Road tripping with a baby is not for the faint of heart and taking care of the feeding needs of your baby is a big part of what makes it stressful. However, with the right equipment and preparation, traveling with breast milk by car can be managed without any hiccoughs.
Traveling with breast milk by car is safe, easy, and completely manageable with a little preparation and a couple of helpful tools. In most cases, all you will need is a breast pump, some bottles, some milk storage bags, and a cooler with ice. For a short trip of 3 – 4 hours, you will need your breast pump, a cooler bag with ice packs and some bottles to feed your baby your expressed milk. A journey of 4 hours or longer will also require a breast pump, cooler bag with ice packs or dry ice to transport frozen milk, an adequate supply of feeding bottles along with cleaning supplies to reuse your equipment.
In this article, I will share the guidelines for milk storage while traveling and how you can make your road trip go as smooth as possible.
How Can I Keep Breast Milk Cold While Traveling?
The primary concern most parents have when they are traveling is how they can keep the milk cold so that it does not spoil.
There are several methods you can use to keep breast milk cold while traveling. Here is a guide on how to use breastfeeding storage bags which can come in handy when travelling. But first, make sure that you need to keep the milk cold at all. In many cases, you will be able to keep the milk at room temperature.
Fresh breast milk can stay at room temperature for up to 4 hours (source). If you wanted to, you could pump a little before your baby is expected to want to feed and have a bottle of fresh milk ready to go. Even if the baby is not quite ready when you are done pumping, the milk will be fine for up to 4 hours!
This method of pumping and immediately (or soon thereafter) feeding the baby is simple and reduces the amount of stuff you will need to bring on your trip. It will only work if mom and baby are traveling together, however.
If you’re taking a longer journey, it is best to bring a supply of fresh breast milk in a cooler with ice packs, not frozen breast milk. This is because the fresh milk can last up to 4 days in temperatures lower than 40 degrees and frozen milk, once thawed, can only last 24 hours (source).
That’s right. Fresh breast milk takes longer to spoil than frozen!
There are four ways to keep breast milk cold while traveling by car.
- Cooler Bag. Putting breast milk in an insulated bag with ice packs is a common practice among parents. It is effective and will keep a bottle cold for quite some time depending on the quality of the bag.
- Cooler. Coolers work like cooler bags, but they are larger, sturdier, and generally much better at keeping things cold. Fill a cooler with ice packs or loose ice to keep your breast milk cold while you travel. Once you arrive at your destination, transfer the milk to a refrigerator.
- Thermoelectric cooler. Thermoelectric coolers are kind of like refrigerators for your car. You can use one to keep breast milk cold during very long trips. They are a bit pricey, but if you travel long distances with breast milk often, it could be worth it.
- If you are trying to bring a stockpile of breast milk to your destination, you can use dry ice in a cooler to keep the milk frozen. Dry ice can be purchased at many major supermarkets like Walmart and Costco for between $1 and $3 per pound.
How Long Will Breast Milk Stay Frozen in a Cooler?
If you are traveling with frozen breast milk, you may need to take extra precautions to ensure that the frozen milk stays frozen. Once frozen breast milk thaws you only have about 24 hours to use it before it needs to be discarded.
If you pack your cooler full of ice, frozen breast milk will stay frozen in it for approximately 24 hours. You would have 24 hours after that to use it or lose it.
As long as the breast milk is still slushy, it is still considered frozen and can be placed back in the freezer (source).
For a longer trip, you might consider using dry ice as it can keep breast milk frozen for much longer than regular ice.
The amount of dry ice you need will depend on the size of your cooler, but generally, 20 pounds is enough for a 15-quart cooler (source). If your trip will take more than one day, add an extra 5 pounds of dry ice per day that you need the block to last.
This means if you need a 20-pound block of dry ice to last three days, then you will actually want to get a 35-pound block (source).
Dry ice can be a dangerous material. Special care must be taken when handling it. In addition, it should not be allowed to sublimate in an enclosed environment. As dry ice sublimates it puts out carbon dioxide gas, which can cause carbon dioxide poisoning.
How Do You Keep Breast Milk Warm While Traveling?
