How can breastmilk be shipped or transported?

Introduction

The financial aspects of shipping a box of breastmilk are best arranged before the supplies are bought and the box is shipped. This can be done via online secure payment processors, pre-paid shipping labels, and/or by calling the courier and pay over the phone. Sending (large) sums of money to strangers is unadvisable.

Breastmilk can be shipped or transported in coolers or cooler shipping boxes, using ice, dry ice or gel packs.

For local transportation of breastmilk, keep the milk in a cooler and on ice, especially in hotter climates.

Recipients can generally pay for shipping costs via pre-paid shipping labels. Please call your local courier for more information on how to arrange this.

Overnight shipping and long distances are best done with dry ice and/or gel packs since regular ice melts quickly. For dry ice and gel pack shipping information, please visit this website and this website.

The courier used to ship the package will need to know that the content is a low risk biological product, and that the package contains dry ice. Shipping breastmilk generally does not require documentation or a permit, but each shipping company and country will have slightly different requirements, all based in law, especially when shipping internationally, so call and ensure all paperwork is filled out before going to the shipping center or the courier arrives.

For shipping across country lines, please inquire about the customs information of your country.

Air shipping
Special considerations apply when shipping dry ice packages by air: Dry ice is a hazardous material and as such it is regulated for shipment by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Regulations require that specific procedures must be followed when shipping dry ice.”

According to this website, “For air transport, the amount of dry ice per parcel is limited to five pounds or less, but it’s generally unlimited for ground shipments. Shipments containing dry ice must carry a Class 9 DOT miscellaneous hazardous material warning label, and must be clearly marked “Carbon Dioxide Solid, UN1845” or “Dry Ice, UN1845″. With five pounds of dry ice, the package would need to be delivered within 24 hours, as the recommendation for ordinary cooler use is 10 pounds per day. Biological material is often a dry ice shipment, which may have additional special requirements provided by the cold chain industry.”

Eats On Feets supports the shipping of breastmilk if it is necessary. However, our goal is to mobilize local families in order to foster true and safe community based milksharing, where people can meet each other in person and properly screen each other.

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Further Considerations

1. What kind of container is breastmilk stored in for shipping?

For basic safe storing information, please first see ‘How can breastmilk be stored?’

Fresh milk can be stored flat in (self-sealing) freezer bags, with ideally no more than 6 ounces per bag to ensure a uniform shape and freeze/thaw. When laying milk bags in the freezer, it is recommended to fold half an inch of the bag under to allow space for expansion without compromising the seal of the bag. This also provides a relatively uniform shape which makes packing easier. Do not freeze or store in the door of the freezer as the temperature fluctuates too much when opening the door.

Milk stored in plastic or glass bottles or some other type of hard container are best sealed tightly, with several containers placed in sealable freezer bags to ensure that breakage or leakage does not contaminate the entire shipment. Some form of cushion or padding may need to be added to ensure safety of transport.

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2. How can breastmilk be packed for shipping?

For a visual on how to pack breastmilk for shipping, please watch this video. A transcript can be found here. Also see these instructions for packaging and shipping breastmilk.1

On dry ice

Always handle dry ice in a well ventilated room. Dry ice vaporizes to carbon dioxide and can cause poisoning in enclosed spaces.
  • Please read these safety precautions.
  • Have ready: gloves and/or tongs, mallet or hammer, regular screw driver or ice pick for breaking up the block of dry ice, paper and paper bags (optional, for grouping milk and added insulation).
  • Determine the amount/weight of breastmilk to be shipped and purchase a fitting Styrofoam or other insulated cooler which does not have a complete sealing lid. It is important that dry ice is able to vent the carbon dioxide gas which results from warming. It is best to then place the cooler in a cardboard shipping box for ease of labeling and reduction of the chance of the lid being dislodged and losing the contents.
  • Locate the nearest dry ice dealer by asking at the local convenience store, grocery store etc. or by consulting the dry ice directory. Bring an appropriate sized cooler to carry the dry ice in. Ask the attendant for the appropriate amount of dry ice (see chart). Be sure to have the cooler and milk ready to pack as soon as possible so that the dry ice does not evaporate while preparing the milk.
  • Break up a small amount of dry ice into a flat sheet or into small chunks and spread evenly in the bottom of the cooler. Begin layering the milk evenly without packing tightly. Milk can be put in paper bags for easy grouping of milk by month or volume, for insulation and for easy taking out of the cooler. Place the oldest milk into the cooler first, and the freshest milk on the top. This way the oldest milk is placed into the freezer last and positioned to be used first while cutting down of the amount of handling and potential for thawing or damage.
  • If shipping a large quantity of milk, layer milk, dry ice, milk etc. to ensure that all the milk has an even freeze for the duration of shipment.
  • If the milk and dry ice do not fill the entire cooler (or if shipping glass bottles), loosely crumple packing paper or paper grocery bags and use it to fill in all remaining space to keep the milk securely packed and provide some additional internal insulation.
  • Break any remaining dry ice into small pieces. Spread or sprinkle it into the cooler, making sure that it is filling in the empty spaces/top of the cooler.
  • Once the dry ice, milk and any necessary packing is in the cooler, place the lid securely on the cooler. Placing a piece of tape across the top of the cooler (one across the length and one across the width, making an “X”) will secure the lid adequately for shipping. Do not seal the seam of the lid.
  • Place the cooler in the cardboard box, again loosely packing paper to fill any space that would prevent the cooler from shifting a lot within the box. Make sure that the top of the packing box is securely shut with heavy duty packing tape while still allowing movement of gas from within the cooler. If the shipping company does not provide a label for perishables, make one from a red piece of construction paper or note card. Clearly write “PERISHABLE – BREASTMILK” on a couple of labels and if using containers rather than bags, indicate which direction is up.

