-on and checked luggage, I personally would not go that route as the airlines don’t seem to have consistent policies in place on dry ice.

When flying with breast milk, allow extra time for additional security and to deal with any potential issues if the TSA or airline staff on duty that day isn’t familiar with the rule that allows moms to fly with breastmilk as a carry-on. Have the link to the TSA rule on flying with breastmilk handy, and no matter what you do, don’t feel like you have to let that milk go to waste. At least domestically, you absolutely can fly with your milk as a carry-on.

I feel so bad for this mother both because her milk was somehow lost in transit and for how she was treated after that happened. Hopefully, the airline will be able to work with her to compensate in some way for what was lost and her story will make other moms more familiar with the variety of ways that you can transport milk back home.

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