I came back from a four day trip to Hong Kong recently, and successfully brought 36 bags of breast milk which consisted a total of 135 ounces back to Manila. There are still 20 bags in my freezer as I type this!
As an exclusively breast milk pumping mom, I researched about producing breast milk when out of the country (and without the baby) prior to traveling overseas. Some key issues I was concerned about included nursing intervals and pumping in public, storing the milk, keeping the milk fresh, sterilizing pump parts and bottles, and transporting the milk back home.
I struggled coming across articles that put together all the information I needed, so hopefully this blog entry helps answer your queries about pumping while abroad.
Before heading out, these were the things I prepared. I think this check list should summarize all the essentials you’ll need before embarking on your trip.
Checklist for traveling abroad
- Rechargeable Double Electric Pump – I brought two sets of pumps just in case. My Wisemom Double Electric Breast Pump and my Maternal USB Electric Wireless Breast Pump (2 pcs). I ended up only using the latter one while in Hong Kong, I’ll talk about the best breast pump brands I’ve used for another post. But yes, do bring at least one set of double electric pump for travel.
- Power Bank – For charging your pump in case it’s suddenly low on battery when you are pumping outside your hotel. Reminder that you cannot check in power banks, and maximum allowable limit for carry on is 10,000mAh.
- Sterilizer – I used the Milton tablets, which I purchased from Parenting Emporium for Php 635 (28 pcs) plus same day Lalamove delivery shipping cost. I bought it the afternoon before my 7am flight to Hong Kong.
- Ice Packs – I brought four pieces with me; two V-Cool Wave Ice Packs (heavy) and two sheets of Thermos 12-Cube Gel Ice Mat.
- Breastmilk Storage Bottles – I carried three pieces of Mom & Baby storage bottles, mostly for measuring milk and to serve as temporary storage containers before I transfer the milk to their breastmilk bags.
- Breastmilk Storage Bags – I usually produce 8 to 10 bags of milk daily, with each serving ranging from a low of 3oz to a high of 5oz. I decided to bring 40 bags (a mix of Dr. Dudu 200ml bags and Happy Hippo 6oz bags) to play it safe since my flight out from Manila was 7am for Day 1 (that means I would be leaving home 4am) and arrival time for my flight back from Hong Kong would be 11:45pm on Day 4.
- Marker – Sharpee, pentel pen, or whatever permanent marker you trust to not smudge for labeling the storage bags.
- Alcohol/Hand Sanitizer – For disinfecting your hands and/or any surface that may come in contact with your pump parts, or other nursing tools.
- Facial Tissue & Wet Wipes – To sanitize your hands and breasts (it gets sticky sometimes) before and after pumping.
- Breast Pads – Leaking is never comfortable! I use disposable ones. My favourite brands are Pigeon or Philips Avent. I brought about 16 pads for safety.
- Nursing Cover – I kept one in my carry-on backpack and another in my check-in luggage, but never got to use them because I only either pumped in a lactation room or in my hotel room while in Hong Kong.
- Silicone Baby Bottle Brush – Only because I feel a silicone one would not build up bacteria as much… but that’s just me! Use any bottle brush that you’re accustomed to!
- Baby Bottle Liquid Soap – I packed the 400ml refill from Tiny Buds and put it inside a ziplock bag to prevent it from possibly spilling in my clothes.
- Gallon Plastic Storage Bag – I brought 5 Ziploc bags. I was able to use a few for my milk that were stored in my hotel’s industrial freezer.
- Cooler – I used the 13L box from a set of 3 insulated coolers that I ordered from Lazada. In hind sight, I would recommend buying a branded one, possibly from Coleman, will explain more later.
- Backpack – I basically kept everything on this checklist, except for the cooler and bottle wash products, in my Cath Kidston backpack. It is water resistant (which was helpful because it was raining throughout our whole stay in Hong Kong) and also comes with an insulated compartment (where I eventually stored the milk and two pcs of V-cool Cooler that I brought home on my return flight).
Flying with breastmilk and cooler
I’ve googled TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk and coolers in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
So far, the Civil Aviation Department of Hong Kong states that the milk should be exempted from the 100ml travel restriction for carry-on protocols on liquid products. Same goes for Office for Transportation Security of the Philippines.
Exemptions will be made for medications, baby milk / food and special dietary requirements subject to verification.
Disclaimer that I did hear some horror stories about traveling moms being disallowed from bringing their breastmilk in their hand carry if they are traveling alone or not with a baby. Sometimes the exemptions are interpreted differently by airport security.
Anyway, since the flight to Hong Kong is only two hours long, I figured I could last without needing to pump on the plane. Hence, I opted to check in my cooler box with zero milk stored and only the ice packs inside.
For my return flight, I decided to check in the cooler box as well. My 13L cooler box was filled to the brim with 33 breastmilk bags and two 12-cube Thermos ice mats, so I thought it was no use burdening myself or my husband with such a heavy hand carry baggage.
