Thursday, January 6, 2011

TSA X-Rayed My Breastmilk

I really don't want to write about this. I really wanted my travel experience to go as smoothly as possible. I prepared myself, I set positive intentions, I read about my rights, I empowered myself with information.

Before I left on my trip, I had read the TSA guidelines for traveling with breastmilk and other liquid exemptions (items that are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule). I had also read about Stacey Armato, the lawyer and breastfeeding mother who was detained and bullied by TSA and made to miss her flight when she refused to allow her pumped breastmilk to be x-rayed. It was my understanding from what I had read that:
  • "When carrying formula, breast milk, or juice through the checkpoint, they will be inspected, however, you or your infant or toddler will not be asked to test or taste breast milk, formula, or juice. [TSOs] may test liquid exemptions (exempt items more than 3 ounces) for explosives."
  • "Breastmilk is in the same category as liquid medications"
  • "Frozen items are allowed as long as they are frozen solid when presented for screening. If frozen items are partially melted, slushy, or have any liquid at the bottom of the container, they must meet 3-1-1 requirements."
  • Breastmilk can be screened either through the x-ray machine "or by hand (the "alternate" screening for medication) which may consist of a visual inspection or a wipe of the container's exterior that supposedly detects explosives."
I brought frozen breastmilk to the airport to take home with me after a week-long vacation, and ended up being forced to put my milk through the x-ray machine, or I wouldn't have been allowed to pass through security. In the end, I was shaken and crying. I felt bullied and belittled. I felt violated and seriously wronged.

Here's What Happened

Way more frozen milk than I had with me
On Tuesday, January 4, I went to the New Orleans (MSY) airport with my mother, brother, and sister to fly home to our various destinations. I had packed three bags of breastmilk, which were frozen solid, in a cooler bag with an ice pack on top. The bags totaled approximately 18.5 ounces of milk, and were fairly small in size. When I reached the checkpoint, I declared to the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) that I had breastmilk and I wanted it to be screened with the alternate screening process. I had already put my personal items (including my baby carrier), phone, and shoes, into bins, and I was carrying my 7-month-old son and the cooler bag containing the breastmilk.

The first TSO (a woman) told me that there is no alternate screening process for breastmilk. I told her that breastmilk is classified as a "medical liquid" according to TSA and is therefore allowed to be alternatively screened (not put through the x-ray machine) if I requested. She said that wasn't true, then called for her manager. I talked to him, repeating my request for the alternate screening, and he said that everything has to go through the x-ray machine. I told him that the TSA website says that breastmilk is in the same category as other medical liquids, and therefore does not have to be x-rayed. He said, "I'm sorry, but everything has to be x-rayed." I asked if there was anyone else I could speak to about it. This man (manager) told me that his manager would be a while because he was all the way over at the other end of the airport. He and the other TSOs directed me to wait in a chair in the middle of the security screening area. I could see my family waiting for me on the other side of the metal detector and full-body scanner. I sat down and held Daniel on my lap, without my shoes or other personal belongings, which had been placed on top of the x-ray machine at that point (as they had already gone through the screening process and were waiting for me to make it through).

While I was waiting, a male TSO asked me if I was waiting for someone, and I told him I was waiting to discuss my breastmilk with "a manager," and he walked away. I waited for approximately 20 minutes in the chair in the middle of security before the second manager, Randell C. Lundsgaard, showed up. Mr. Lundsgaard asked to see my milk. I opened my cooler bag, removed the ice pack, and showed him the three bags of frozen milk. Mr. Lundsgaard then reiterated that the breastmilk had to go through the x-ray machine. He told me that since it's frozen, it doesn't count as a medical liquid. I pointed out to him that breastmilk is perishable. If I didn't freeze it, it would spoil, and would be unusable. He said that he understood that, but that "bad people" could hide things in frozen liquids, and there's no way for him to verify that this is, in fact, breastmilk, without it going through the x-ray machine.

I told him I wasn't willing to irradiate my milk, and asked if I could have my phone back so that I could show him the TSA website where it says that breastmilk doesn't have to be x-rayed. He told me that I could have my things back, but not within the secure area (even though they had already passed the x-ray screening). He told me that I had to leave the secure area with all of my things to use my phone. I asked him if I could take the plastic bins with me (since I was carrying my baby still and wanted to avoid having to pack all of my things back up just to have to unpack everything to go through security again). He said I was not allowed to take the bins out of the secure area. He offered to help me carry my things, and he said he could do anything short of carrying my baby for me. But, he didn't help me carry anything. He monitored me while I put Daniel back in the carrier, then packed up my things and left the secure area.