With Gel Packs

  • As with the dry ice packing, place a layer of frozen gel packs on the bottom of the cooler. Begin layering milk, starting with the oldest milk on the bottom, and the freshest milk on the top. This way the oldest milk is placed into the freezer last and positioned to be used first while cutting down on the amount of handling and potential for thawing or damage. If sending a large quantity of milk, alternate layers of frozen milk and gel packs. If there is space left in the top of the cooler or along the sides, place loosely crumpled paper in these spaces to secure the milk for shipping.
  • Place the cooler in the cardboard box, again loosely packing paper to fill any space that would prevent the cooler from shifting a lot within the box. Make sure that the top of the packing box is securely shut with heavy duty packing tape while still allowing movement of gas from within the cooler. If the shipping company does not provide a label for perishables, make one from a red piece of construction paper or note card. Clearly write “PERISHABLE – BREAST MILK” on a couple of labels and if using containers rather than bags, indicate which direction is up.

Below a picture of the end result, from FedEx’s “Packaging Perishable Shipments“:

For more dry ice and gel pack shipping information, please visit this website and this website. For home made gel packs, please visit this website.

For insulated shipping boxes in the US, please visit this website and this website.

For making you own box:

  • Create an insulated box with a styrofoam container and a cardboard box. Cut and tape the styrofoam box with duct tape if needed. Do not tape the lid shut!
  • Use styrofoam from an appliance store and cut to fit a box. Again, do not tape the lid shut!

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3. How much is being shipped?

The following table may help in estimating cost using dry ice, assuming the use of a Styrofoam cooler with a cardboard shipping box. (Weight in US units. Please use the converter on the right for metric units.)2

How much is being shipped table

Table 1. Shipping weight estimates are given in pounds.

Please note that according to this website, “For air transport, the amount of dry ice per parcel is limited to five pounds or less, but it’s generally unlimited for ground shipments. Shipments containing dry ice must carry a Class 9 DOT miscellaneous hazardous material warning label, and must be clearly marked “Carbon Dioxide Solid, UN1845” or “Dry Ice, UN1845″. With five pounds of dry ice, the package would need to be delivered within 24 hours, as the recommendation for ordinary cooler use is 10 pounds per day. Biological material is often a dry ice shipment, which may have additional special requirements provided by the cold chain industry.”

“For gel packs, as a generality use one pound per cubic foot per day. (Most gel packs come in 1/2 pound size but newer ones are up to 2 pounds.) This will be last for up to three days. For a longer time Dry Ice has to be combined to extend the gel packs with the possibility of freezing the goods briefly in the beginning.”3

Shipping rates can be calculated via the various shipping agencies. Within the US, please see:

UPS
USPS
FedEx
Amtrak (offers small package and ‘less-than-truckload’ shipping services between more than 100 cities.)

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4. Transit time

Frozen milk on dry ice that will be shipped within a state, province or region, or to a neighboring state, province or region, can be shipped by ground. Call the local couriers for more information. They can give specific times for delivering the package to them or at home pick up for same day shipping.

If the milk is shipped over a couple of state, provinces or country lines, or if there is a chance that the milk needs to be stored due to weather impediments, it is especially important that the milk be packed with dry ice and/or gel packs to prevent thawing.

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5. At the shipping center

At the shipping center, paperwork is filled declaring the amount of dry ice in the box and to identify it for special handling. Determine the type of shipping that will be used. By calling ahead, the shipping center will be able to advise as to what the best time of day for drop of is to make sure the package ships efficiently.

Please note that not all shipping centers are able to accept a package including dry ice, so be sure that you verify this ahead of time. The goal is to have the milk in transit as soon and as efficiently as possible. Having the breastmilk package sitting in a dock for hours only increases the risk for mishandling.

Next: How can breastmilk be thawed?

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  1. Please note that the information from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on this website is outdated. For current information see ‘Travel By air.’ []
  2. 100 ounces of milk weighs about 13 pounds (0.13 pounds per ounce, based on the weight of a gallon of cow’s milk). This is an assumed estimate, and will allow you to roughly estimate shipping costs. In addition to the weight of the milk, you will have to account for the weight of the dry ice or frozen packs used to keep the milk frozen and the weight of the container. []
  3. http://www.dryiceinfo.com/shipping.htm []

4 Responses to How can breastmilk be shipped or transported?

  1. Tara Buck says:

    How long will the dry ice last in the cooler with frozen breastmilk? Will it keep it long enough for the milk to make a 5 hour trip across Texas in the June heat?

    • Eats On Feets says:

      Hi Tara,
      I posted your question on the Eats On Feets Home page on Facebook and someone responded with:
      “Is the breastmilk currently frozen? If it is currently liquid, my first bit of advice would be to not freeze until you reach your destination. Packing on ice and icepacks (and keeping it cool by restocking the ice along the way) is probably logisically easier.

      Dry ice sublimates over time. I’ve kept 10lbs of it over about 24h in a cooler. So yes, in a cooler, ~10lbs should easily last 5hours.”

      I will pass on other comments when there are any, or find us over there!

    • Eats On Feets says:

      I just added a link to dry ice shipping info as well:
      http://www.dryiceinfo.com/shipping.htm

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