If you need to use frozen or cold breast milk while traveling, you will likely want to warm it up. There is no harm in giving a baby breast milk straight from the refrigerator, but a baby who is used to body temperature milk may not find this appealing.
To warm up breast milk while traveling, you can run the storage bag or bottle under hot water for a few minutes or put it to soak in a bowl of hot water.
This might not be possible without stopping along the way. If you want to be able to warm up breast milk in the car without making a stop, you may need to invest in a bottle warmer that has a car adaptor, like this Munchkin Travel Bottle Warmer.
Is it Safe to Pump While Driving?
Pumping breast milk while driving is an amazing time saver, especially for moms who have long commutes, and there is no law specifically against it, but can it really be done safely?
Safe driving requires that you do not do anything that could distract you while driving like checking your cell phone, eating, or drinking. In many states, there are laws against doing anything while driving that could distract you.
With that in mind, you have to ask yourself how much a distraction will it be to be pumping breast milk while you are driving.
Only you can know if pumping breast milk while driving would be safe for you. You need to be able to pump completely hands free, and the pump cannot pull your eyes from the road. If pumping breast milk is an effortless process for you, that is great. Driving and pumping at the same time may work well for you, but for many women, it is not that easy.
If you plan to pump while driving, try a practice session first. Start in your driveway by hooking up and visualizing what it would be like Is the seat belt in the way? Do you feel comfortable steering?
Then, you could try a few laps around an empty parking lot before you test it out on the roads. If you don’t think you can do it safely, don’t do it at all.
To pump breast milk while driving, hook up your pump before you start your journey and unhook it after you have reached your destination. Never try to hook up your pump, adjust it, or remove it while driving.
It is also safe to pump breast milk as a passenger, as long as you can find a way to set yourself up that is practical and comfortable. The biggest issue you may have is cleaning the pump equipment after you have finished pumping.
If you are on a long car trip, you may want to bring a plastic tub for water, dish soap and a scrub brush so that you can clean on the go.
Is it legal to Nurse a Baby in a Moving Car?
No. Car seat regulations vary from state to state, but all states require that babies be in a car seat designed for their height and weight while the car is moving.
If you must nurse your baby, then you should have the driver pull the car over. Stopping to nurse your baby may not be ideal when you’re in a time crunch, but this is the only safe course of action.
You should never nurse a baby when it is bucked into its car seat either. If there was an accident, your body would crash into your baby and cause it serious injury (source).
In addition, you would likely need to get out of your seat belt or in an improper seat belt position to be able to nurse the baby while it is in a car seat.
This would be extremely unsafe for you, and other people in the car in the event of an accident. Your body could be thrown around the car and hurt the other people in the vehicle, not to mention yourself.
What Will I Need for a Long Car Trip versus a Short Car Trip?
A short trip road trip (about 3 to 4 hours) will not necessarily require many supplies. In fact, if your baby is traveling with you, you can get away with a hand pump and a few bottles.
But if your baby isn’t traveling with you or you are bringing frozen or refrigerated milk, you will need a way to keep the bottles cold.
For a trip longer than 4 hours or that involves traveling over many days, you will need to bring all of your equipment with you.
Here is a chart that will help you keep in mind the items you might need:
|Supplies||Short Trip (3-4 hours)||Long Trip (4+ hours)|
|Breast pump and pumping supplies||Yes, typically needed to feel comfortable.||Yes|
|Cooler with ice packs||Yes, unless you plan to pump and feed the baby with the milk right away.||Yes, because you will likely want to bring extra milk just in case.|
|Dry ice||No||If it is a multiple day trip and you are transporting frozen milk, dry ice will keep the milk frozen.|
|Thermoelectric cooler||No||Not necessary, but handy.|
|Bottle Warmer with car adaptor||If you have cold milk, yes. If you pump and feed right away, no.||Yes|
|Bottles||1 or 2 bottles, more for when you arrive if you cannot clean these.||Enough for regular feedings if you cannot access a way to wash them|
|Cleaning Supplies (soap, scrub brush, basin etc)||No, unless you need them for your destination.||Probably, especially if you need to be on the road multiple days or do not own a lot of bottles.|