Trying Again

I sat right outside the checkpoint to look up the TSA regulations on my phone. I opened up the page that discusses medical liquids and also the page that talks about how liquids that are frozen solid at the time of screening are allowed through the checkpoint. I gathered up my things and got in line to go through security again. I unpacked my belongings again after my boarding pass and ID were checked, and immediately asked the first TSO (the female one who first said that there is no alternate screening for breastmilk) that I would like to talk to her manager again about the breastmilk. I told her I had the TSA rules from their website on my phone to show to him. Her manager came over to me and didn't want to see what I had to show him from the TSA website. He just told me that Mr. Lundsgaard would be a while (again) because he was all the way over at the other end of the airport (as he had been before). I acknowledged what he had said, and he walked away. I sat down again with Daniel. The female TSO set my bins of belongings aside because she didn't want them to go through the x-ray without me this time. They were out of my direct sight, so while I was waiting I had to turn around to watch my things, as other travelers had to work around them to put their things through the x-ray machine.

After a while, Mr. Lundsgaard showed up for a second time with another man, Francis K. Ruholl, to talk to me about the breastmilk. I showed them the websites that said breastmilk is a medical liquid and also that liquids that are frozen solid are allowed (and exempt from the 3-1-1 rule). They said that I was looking at two different rules that don't go together, and that since the milk is frozen, it no longer qualifies as a medical liquid because it's not a liquid anymore. I then asked, "What about frozen medications?" They said that if I had a note from my doctor that they would consider allowing the milk to not be put through the x-ray machine. I pointed out that I'm not in my home city, which is why I'm transporting frozen milk. How was I supposed to get a note from my doctor? They said if I had a note from my doctor that that "might help," but since I didn't have one, the breastmilk had to go through the x-ray machine. They said once again, that since it was frozen, they aren't able to do the alternate screening on it, because they can't just get a little bit of it out. I then offered to open one of the bags and break a piece off for them to thaw and test, and one of them asked, "But then how can we be sure that the rest of it is safe?"

At this point, I was getting fairly upset. I told them repeatedly that they were breaking their own (TSA's) rules. I mentioned Stacy Armato's story, and how the TSA has apologized to her and told her they were in the wrong and that her breastmilk should have been allowed to have the alternate screening. I offered to read them that post on the TSA blog, as I had read the regulations about breastmilk from the TSA site to them previously, and they declined.

Under Pressure

All this time, they were standing over me as I was seated with my baby in my lap. They were gesturing forcefully with their hands and raising their voices while talking to me. Mr. Ruholl had been shaking his head "No" to everything I was saying from the moment he arrived. I was crying, and I had been waiting so long that I needed to use the restroom. I could tell that these men were not going to let me go through the checkpoint without irradiating my breastmilk. I asked for their business cards. One of them wrote the phone number of the customer relations representative for the New Orleans airport on the back of one of the cards. Mr. Ruholl offered me a clipboard that he had been holding with a complaint form to fill out, but I declined, in favor of filling one out online (so I know it would be submitted) and later (so I could go ahead and use the restroom). I felt defeated.

As I started to get up from my seat to put my milk on the conveyor, Daniel started to chew on the envelope my boarding pass was in. I took it from him and made a remark to him about it (as he has a tendency to try to eat paper whenever it's within reach). Mr. Ruholl then addressed Daniel, jokingly saying, "Don't chew on that, that's not good for you!" I replied, "No, but you know what is? My breastmilk. And I won't be able to give it to him after you irradiate it." He stopped talking. I told them that since my family was waiting for me and I wanted to get home, I would put the milk through the x-ray machine.

I went through the metal detector with Daniel, and motioned to my family members for one of them to come over and hold him for me. They were too nervous to approach the security area (having been questioned about why they were lingering there, I found out later) so I walked over to them in my socks and handed Daniel over. I went back to retrieve my belongings, then returned to my family. I was fairly distraught, and crying pretty hard by this point. My family tried to comfort me, but Mr. Ruholl came up to me because I had left my cell phone in one of the security bins.

My Family Has My Back

Since he was standing there with everyone, my brother started asking Mr. Ruholl questions. Mr. Ruholl quickly got very defensive and aggressive, and began pointing in my brother's face as he spoke loudly. I was standing in between them, but to the side, so Mr. Ruholl had his hand in my face. I reached up to his hand and asked him to get his hand out of my face while my brother was also asking him to stop pointing at him, and he put his hand down. I don't remember everything they said to each other, but my brother was trying to find out if Mr. Ruholl had broken the law. I recounted the events of the last 45 minutes or so to my family, while Mr. Ruholl repeatedly said that I was misinterpreting the regulations on the TSA website.

Mr. Ruholl then admitted that there are unpublished regulations that can't be made public "for security reasons" that state what he said about the milk having to go through the x-ray. My brother pointed out that if laws/regulations aren't made public, then the public can't follow them. My brother asked if the milk had been irradiated. I told him it had been, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to use it now.* Mr. Ruholl then said that it is my opinion that radiation is harmful. My brother pointed out that the harmful effects of radiation are scientific fact, not opinion. This went on. I was very upset. I was still crying, and having a bit of trouble breathing from being so worked-up. I left the group to go to the bathroom where I cried some more. When I came out, Mr. Ruholl had left, and I rejoined my family.