I put the first mat at the bottom most of the cooler, and the second one in the middle layer, sandwiched between frozen breastmilk bags. Side note that frozen breastmilk bags when stacked together also work as frozen ice packs for each other. Moreover, do make sure your cooler box is sealed really well with tape, and that the airline staff labels it with “fragile” stickers so that it is handled with caution.
I pumped an additional three bags using one of the nursing rooms at Hong Kong International Airport after checking in. I stored these bags in a gallon Ziploc with the two V-cool wave ice packs in the insulated compartment of my carry-on backpack. I did not have any trouble bringing these on the plane as I produced milk after customs and security clearing/screening.
While I was successful in bringing home all my frozen milk, I noticed moisture form on the outside of my cooler box. This means the cooler box did not completely contain the cold temperature of the ice packs. Moreover, the frozen milk in the top most of the cooler box (nearest the cooler lid) had already thawed by the time I reached my home in Manila.
Some of my learnings from this include:
- Invest in a better cooler box (which explains my recommendation for trying branded ones in the checklist above)
- Breastmilk should be laid flat to maximize storage capacity of cooler box, but milk might stay frozen for much longer when clumped together (and not flattened all the way). I’m able to make this observation because the hotel staff did not flatten my milk prior to freezing, so some of my frozen milk are in weird shapes that happened to be more in tact and frozen hard.
- Place the ice packs in the bottom most and top most part of the cooler box, and store the frozen breastmilk in the middle.
Upon coming home, I immediately stored the thawed breastmilk in my refrigerator for my baby’s consumption within the next 24 hours, and ‘refroze’ my still frozen milk and slightly slushed milk in my deep freezer.
As long as the breast milk is still slushy or has ice crystals in it, then it isn’t considered defrosted, and it can be refrozen, even if more than 48 hours has gone by. Milk that is partially thawed and then refrozen is safe to eat.
I do, however, plan to use the milk I produced in Hong Kong for my baby’s consumption first before all other older milk that I have stored in the freezer. They should be fully consumed within the next few days.
Nursing intervals and storage
I went to Hong Kong for leisure, but I was traveling with a group. Therefore planning my nursing intervals was key.
I’m four months into exclusively pumping breastmilk already. During my baby’s first few weeks of life, I was pumping about 9-10x a day, almost every 2-3 hours. I have since been able to withhold pumping much longer. While in Hong Kong, I was able to manage pumping only 3-4x a day, for about 6-8 hour intervals.
I would pump at either 6:30am or 7:30am in the morning before heading out, second pump around 3:30pm after lunch, and 10pm or 11pm after dinner and just before going to sleep. I squeezed in an additional pumping session where I could just to empty out my breasts and extend the interval for the next time my breasts harden.
I would deposit the milk either immediately to the hotel restaurant’s industrial freezer, or store them first in my hotel room’s refrigerator overnight, then hand them over to restaurant staff before getting breakfast the next morning.
Hong Kong Disneyland
The only day that skewed from aforementioned routine was when we went to Disneyland. Hong Kong Disneyland get a special shout out because the staff was so nice, and their “Baby Room” is so clean and cute!
I used their nursing room twice and produced 17oz which I put into five breastmilk storage bags. They allowed us to keep the milk and ice packs in their refrigerator, but not the pumps or the cooler box. My husband, Jacob, had to carry the cooler box throughout the day because we didn’t want to spend 170HKD for a locker.
Bottle washing and sterilizing
One of my biggest concerns about breast pumping while traveling was really the cleanliness of the process. I wanted to make sure the milk I produced would be stored in sterile containers that my baby could safely consume.
At home, I use a steam sterilizer. But for traveling convenience, I tried the Milton tablets to sterilize my breastfeeding equipment for this trip.
I washed my bottles and tools as usual in warm soapy water, then rinsed with cold water. I utilized the cooler box for soaking the clean / washed pump parts in Milton’s sterilizing solution. The products are sterile and good to go after 15 minutes of being submerged, no need to rinse. The solution is simply 5L of water to 1 Milton tablet, good for 24 hours.
To end this very long post, I hope my experience encourage all breastfeeding moms to continue this labour of love for their little ones. I was so demotivated from the notion of pumping milk while traveling when I couldn’t find the resources to do it properly.
But personally going through four days abroad and successfully bringing home all my milk, I realize it’s not so bad after all. It’s all a matter of incorporating proper planning beforehand. Of course, it also helps that I traveled with my life partner Jacob, who was very helpful, supportive, and understanding. Also, I’d say it would require a different level of preparation for longer haul flights.
Regardless, I am happy to have survived the breastfeeding experience while traveling to and from Hong Kong. Let me know your other tips and tricks when pumping milk on the go, and feel free to ask any questions on the topic in the comments section below!