Breast Milk of All Things
Lead Editorial

Breast Milk of All Things

This week a woman named Emily Calandrelli tried to go through TSA security screening at Los Angeles Intl. Airport in Los Angeles Calif. She was told by two male TSA agents that she couldn’t bring two ice packs through security because they were not frozen solid (one was, one was not). Worried that she wouldn’t be able to keep her breast milk, which she was going to pump prior to her flight, from going bad, she asked to speak to someone else.

I’ll let Emily tell the story — here is a partial transcript of her tweet thread: “Yesterday was my 1st trip away from my 10wk old son, who I’m currently breastfeeding. I’m going through security at LAX. I brought my pump and 2 ice packs – only 1 of which was cold (I won’t need the other until I come home, when I’ll have more milk).”

She didn’t have milk with her as it was the beginning of her trip but she was planning to pump at the airport prior to her flight and throughout her trip. “I was planning to get a last second pump sesh in before my 5 hour flight,” her tweet said. Two male TSA agents told her she would not be able to bring the ice packs through because there were not frozen solid. The ice packs are absolutely necessary to store the pumped breast milk safely, for later consumption.

When she was told she couldn’t bring the ice packs through, she asked to speak to someone else hoping they might have a better understanding of the rules and allow the gel packs, which can be frozen and thawed many times, to go through. The supervisor came over and told her the same — the gel packs could not go through. “He said ‘if you had milk on you, this wouldn’t be a problem.’ He asked (‘multiple times’) ‘well WHERE is the baby.’ He said if my child was with me, it wouldn’t be an issue,” she recounted in her tweet.

She then asked several times to speak with a female agent, who might understand the nuances of the issue better. They did not allow that. They escorted her out of the line and made her check the ice packs. Without them, she could not pump before the flight as the milk would spoil. She was flustered, upset and worried about both her baby’s food supply and her own health. She was worried about getting mastitis, which is an inflammation of breast tissue that often involves an infection. The inflammation results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness accompanied by fever and chills. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding and can result from engorged breasts that have not been expressed of milk.

Turns out those three men were pretty clueless, not only about breastfeeding, breast milk storage and female anatomy, they were also wrong about the very rules they work by. TSA rules specifically state that you’re allowed to have gel ice packs, whether they are frozen or not, for medically necessary purposes. Here is the exact wording on the TSA website: “Ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice — regardless of the presence of breast milk — are allowed in carry-on. If these accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as described above. You may also bring gel or liquid-filled teethers, canned, jarred and processed baby food in carry-on baggage. These items may be subject to additional screening.”

And as Calandrelli tweeted, “Emptying my breasts on a regular schedule and providing food for my child IS medically necessary.” The TSA’s website also states: “Frozen liquid items are allowed through the checkpoint as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen liquid items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 liquids requirements. Note that medically necessary gel ice packs in reasonable quantities are allowed regardless of their physical state of matter (e.g., melted or slushy) with or without the presence of breast milk. Please notify the TSA officer at the checkpoint for inspection.”

Reasonable quantities of gel packs are allowed — she had two — regardless of their state of matter. With or without the presence of breast milk. “Yesterday I was humiliated that I had to explain to 3 grown men that my breasts still produce milk when I’m not with my child. Yesterday I was embarrassed telling them about my fear of mastitis if I didn’t pump. Today I’m furious.”

To add insult to injury, the TSA agent, as he was escorting her back towards the screening area said, “…and don’t try to sneak it back through a second time. We’ll just make you toss it out,” Calandrelli tweeted.

The TSA guidelines go on to say: “Formula, breast milk, juice in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag. Remove these items from your carry-on bag to be screened separately from the rest of your belongings. You do not need to travel with your child to bring breast milk. Breast milk and formula are considered medically necessary liquids. This also applies to breast milk pumping equipment (regardless of presence of breast milk).”

Breastfeeding is more important and necessary than ever, and yes, it is medically necessary — medically necessary to keep tiny babies alive. Pumping and storing breast milk is part and parcel of the process of feeding most babies. Moms refer to breast milk as liquid gold. The nutrients in breastmilk are better absorbed and used by babies. Science has found that breastmilk has the nutrients that are best for a baby’s brain growth and nervous system development. If a mother must be away from her child during this time, the best option is to pump and store the milk for later use.

But in case you are oblivious and haven’t read the news recently (I’m talking to you TSA), there is a massive formula shortage in the United States right now. This severe shortage of infant formula is a result of the global supply chain problems and has been compounded by a huge product recall after two babies allegedly died after consuming a specific type of infant formula. That company closed the factory in which that formula was produced shortly thereafter, further exacerbating the shortage. It is causing stress for mothers who may have low milk supply and need to supplement with formula, were unable to breast feed for any number of reasons or who have a premature baby that cannot suck yet. Across the nation mothers are searching for formula in networks set up on social media to find specific types that are needed due to medical reasons.

Talk about adding insult to injury…women who are able to breastfeed and want to do so, are now faced with ignorant, poorly trained screeners who do not understand human female anatomy, not to mention the very rules they are supposed to enforce. As Calandrelli said, “The lack of training at TSA is unfairly punishing and harming women.” Do better TSA. Do better.