The fact is, we don't know what x-rays do to breastmilk. Regardless of this, the TSA is required to provide hand inspection of breastmilk and other items classified as "liquid medications" at the special request of the passenger. I was denied this opportunity in direct violation of the TSA's own published regulations. The whole idea that TSA has unpublished rules that passengers are required to follow is very scary to me. I understand there may be things that need to be kept secret in the interest of national security. I also know that if a regulation isn't discoverable by a passenger, she shouldn't be required to follow it. The agents I encountered were caught up on the semantics of a "medical liquid" being frozen (technically making it no longer a "liquid") instead of understanding that the milk itself is exempt from standard screening, if requested by the passenger.

I wrote most of this in the airport right after I recovered from crying after my time in the security checkpoint. My conclusions that day were this:

I feel violated. I feel my travel experience was greatly affected by the way I was treated. I wish they would have followed their regulations instead of harassing me in front of other passengers.

*Edited 1/6/11 at 6:46PM PST: To clarify, I did not throw away my milk after it was sent through the x-ray. I brought it all the way home with me and it's safe in my freezer now. I understand that x-rays don't cause breastmilk to have radiation or become radioactive. However, my milk was irradiated meaning it was exposed to a dose of radiation. The radiation could have had an effect on some of the cell structure/proteins in the milk (which is why breastmilk isn't supposed to be heated in the microwave). The fact that there should be alternate screening available for liquid medications acknowledges the fact that radiation from the airport x-ray machine could have an effect on items that are put through it. It's my right to choose whether I want my breastmilk exposed to the x-ray machine, and I was not allowed to make that choice.


  1. I get so upset and sweaty and teary-eyed reading this Amy. Part of me wonders if I would have just given in much sooner than you did, but I hope I would have been just as diligent. Thanks for fighting for the rest of us! Oh and thanks for posting Randell's email address so we can help educate him.

  2. Thank you so much for your compassion and empathy, Danica.

  3. Have you filed a complaint with the TSA? It won't do any good but it is something you should do anyway.

    Have a look at Stacey Armato's story at my blog and let me know if you would like help getting the word out about what happened to you.

  4. I have filed a complaint with TSA. I left a comment on that article on your blog this morning. I would very much appreciate help getting the word out about my story. Feel free to email me: anktangle (at) gmail (dot) com.

  5. I'm so sorry this happened to you - and to who know how many countless women every day. What will it take before the TSA can follow their own regulations?!

  6. That's horrible. I emailed them and referenced your story. Thanks for including the emails.

    I have never had to travel with liquid or frozen breastmilk but it could be a possibility for future children. I'm tempted to pump a few ounces before my next trip and bring it with me just to give them some practice.

    I saw a woman behind me have a test strip waved over a bottle of formula and the people seemed very friendly about it, but I think it had already been through the x-ray machines.

    My own personal TSA fear when traveling with just me and my toddler was being separated from my child if one of us was marked for extra screening. TSA policy says a parent and child will not be separated, but obviously their policy is not always followed.

  7. My stomach is in knots and I have tears in my eyes just reading this. I'm so sorry you had to go through this and lose your precious pumped milk. So infuriating! What is WRONG with the TSA? Why won't they follow their own stupid rules?

    You should have worn it in a bladder around your belly like the guy in this article… I wish the TSA would concentrate on stopping terrorists instead of terrorizing mothers.

  8. I didn't get to read the whole post thoroughly, because I'm about to leave to go somewhere, but just wanted to comment quickly. I think you are so awesome for standing up for yourself and your family like that. I don't think I could, it would seriously stress me out. We probably won't fly anywhere for quite a while for several reasons, but this whole thing makes me so nervous I don't want to!

    I hope Ruholl and Lundsgaard (or their supervisors, better yet) get lots of nasty letters about this. Every time this happens and a woman stands up for herself, that's one step closer to the TSA getting something SENSIBLE set up to accommodate mothers, and educating their employees about it. But I'm so sorry you had to go through it. I can only imagine how upsetting and frustrating it would be!

  9. What I would like to know is if there is a baby bottle full of formula or a jug of formula prepared by the parent if they would xray it too? I have seen women ask for a screening due to they themselves were nursing. I also wonder what if a doctors note was provided what would they say and do? Could they have not used a hand held and run it over the milk instead?

  10. @Lauren: I'm reading this article you linked to and I'm appalled, but NOT AT ALL surprised.

  11. I felt this way when they threatened me and my 15 month old son with head-to-toe pat downs if I didn't remove him from his carrier to go through the machine at SEA-TAC. They didn't even ask me to take him out before proceeding with threats! They seemed to assume I would argue with their request (and I might have, had he been asleep).

    Why do they seem to go out of their way to trouble moms this way?

