For long-term TDY’s or deployments you may decide to pump and ship your milk back home to your caregiver. If you are PCSing you may have a large stash of breastmilk that you need to get safely from one duty station to the next, either within the States (driving) or from overseas (flying). Either way, it will require some pre-planning on your part. BFinCB thanks SFC Rose Ryon (Soldiers’ Chorus, U.S. Army Field Band) for the following information on shipping milk, and TSgt Karen Sheffer, USAF, for the photos. This information is available as a handout (Shipping Breastmilk) in PDF format on the Handouts page.
Before any TDY or deployment you will need to stock up on some essential supplies. In addition to your double-electric breast pump (and all the items you normally pack for pumping at work), you may want to pack some of the following items that other military mothers have found useful when “on the road” and shipping milk home :
- Hand pump or attachment – for emergencies
- Pump cleaning gear – bottle brush and dish soap or steam cleaning bags
- Hand sanitizer – you may not always have running water
- Batteries – you may not always have electricity
- Extension cord/adapter – you may not always be near a convenient outlet
- Milk storage bags – they take up less room and ship better
- Sharpie marker – to date your breastmilk
- Electric cooler – to keep your milk cold until you can ship it home (you may not have access to a refrigerator)
- Styrofoam or soft-sided coolers – for shipping milk, at least two or more, depending on how much you produce
- Shipping box – large enough to hold the cooler(s)
- Shipping labels
- Packing tape
- Larger Ziploc bags – gallon size or larger
- Newspaper and/or brown lunch bags – for wrapping frozen milk
- Gloves – if you will be using dry ice
Packaging Your Milk
Taking the time to package your milk carefully will ensure that it gets to your caregiver, and ultimately to your baby, in perfect shape and ready to use. Whether or not you use dry ice is your choice (here is a dry ice directory for the United States: http://www.dryicedirectory.com/usa.htm). Frozen breastmilk packed properly will generally stay frozen long enough to ship it overnight or second-day. The packing directions are basically the same (just omit the dry ice). Have all your supplies ready to go (shipping boxes, newspaper, labels, etc.). Begin by putting four bags of frozen milk into a lunch bag, and then wrap with another, forming a “milk pack.” Once you have them all wrapped in lunch bags, put a few of the milk packs in a Ziploc bag, creating packages of milk. Then either surround your block of dry ice with the packages of milk or line the cooler and layer the packages with newspaper. Fill any remaining space in the cooler with wadded up newspaper. Pack the coolers in the shipping box, secure it well with packing tape, and label.
How many shipments you want to make depends on how much milk you are pumping, how much your baby is taking, and the expense of shipping. Shipping rates are not cheap, especially for overnight or two day shipping, and the use of dry ice will make the package much heavier. There may also be a hazardous material fee tacked on due to the dry ice. Overseas shipping is even more expensive (average is $200/shipment). As of this writing, the United States Post Office will not accept breastmilk for shipping, so you will have to go with FedEx©, DHL© or UPS© as your carrier.
- FedEx – information about shipping with dry ice can be found here or you can call 1-800-GOFEDEX and press 81 for the Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials hotline.
- UPS – information about shipping with dry ice can be found here. Air or ground shipments in US under 5.5 lbs require no special handling, over 5.5 lbs requires paperwork and a $5 fee). International shipments also require paperwork and a fee. Call the UPS Hazardous Materials Support Center at 1-800-554-9964 for more information.
- DHL – has information here for shipping with dry ice.
If you plan to pump and ship your milk from overseas, you must check with any countries the milk will be transported through to be sure that it meets all customs regulations, and some countries do not allow human milk to be transported at all. You may be required to fill out paperwork from the USDA and/or IRS. You will need to freeze your milk thoroughly and wrap in newspapers (dry ice will be very hard to come by overseas) and place it in a cooler, preferably hard-sided. Ship your milk with the fastest shipping speed possible (overnight or two to three days). Mark the package carefully that it is fragile and perishable. Your caregiver on the receiving end should carefully check that the milk is still frozen and discard any milk that may have thawed or leaked.
Another new option on the market is Milk Stork, a company founded by a working mom who wanted to find a better way to ensure that her breastmilk got home to her baby safe and sound. Milk Stork is the first and (so far) only breast milk delivery service for traveling moms. Milk Stork provides no-fuss, refrigerated, express shipping of your milk to your baby back home via FedEx Priority Overnight. It is pricey at $99/shipment, and only available within the continental United States. But it may provide the peace of mind you need, especially if your deployment or TDY takes you someplace where finding a time and place to ship your milk is difficult.
If you will be traveling with your frozen breastmilk, such as during a PCS move or returning from a TDY assignment, you may find yourself wondering how to either drive across country with your milk, or how to package and get your milk through airport security.
When driving with frozen breastmilk you have a few options: For small amounts and short distances, you can use a plug-in style cooler that uses the cigarette lighter adapter in your vehicle to keep the milk frozen while in transit. For larger amounts or long distances, you may want to invest in a larger cooler, or even a deep freezer, and dry ice. Make sure that your vehicle is well-ventilated if the cooler is in the passenger space (such as a van or SUV), due to the off-gassing (of carbon dioxide) that occurs as dry ice ‘melts’. If it is in the U-Haul you don’t have to worry about the off-gassing (see above for places to obtain dry ice and wear gloves when handling it). FYI plastic breastmilk bags don’t always hold up well when used around dry ice, keep a barrier between the dry ice and milk bags. There is a great video by Eats on Feets on how to package breastmilk with dry ice.
If you are flying home from overseas and need to travel with breastmilk, what you decide to do depends on how much milk you need to bring back with you. Consider whether you are traveling commercial or via Space-A. If you will be traveling with a lot of breastmilk you may want to package it as though you are going to ship it (see above) and check it as luggage. It will stay plenty cold in the cargo hold of the airplane for the duration of your flight (and actually should stay frozen for 24-48 hours). If you will be hand-carrying it on board and keeping it with you in the cabin, you can put it in an insulated cooler, also using newspaper as added insulation, and it should stay cold for at least 12 hours. You can bring quantities greater than 3 ounces of breastmilk through security, with or without having your baby with you. TSA asks that you have the milk separated from your other belongings and understand that it may be inspected during the screening process. Click here for more information from the TSA website. For more information on flying with breastmilk check out Flying with Breast Milk at the Women’s Health Today blog. Also consider checking with your local Space-A Terminal for their requirements when traveling with frozen breastmilk.
Crystal, USAR shares her experience flying home from a TDY:
I am in the Military with a 10 week old at home. I was TDY this week. I of course Googled to make sure I was updated on all regulations because I would be traveling with such large supply of milk. It was like 3 gallons. So a few tips. I did wear my uniform which I hate doing while traveling for lots of reason. I figured it would help with TSA and help explain such large quantities. You must declare you have a breast pump and milk. Once declared it will be inspected. I asked the agents to change their gloves before touching my coolers which they willingly did. If at all possible freeze your liquid gold. That is the most important step. If you don’t freeze your supply it will have to be opened and tested. I also double bagged, putting 5 smaller containers in gallon bags. Your bags will touch the tables, so the double bag method is great. They only swabbed the gallon bags versus the actual milk pouches which provided an extra layer of protection. Also give yourself extra time for training.
If you find the cost of transporting your breastmilk to be a barrier, look to your local installation’s service member organizations such as the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, or Air Force Aid Society for loans or grants. TRICARE does NOT offer reimbursement of shipping or transport expenses, and the IRS does NOT consider them a tax write off either.