5 Best Coolers for Traveling with Breastmilk
I did a lot of travel for work shortly after my son is born - and still do to this day. Most people don’t attempt to keep the schedule I did, but it gave me plenty of practice optimizing my “system” for traveling with breastmilk. Most of my friends found some reason to need to pack up a cooler of breastmilk at some point during their nursing journeys - whether to bring some extra supply for a weekend trip with their kids, to have a night away with their husband or for a friend’s bachelorette or wedding, or, like me, for work.
I tried at least 10 different cooler, bottle and ice pack combinations trying to find something portable, discrete, effective and not too expensive for my regular trips. Here are my top 5 - each work best for different kinds of trips.
The Cooler Alternative: S’well Insulated Stainless Steel Roamer
I know this isn’t a cooler, but it will keep liquid cold for a full 24 hours, so if you have access to a fridge for a few hours each day (and you should - I’ve gotten access at airports, restaurants and bars, hotels, conference centers you name it!), you may not need a cooler at all. Plus, it’s discrete, can be thrown in a purse and reduces the amount of gear needed (the cooler, ice packs, etc…). The one trick is that you need to get the breastmilk cold before you put it in the bottle, so the bottle can keep it cold. If you are taking breastmilk out of a fridge at home to pack, it’s easy. If you are pumping in an office, airbnb or hotel room, I suggest putting the pumped milk straight in the fridge and then transferring to the S’well bottle once its a uniform, cold temperature for the trip home or to your next destination. S’well bottles come in three different sizes, depending on the length of your trip and the amount you are pumping, you may need one larger one or prefer a couple smaller or medium ones to keep milk from each day.
The Classic: Medela Cooler
If you buy a Medela pump, you get a basic cooler bag that fits 4 Medela bottles and an ice pack neatly. You can also buy it on amazon for ~$18. It’s great to store two pumping sessions or a day’s worth of milk and it works. I wouldn’t suggest going more than several hours with just this, but it’s a great compliment to a swell bottle for more/longer storage and to get milk at least somewhat cold with the ice packs for traveling around during the day and returning home or a hotel at night. It definitely isn’t big enough to be your only storage for longer trips, but it’s a staple that will be a go-to for many days.
The Grown-Up Lunch Box: Lokass Lunch Bag
The Medela cooler screams “breastmilk” so if you’re looking for something a little more discrete, or just a little more stylish to brighten up those hours you spend with the pump or carrying it around, but don’t need more than a day or two worth of storage, a “grown-up” lunch box is a great option. It has the same benefits and drawbacks as the medela cooler - it’s good for hours, not days and has storage for only a day or two depending on your output, but is easy to carry around, fit in a carry-on and comes in tons of patterns and colors!
Best-of-the-Best/Longer Trips: YETI Hopper Flip Portable Cooler
Known as hands-down the best cooler on the market for travel, outdoors, and fishing, you can use the strength of the Yeti for your travel with breastmilk too! If you are going on a multi-day trip, want to be sure your breastmilk stays cold over a full day or even two, the Yeti is your best. It is leakproof, keeps ice frozen for days even in hot sun and has a high storage capacity. This is a great option for a road trip, camping trip or airbnb. You can also carry it on a plane, but it would definitely impact your carry-on strategy as it would count as its own “bag” and wouldn’t be able to be stashed in your roller or purse. It would definitely be able to hold several large s’well bottles or breastmilk stored in bottles or bags as well as other essentials for your trip, especially if you have an older baby or other kids. It also comes in a backpack version if you’d prefer that style.
Value Option/Longer Trips: Homitt Soft Cooler
If you don’t need the Yeti brand, this Homitt cooler is less than half the price, has the same ice-for-days performance, good storage and raving fans on amazon. I haven’t personally tested this one but there are plenty of thorough reviews on amazon and it is their pick for a value cooler. Definitely worth a look at this price. There are similarly sized coolers that are much less expensive, but you aren’t going to get the same quality on features like the zipper which prevents leaks and the performance of ice-for-days.
Ice packs make a huge difference in performance of your cooler. The Medela cooler comes with one that optimizes storage space in their small bag, but otherwise you’ll have to buy some ice packs. I have a new post on ice packs you can check out!
What other coolers have you tried for traveling with breastmilk?