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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Guest Post: Transporting Breastmilk via Air

A major concern of a mom who travels without baby is how to bring back that precious liquid gold to her baby when she travels back home.  My own experience with traveling with breastmilk was not so bad because it was a trip from the US who had set TSA regulations.  However, since I was bringing home frozen milk checked in, I had some issues with the dry ice.  I decided to use dry ice since I was flying from the East Coast and it would take about 24 hours before I could get home and put the milk in the freezer.

How did I do it?  My aunt had an insulated cooler which she saved after she was given some chocolate covered strawberries.  I used this cooler and packed with with dry ice.  I bought the dry ice the night before my flight from the closest Safeway store.  Early the next morning, I was still able to pump and packed the freshly expressed milk along with my frozen milk in the insulated box, placed some newspapers, then dry ice on top.  Upon checking in, my box had to be opened.  Apparently, when traveling with dry ice, you have to inform the airline in advance and you can only check in a maximum of 8lbs.

Happily, I was within limit and when I got home more than 24 hours later, everything frozen solid - including the freshly expressed milk which was still in liquid form when I packed it.

Anyway, I'd like to share this guest post written by Aury Anne Atienza-Santos, a proud breastfeeding  mommy of 2 girls (4 year old and 16-month old).  She is currently working with an international organization for educational research and training.  Aury never wanted to have a child before.  However, when she did, she can't imagine why she thought that she didn't want them in the first place.

Aury went on a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia and messaged me in Facebook on how she could bring back her milk.  We emailed back and forth and I shared my experiences and some other tips that I found online.  To bring home her milk, she used ice packs instead of dry ice. Also, Aury hand carried all her breastmilk instead of checking them in. Here's Aury's story which shows that with the proper research and determination, you can bring home your liquid gold as "pasalubong" for your baby.

To pack my milk, I used an old issue of Time magazine as added insulation for the ice box, instead of going out to buy newspapers.  I would have used newspapers but the hotel could not give me any when I asked for it.

I tore the pages of the magazine to line the inside of the ice box before putting the milk bags then the ice packs and finally covering again with the magazine pages. I asked the hotel receptionist if he could help me print a copy of the TSA article. Thankfully, he obliged to print one for me. Prior to this, I had bugged him to call the airport and get information about transporting expressed breast milk.

When we got to the airport, while lined up for a group check-in, I spoke with one of the guys in charge of checking in the baggage.  I don’t think he understood me well, but he told me to wait and someone would talk to me about my concern. One guy after another came to speak with me and, each time, I would explain what I wanted, show them the contents of the ice box, tell them how much expressed breastmilk in all were there, and what the ice packs contained.

It was hard to explain even in plain English and with matching actions because of the language barrier. I had repeatedly told them I don’t want to check in the ice box with my expressed breast milk in it because it was  hot in the airplane baggage compartment and the high temperature could easily spoil the breastmilk. I also insisted that I don’t want to put the ice box inside my luggage and check it in. I emphasized again and again that my precious milk can easily spoil if put along with the other baggage. I actually did not give them any option and asked that either they let me hand carry the ice box or give it straight to the cabin crew and keep it on board the plane with me and not with the baggage.

At that time, I wasn’t aware that I was speaking to the airport’s high officials already—the chief security officer and the operations services manager in particular. They were all polite and rather calm despite the commotion I felt I was causing. It was probably good that Cambodians are generally nice people and not at all arrogant. They really listened intently to my explanations though I had to repeat many times, and eventually I was able to make them understood that (1) the liquid inside the bags are breastmilk and NOT cow’s milk; (2) those are for my baby who is in Manila, and certainly NOT for me (I was asked at one point if I was going to drink all of it); (3) the ice box cannot, in any way, stay in the baggage compartment of the airplane because the temperature there could spoil the breastmilk; and (4) the ice packs (Coleman Chillers) are NOT dry ice and contained ordinary water that were frozen to help keep my milk cold.

I have heard them talking that the milk is okay but the ice packs would have to be left behind because these were dry ice. I honestly don’t know either what dry ice is made from but when I heard them mention this, I just had to interrupt. What use will be my request to hand carry the ice box if there’s nothing to keep the milk cool?

The line of questioning of the airport guys told me that I was convincing them but they just could not figure out how to handle my concern and still abide by their security regulations. When they were at this point already, it was then I showed the printed TSA article to convince them more. They asked if the Philippines also follow the same regulations. Again, I don’t know this for sure but remembering what you said that we also follow the TSA regulations, and remembering also my experience when I went to Cebu where I was allowed to hand carry my ice box, I answered in the affirmative with great conviction.