  12. @Arual: That's terrible! I'm sorry they treated you that way.

  13. Ridiculous, infuriating. Where do we send the angry email?

  14. I am so sorry you had to go through this. Breast milk is liquid gold, frozen or not! My heart goes out to you. I appreciate you taking the time to share your story as it is so important to get this news out there. Unacceptable. The TSA has too much power and they are not keeping us safe from terrorists but terrorizing good citizens of this country. This has got to stop!

  15. I am SO sorry this happened to you. This is just unacceptable and it makes me livid. I covered Stacey Armada's story for CafeMom's "The Stir" so I know it well, and the TSA obviously took absolutely no steps to educate their employees other than the specific agents she dealt with in Phoenix. That is ridiculous. The fact that your milk was x-rayed even without your consent is just damn criminal. I'm sorry!

  16. I had this happen to me several years ago, before the whole "enhanced security" theater started. I was given the choice to irradiate my milk or not fly. I tossed it in the trash right after the checkpoint, in full view of the TSA agents. Tossing it almost killed me, as I struggled with my supply through nine years of nursing. I also had a printout from their website and I had called ahead. They clearly do not follow their own regulations or educate their employees.

  17. I am appalled by their behavior. Thank you for putting up a fight for all of us breastfeeding Mamas and nurslings. It seems we have to fight quite often for what is natural and pure....It just makes my heart so sad. Sorry this happened to you. Hopefully something good will come of it. I'm sure they'll be getting some angry calls and emails!!

  18. Hello Amy,

    Someone posted this entry to my facebook, and I found it disgusting. How dare they! It's good you had your family with you to offer you support. I too believe you should file a formal complaint. Stories like this take all the joy out of travelling.

  19. Amy, it breaks my heart that this happened to you and your son. You researched, knew your rights, followed their rules, and still you had to endure this! Bless your brother for speaking up and having your back. Thanks for sharing, the TSA's incompetence must be exposed.

  20. @Erin: I'm so sorry that happened to you. This kind of thing shouldn't ever happen to anyone!

    Thanks to each of you for your supportive comments. It means a lot to me, knowing that all of you are standing with me on this.

  21. NIce article, Amy, about a truly awful experience. I would love for you to go over and register so you can post this as a diary at where it will get even more exposure. I will say again that they were very obviously determined from the get-go to prove a point rather than follow procedure or offer a legitimate, verified regulation to cover what they decided. (((HUGS))) to you and all the other moms who have to deal with junk like this.

  22. this is awful. i am so sorry you had to go through this. i am so angry! TSA needs to get their junk together and stop persecuting people unnecessarily (although at this point, it all seems so unnecessary...)

  23. When I was breast feeding I had to undergo a kidney test that had them inject radiation into my arm and then watch it go through my kidneys of the course of the next couple of hours. They told me that I was to pump for the next 24 hours and keep the milk for another 24 hours (frozen or in the fridge) and let the radiation dissipate and then it was safe to give to my baby. So I just froze it and gave it to whenever I needed it (I think it was a week or so later). So I would think the same to be true with an x-ray machine, that the radiation would dissipate over time it and would be safe to use again. Hope that helps. Sorry you had to go through that. :(

  24. Oh my sweetheart, my momma claws and fangs are out for you!! You must send this tale to every one of your reps. in state and national congress. Complaining to TSA probably won't do a thing, but politicians (theoretically) have control over their funding. A letter to the New Orleans newspaper would be fitting, as well, and the N.O. local TV news - maybe your family there knows if they have a consumer detective program! Let me know if you need help finding these outlets. Grrrrrrrrrrr.

  25. I'm so sorry this happened to you! It's absolutely ridiculous!

  26. What a nightmare! I'm so sorry you had to go through this. Your story made me livid, and only confirmed my decision that I will NOT be flying until the TSA starts treating its customers with respect.

    I have to wonder how many times these stories have to happen and be told before changes in the system will be enacted. You can be sure that if this were an issue that only affected men, it would not be a problem.

  27. I am so sorry this happened to you. I pumped exclusivley for my son for medical reasons and because of this did not travel for fear that my pump, my milk, and/or my baby would be placed in the hands of TSA goons and their whims- even with doctor's notes, a baby with an obvious need of expressed milk, and coolers- my expressed milk was liquid gold. We travel quite a bit and it was a difficult 14 months. My son is now fed raw goat milk-I'd hate to see what they would do with that one. I hope you did NOT throw the milk away. Irradiated or not, it is precious and better than formula!

