You’re on a business trip, far away from your baby. Even though you can’t nurse your little one right now, you can pump and store for later meals. Right?
Not if you want to travel by air! Okay, so you can bring some breast milk on an airplane. That is, if you have your baby by your side and follow the airline’s guidelines (at least some of the times – depending on what kind of training the company’s employees have and how well they know their own rules).
Recently, mum Jessica Coakley Martinez was traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport when security forced her to dump 500oz of her own breast milk. Not exactly the type of pump and dump that we usually think of.
According to Heathrow Airport’s website, only liquids in quantities of 100ml or less may be transported through security. These must be carried separately in a transparent, resealable bag that is no larger than 20cm x 20cm. There are two exceptions to the 100ml rule: One for liquid medicines and one for breast milk/baby food. The airport does require infants to be present (with mums traveling with breast milk) and asks that only enough milk to assist on the journey be carried on to the plane.
What if the infant isn’t with mum or she has more than 100ml on milk stored up? Well, one of two things is likely to happen. The first (noted on Heathrow’s website) is that the excess liquids should be packed in mum’s suitcase. In other words, if you check your stash of milk it’s okay. But, carrying it on is a no-go.
Let’s say you aren’t aware of the rule or you just couldn’t imagine that breast milk would be banned. Then you’re stuck with the second (and much less desirable) outcome – you have to throw it away. That’s exactly what happened to Martinez. Writing on her Facebook page (in an open letter to Aviation Security at Heathrow Airport), “You made me dump nearly 500oz of breast milk in the trash. You made me dump out nearly two weeks’ worth of food for my son.”
Martinez’s frozen stock milk represented the dedication that she has to her child, and willingness to spend her time making sure that he could be nourished naturally when she was away.
She writes on her Facebook page:
“Being a working mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Trying to manage the logistics of drop-offs and pick-ups and conference calls and meetings and finding the time and energy to make sure both your family and work are getting ample amounts of your care and attention is both challenging and fulfilling, but mostly exhausting and stressful.”
For this mum, like many mums worldwide, traveling is part of her job. She admits to spending months pumping both during the day and in the middle of the night, and then freezing her milk in an effort to feed her son. Despite her best efforts, this wasn’t enough to care for her infant son while she was away for work. “But eventually I had to deal with the sense of failure I felt when I realized it wouldn’t be enough to nourish him while I traveled, and thus I would have to introduce formula.”
How did Martinez remedy the situation? Along with formula, she made it her mission to pump whenever she could while traveling.
“To help ease the personal guilt, I resolved to pump at every possible moment between my meetings, presentations, business lunches and dinners, taxis, flights, and long waits at airports.”
She was forced to pump in public toilets, airplane bathrooms, showers, closets and even unsecured conference rooms. She faced embarrassment when custodians accidentally walked in on and discomfort in asking hotel staff to freeze her milk for her.
In her open letter, Martinez acknowledges her, “part in this equation.” She admits that she should have reviewed the Civil Aviation rule, but does say that it is, “A regulation in and of itself that is incredibly unfair and exclusionary in consideration of all of the other working mothers like me who are required at certain times to spend time away from their baby, but intend to continue to breastfeed them.”
If you’re asking, “Well, why didn’t she (at that point) go ahead and check the bag with the milk in it?” – she did. Airport security told her in order to check her bag she would have to exit to the airport and re-enter. Beyond that inconvenience, security wasn’t willing to give her the milk back.
There’s no doubt (and, Martinez acknowledges this) that airport security is essential. Security workers protect those on the ground and in the skies. Strict screenings are an unfortunate extension of world terror. But, frozen breast milk? Really?