A few minutes later, one of the guys said I would still have to check in the ice box for records, let it pass through the xray machine like all other baggages, and one of the guys at the other end of the conveyor would pick up the ice box, and deliver it directly to the airline crew. I was worried at first that all these would be done as explained but the guy assured me that he commands everything that is happening in the airport—turned out he is the operations services manager—and he would make sure that the guy at the end of the conveyor would do as he had told me. I made him promise me—very childish, I now realized—that my milk would be safe and that I could ask the cabin crew once on board to let me see the ice box just to be sure. He did promise anyway, and repeated my words.

Before checking in, the ice box was bubble wrapped. A special note was put on top aside from the “fragile” sticker. I didn’t even bother to read the details and now I wonder what was stated there. I was simply told the special note would indicate that the contents of the ice box should be handled with care, and would go directly to the head of the cabin crew. The operations services manager also wrote my seat number on the ice box. He assured me that before I board off the plane in Manila, it will be handed over to me. I heaved a sigh of relief and did not worry anymore.

The guy told me later on that he could not understand why I would want to bring back my milk because in their country, the “tradition is to throw away (the breastmilk) when the baby is not around to drink (it).” He also wished there would be more Cambodians who would do the same thing that I am doing. I told him there are many mothers in the Philippines and all over the world who express breastmilk when they are away from their babies. I stopped there because I am not certain how we all transport expressed breastmilk, knowing that the security regulations pertaining to breastmilk are still not clear. I guess it does depend from airline to airline and airport to airport, local and international travels—really, really sad when you think about it.  Had the rules been clear, I would not have to worry about it, but I did. I wondered how frequent travelers who are also breastfeeding moms bring back their expressed.

I haven’t travelled much lately and when I do, it’s usually business. The last time I was out-of-the-country was in 2009 and I was with the big bosses in my office. I didn’t even bother to ask about how to transport the milk back to Manila. I simply put the ice box inside my luggage. I didn’t worry so much then because the flight coming to Brunei was on time so I was certain our flight back would also be on time. I also did not want to be a cause of delay to the bosses if I had done what I did in our trip to Siem Reap.

However, for this trip from Siem Reap, I was very worried because the flight out of Manila was delayed for two hours.  So I was quite concerned with the possible delay of the return flight and the long gap from the  time I would be taking out the milk from the fridge of the hotel to the travel time from the airport to our home. I did not bring out my milk until it was a few minutes before we left the hotel. It was 7pm and our flight was supposed to be at 10:20pm. We boarded the plane at a quarter past midnight, got to Manila around 3:20am.

In case you do happen to be in Siem Reap International Airport, and need assistance in transporting your expressed breastmilk, their operations services manager is Mr. Ravuth SENG. He gave me his call card and I plan to email him to ask that they include in their security policies how to handle breastmilk. He seems like a really nice low profile-kind of guy who would listen to an ordinary breastfeeding mom like me, so I’d like to try and see what would happen.


Nzawani83 said...

this is exactly what i am looking for.

JKHerrera said...

thank you for this very helpful post. i was able to bring home all of my expressed milk from a 4 day trip to hongkong using ice packs with a cooler bag. i put the cooler bags inside my checked in luggage. thankfully the flight home was not delayed. do you or any of your readers have information on bringing home expressed breastmilk fron singapore? do they follow the TSA regulations?

mommyjan said...

wow! very timely...i was about to ask again (via email) how to transport milk via air. thanks for this. but may I ask for the regulations of our local airports and carriers on bringing breastmilk. i'm scheduled to travel this july. thanks!

Jenny said...

Hi JK! better if you call Singapore airlines :D am not sure if they follow TSA. but SQ might know since they are based in singapore

Jenny said...

for my recent travel from davao to manila, we were able to handcarry about 10 bags of frozen breastmilk with ice. this was via cebu pacific. i think you would need to ask the airline.  

JKHerrera said...

Thanks Jenny! Will ask SQ :) It should be okay to hand carry my Medela electric pump right?

mommyjan said...

thanks! appreciate this... :D

Anonymous said...

interesting story. :)

mumofsamandtrish said...

thanks for sharing this jenny!

Jenny said...

thank YOU for writing this Aury!!

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