  28. I was given a link to your blog from Facebook, and HAD to read it. I am a mom of 4 and am so very thankful that I didn't do any travelling when my children were younger as I couldn't have handled it AT ALL. I recently attended my sister's wedding just two provinces over, and couldn't believe how rediculous the screening process was over insignificant things. I used to love travelling by plane, but now have no desire to travel that way ever again, I'd rather drive. This is absolutely rediculous and absolutely no justification for it whatsoever. A terrorist has better sence than to use breast milk. In those countries the role of a woman as a mother is more respected than it is here, and they would likely not even dream of using a mother's milk. It's crazy when the terrorists have more common sense than the government does. But there really is no terrorism threat, it's just a plot of the government to scare people into submission. But that's another story altogether. I have tweeted about this in my tweet stream along with a link to this post of yours. I hope it helps to spread the word, if even a little. My deepest and most heartfelt sympathies to you for having to go through this. YOU ARE ONE STRONG WOMAN!

  29. I'm so sorry you had to go through this Amy! What an absolutely awful experience. I have traveled many times with breastmilk as a liquid and had no problems. My home is in Phoenix as well and I still have not had problems.
    I'm so impressed at how you stood your ground despite the terrible treatment you received. I can't imagine having to dump my pumped milk after working so hard for it. Stories like this make me afraid to fly.

  30. I have to wonder if there's a lawyer out there who would take on a class action lawsuit aimed at these violations. There seem to be so many of them, and I can't imagine things getting better at all if there are no consequences for their lawlessness. Almost makes me want to go to law school so I can do it!

  31. I am a mother of 3. I am currently nursing my youngest. This is so horrible that I am absolutely terrified to travel! OMG! My heart is pounding and I am shaking, imagining myself in your position. I am so sorry this happened to you.

  32. In response to some of the comments (here and elsewhere) I have edited the post to add further information.

  33. Amy, I am so so sorry. It seems that they are so wrapped up in not racially profiling anyone that they have completely stopped using their heads and have decided to just bully and try to intimidate anyone for any reason. What I don't understand is that it's OK to let a terrorist through the check point with a bomb in his underpants - when HIS PARENTS have warned the embassy, the FBI = anyone they could have - that he might be of interest and to be careful, and yet, moms are constantly being harassed for breastmilk? Really? Makes me sick. This is why I do not fly.

  34. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am grateful that when I traveled 5 years ago I was given no grief over my pump and contents. After 5 years I STILL have one of the same bags of milk in my freezer as I don't have the heart to toss it, even after all this time.

    Maybe the next time I fly I will pull it out and take it with me in solidarity.

  35. What's incomprehensible to me is that the person in charge there actually believes that x-rays detect explosives. X-rays don't detect explosives, they detect the densities of objects so as to reveal anything hidden. The threat from liquids isn't that someone might hide something in the liquid, the threat is that they might be explosives. That's why a liquid exemption should have been tested for explosives even if it was frozen.

    So, not only was x-raying your breastmilk unnecessary and against regulations, but by x-raying it rather than testing a sample (like you offered) they failed to provide security. If you *were* a terrorist disguising explosives as frozen breast milk, you would pass through the x-ray just fine! You'd only get caught if they tested it for explosives, the way TSA policies require.

    Anyway, sorry that happened to you, and doubly sorry that our security is in the hands of folks who slept through high school chemistry and think x-rays work like voodoo.

  36. Amy, my heart goes out to you. I HIGHLY recommend you follow through on all the wonderful suggestions that you've been given...and I'd like to offer another & a "tune-up" of one.

    Have you contacted Le Leche League? I bet you could REALLY spread the word through them!

    And, next...How about a letter to Mrs. Obama & the women in Congress...Yes, they (all of our Congress) should be hearing about this, but different approaches could be used. To the men, simple, legal, blunt facts...ending with a kicker: imagine this happening to your wife or sister.
    To the women, the more experiential story line, they will be able to picture this better than the guys, for the most part.
    Sexist perhaps, but Congress is still pretty Old School, unfortunately, and a good Storyteller knows their audience.

    So, those are my ideas. Don't be afraid to take a lil' time to talk with a pro' about how dis-empowered you felt. If you get it out to the right person, you should be able to stick with the fight w/o as much emotional "bruising". I've posted this on my fb page, too. I wish you the VERY best of Luck - you're not just a ticked off Mom (very powerful already) you're also a Patriot, & don't let anybody tell you differently. <3 <3 <3

  37. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I hope those morons are punished and the information (correct) about breastmilk is sent in a memo to ALL tsa workers. Stupid people!

  38. The last time I flew was in 2008 from Orange County to Austin. I swore that I would never fly again because of TSA's rudeness and that was before the special pat downs. I am appalled at TSA's incompetence and their ability to shrug off their own written rules and make things up as they go.

    We will not have enhanced pat downs or be held hostage by the TSA. We will NOT fly.

  39. This is what happens when people with neither brains, common sense or compassion are allowed to run our so called national security. It's criminal the way you were bullied, abused and made to go through the whole thing twice with an infant while they all just didn't give a damn. How did your little one react to all this? I wouldn't stop til you get on the national and international news and get a public apology from those megalomaniacs. This is what abuse of power looks like. It's wrong!
    You deserve a medal!

  40. I'm so sorry that this happened to you, it makes me so frustrated. It's completely unacceptable how unaccountable the TSA is. In all honesty, we all want to be safe but the TSA is doing much more harm than good. This is why we should never give up freedoms for the illusion of security or safety.

    If we wanted to be safe from hi-jacking, all that needed to be done was replacing the door to the cockpit with a wall and having the pilots enter and exit and an extra outside door. I'm sure it would have cost less of both dollars and liberties.

  41. It's terrible how they treated you. I am proud of you for sticking up for yourself and for you child's right to your breast milk. Bravo to you and I hope that they get fired from the outlash of mother's who want their rights back!

  42. OMG, hugs! That is SO awful! It would have been so dramatic (though at this point I know it is moot) to give him the breastmilk / throw it away right there - as it was of no use to you after being irradiated. But then they probably would have told you that you weren't allowed to dispose of it there, either. Ugh.

  43. Amy, sooo sorry that you had to endure this, and thanks so much for blogging it to get the word out. I have a scheduled trip to visit my parents next month and was planning on bringing some frozen breastmilk so that my mom could feed my baby a bottle now and then so hubby and I can get some couple time. Now, I have no idea what I'll do, maybe lug my pump along - but I for sure don't want to encounter what you did! My heart goes out to you.
    As an aside: does anyone else wonder why the AIRLINES aren't completely up in arms about the TSA abuses? Just look at how many commenters here said they "just don't fly" anymore, or didn't when their babies were nursing age, to avoid the TSA nightmare - and consider what kind of revenue loss represents to the airlines. They ought to have our backs, too...

  44. unless they have changed their webpage which they might have.. but it doesnt say anything i could tell about stuff not being x-rayed.

    Declare larger liquids. Medications, baby formula and food, and breast milk are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding three ounces and are not required to be in the zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
    Declared liquid medications and other liquids for disabilities and medical conditions must be kept separate from all other property submitted for x-ray screening.
    All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100ml) or smaller containers. Larger containers that are half-full or toothpaste tubes rolled up are not allowed. Each container must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or smaller.

    All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.

    Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. X-raying separately will allow TSA security officers to more easily examine the declared items.

    so you can take more than 3 ounces aslong as you tell them. but they will still x-ray it.

  45. I have traveled with medical liquids before in fairly large quantity. I used to be on peritoneal dialysis and would travel with my dialysis cycler machine, portable IV pole, and bags of dialysate. I got a travel letter from the clinic before I flew anywhere that specified that I had doctor's orders to have certain things with me that might include fluids, syringes, insulin, etc. The TSA would inspect my fluid bags, but not take them out of their protective wrappers that maintained the sterility of the bag. They *did not* Xray these bags. They would also swab all over my dialysis machine for explosives, which of course they couldn't find. They would wand me and then often non-invasively pat me down. The last time I traveled this way was in 2009.

    In 2010 everything changed. Now they want everyone to go through the strip-search machine, and being immune compromised, I cannot. The other alternative is an enforced groping session, and being a rape survivor with PTSD, I cannot go through that without suffering grave and long-lasting (years) psychological harm. Flying is now out of the question unless I can take a private plane, and my one friend who is a pilot doesn't have his current license and sold his airplane.

    I will not fly into, out of, or within the U.S. any longer. I may choose to go to Canada and fly to a different country rather than flying to that country from the U.S. I guarantee I won't be flying to it from the U.S. I will have to find some other way to go. Cunard Lines still operates, I understand.

  46. I am appalled by the way the TSA have treated you. I haven't tried to take breastmilk through security here in the UK but in 2006 I did take some cartons of formula and was almost forced to open (and spoil) them. I fought then but had it have been breastmilk I would have definitely stood my ground like you did. Well done for trying to get them to just follow the rules. Would be interested to here if they replied to your complaint. If they don't take it further - go to the top. You deserve an appology.

  47. @ Natural Birth Goddess: A solid is not a liquid, and while breast milk exists in a liquid state before freezing (and becoming a solid), not everything does. You are correct that most frozen solids were once liquids, but that still does not make frozen breast milk a liquid.

    I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I've looked at TSA's website and couldn't find where it said breast milk was X-Ray exempt. According to this link,, it states that breast milk is subject to additional screening. It also only addresses liquid breast milk.

    TSA needs to create legislation for frozen breast milk. They haven't really addressed that issue, except for a case by case basis - like yours.

    Another option, if you travel in the future, is to ship your breast milk back. That way to don't have to deal with TSA screening it.

    Also, your breast milk (and yourself and baby) were exposed to a lot more radiation just by flying. The cosmic radiation at the altitudes commercial jets fly at is about half that of an x-ray,

  48. Dear Amy,

    We at are going to take the liberty of posting your story on our site. We would like to bring more attention to the issue of mothers having to deal with idiocracy TSA, and what seems to be a continued lack of proper training despite what TSA's blog claims to be a redirection on the policies of breast milk screenings. ( Blogger Bob claimed our story of Ms. Armato was false.)As with Ms. Armato, you can hopefully expect more traffic which will enable your story to gain the attention it deserves. If you have any objections to us sharing your plight, please contact us immediately.
    Sincerely, K.M. MWFH's, Editor

  49. @Ketch: Please feel free to post my story on your site. Thanks for your help!

  50. Amy, thank you for posting your experience. It will help promote change and just shows that TSA continues to violate it's own rules at our expense. Thank you for standing up for what is right and for other breast feeding moms. I'm sorry it ended with the milk going thru the x ray. I hope we see change soon.

  51. @Stacey: Thank you so much for commenting. I hope this type of thing doesn't have to happen to anyone else before the TSA gets its act together. Sadly, I fear that will not be the case. Again, thank you for your empathy.

  52. Amy,

    So sorry to hear about your experience. Having been a breast feeding mother in the past, I completely understand why you wanted to take the expressed milk home.

    Please contact the ACLU and publish your story with them as well. They are collecting stories and have over 1000.

    Much compassion,

    Stacey (not Armato)

  53. You can send an e-mail to the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General at:

    They are WONDERFUL about acting on complaints. Name the individuals who gave you such a difficult time - they won't do it to anyone else after the OIG is finished with them. :-)

  54. Just FYI:

  55. Breast milk HAS NO CELL STRUCTURE. X-rays don't make the proteins in breast milk less nutritious. X-RAYS DON'T HURT THE BREAST MILK!!

    The reason you shouldn't microwave breast milk has NOTHING to do with nutrition -- it's because it creates potentially dangerous hot spots that can burn your child if you don't mix the milk properly.

  56. So sorry about this Amy...I don't see a lot of men posting here, so let me say it...we too are appalled at the treatment of nursing women, and all others by the TSA. This is yet another story of TSA Idiocracy...when will the flying public stand-up and demand REAL security (i.e. Profiling) and an end to the security theater?

  57. @anon 2:18

    actually, microwaving breastmilk can destroy some nutrients, due to the high heat levels in a microwave

    Amy, so sorry this happened to you. You are a much better person than me, I probably would have ended up being thrown out of the airport. I like the idea of e-mail Michelle Obama. Something's got to change about the way TSA treats passengers.

  58. So sorry this happened to you! Makes me so angry and also makes me not want to fly anywhere!

  59. Amy,

    My initial reaction: Seething anger at how you were treated. This Momma Grizzly is mad as !@#$ and not gonna let this go by...

    Next reaction: Gather the people, spread the word; there is strength in numbers.
    Tell the airlines you won't fly till this nonsense is stopped.
    Hit 'em in the pocketbook; money TALKS.

    Question: How many other ladies are there that had this sort of thing done to them? How many people are needed for a class action lawsuit?

    (still have steam coming outta my ears)

  60. Very nice article. I'm appalled that this is still happening. You would think the TSA would know their own rules! I featured your post on my blog: According to Jenny to help get the word out that this is unacceptable! I'm so sorry for what you went through but you handled it better than I would have.

  61. It seems to me it doesn't matter if your milk goes through the xray machine, you walk through it and then nurse, same thing.

  62. I guess my comment got lost in cyberspace but I too experienced harassment from the TSA about x-raying my BM in SLC on Dec 27th.

    It's incomprehensible what we are experiencing when trying to follow the TSA's very own rules. The agents are inconsistent and even bully woman to tears, it's ridiculous!!

    I filed a complaint and only got an automated response that they are overwhelmed and can't contact me regarding my submission =/

  63. There is so much more to this entire issue than most people have learned. This is about money and power. The former head of Homeland Security is making MILLIONS as a lobbyist for the companies that make the scanners. When Napolitano and Pistole leave office they will also almost certainly become lobbyists for similar companies as well. They will collect MILLIONS for what they are doing NOW!!

    Also please read the following and find out more about the deceptions that have lead to the point that the TSA is now treating all of us like criminals and terrorists.


    The TSA/Government is using the Underwear Bomber as an excuse to force us to choose between a virtual strip search or a full body search including placing their hands directly on our genitals, right?

    Well, maybe we should know a little bit more about the Underwear Bomber episode then, does that make sense?

    Eyewitnesses aboard Flight 253 from Amsterdam including KURT HASKELL report that the Underwear Bomber was "escorted" through the security process by a "Handler" aka Covert Operative, and that the U/B did not even HAVE A PASSPORT! HOW DOES SOMEONE GET ON AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT TO THE US WITHOUT A PASSPORT?

    Furthermore, eyewitnesses also state that the U/B was completely expressionless the entire flight as if he was in a trance or drugged and that some other passenger videotaped the U/B the entire flight. And that even after the U/B gave himself 3rd degree burns on his legs and crotch he was still completely expressionless.

    Ask yourself, why hasn't the media bothered to tell you the whole story about this all of this?

  64. I have posted this on Facebook and asked all who know me to do the same.
    I will also alert the media ...hope you don't mind. This is so unjustified and I am completely outraged.

  65. Kelly, what does contrast media have to do with this discussion about irradiated breast milk??

  66. Sorry, that should be addressed to Brenna who posted the link to

  67. This same EXACT thing happened to me on December 21st, traveling from Phoenix to Chicago, and then again on January 1st, traveling back. I cannot breastfeed and have a breastmilk donor for my daughter. Going to Chicago, I traveled with approximately 300 ounces of frozen milk. Going home, I had 5 bottles of liquid breastmilk but no frozen left. TSA required all of my milk to be X-rayed AND tested with those strips. I had to remove the tops off all the bottles so they could test them. They also made me open all of our brand new and unopened 4 ounce jars of baby food to test those. It was ridiculous. We almost missed our plane. We put the 300oz of frozen in a styrofoam cooler so we didn't have to worry about taking back a "good" cooler on our way home. They forcefully opened it, chipping tons of styrofoam off and then loosely taped it back together when they were done, with about 3 strips of tape. It was awful. If you EVER get any further with this complaint, I am more than happy to add my story to it! I don't have names of any TSA employees or anything but I will gladly share my story.

  68. This is BS and I am sorry that you had to go through this. I hope that TSA compensates you in some way for this experience. How awful!

  69. What a terrible experience! I'll link this on my FB and both my websites, I agree with a previous commenter that you need to be on the news to try and get some accountability via public reaction....
    Also love the idea of contacting Mrs Obama...

  70. Frozen packets of any liquid can provide a hiding spot for dangerous liquids or frozen liquids inside the accessible frozen liquids. Just like solid and powder explosives are hidden inside harmless clothes and such. An X-Ray machine might be able to see such a threat. It is a shame that you couldn't get through TSA the way you wanted since you only had medicine for your baby. But I don't know if I would feel safe on a plane if everyone (or even a selected few) got through security the way they wanted to.

  71. Continued...

    Look, I eat local organic food as often as possible, I don't do drugs, smoke or drink often, and I travel a lot. Living in Africa has taught me a lot. We can struggle through the world thinking that everything is out to harm us and live in a mental state of lack greater than that of our least developed countries, or we can put our feet on the ground, eat some extra high antioxidant foods to counteract our environment and get on with it. I guarantee the stress you subjected yourself to was far greater an imposition on your health than the radiation.

    Sorry for being curt. I don't mean to offend you, but I don't think you've written a blog open to unrestrained comments that are far easier to make without actual human contact without being prepared for truth.

    So stop stressing about the little things. These people's intentions are meant to protect the airline industry and its travelers. It's intrusive (especially the new full body scans which you can opt out of in trade for a pat down from someone your own sex and a wand wave) and time consuming and frustrating and people end up on power trips, but all in all, the intention is good. Unfortunately fear makes people do crazy things. So lets stay on the bright side of crazy, be co-oporative and keep our stress levels down. By the way, even reading your description of the rules set out by TSA made me think that if it was frozen they would still x-ray it. It's obvious. You could hide something in there if it was frozen. Come on. Look outside yourself at the whole. And stop living this way.

  72. Part 1

    I'm sorry about your experience. In an ideal world nothing would be subjected to unnatural radiation. However, that isn ot the world we currently live in. I thought maybe this would ease your mind a little bit. Although, I would highly recommend thermograms a apposed to mammograms.

    Radiation exposure

    Mammogram: 30 mrem
    Chest X-ray: 10 mrem
    CT scan (head and body): 1100 mrem
    Dental X-ray: 10 mrem
    Using natural gas in home: 9 mrem/year
    Air travel per 1,600 km: 1 mrem
    Flight from Vancouver to Halifax (approximately 4,443 km): 2.78 mrem
    Luggage scanner: 0.002 mrem
    Body scanner: 0.01 mrem

    Read more:

    The truth is, you subjected yourself, your baby and the milk to far more radiation just by flying.

  73. This is just awful... I am so sorry that you had to go through this. The 'safety' procedures in airports now is just ridiculous. I can't believe that they are doing this and more to people. It makes me uncomfortable to fly every again.

  74. I fully understand how precious our little one are being a single mother of two. But I do have to say...having worked in the field of corrections many of the mainstream society have NO idea of just how creative some of our society is in devient behavior. I have been shocked at how creative these individuals are as well and how and who they will use to fulfill of their actions. The medical liquids to my knowledge ALWAYS had to have an accomniment of proof of dispense from a Dr.....not just a person saying you can trust me! Please do not take offense, I would love to be trusted by everyone but what we are dealing with in society has no concious, Be thankful that you can still produce more breast milk for Daniel, and that you should feel safer in your flying due to strigent screening. Moving you to another area with out security bins...look up how many explosives have been detinated with remotes from a cell phone! I want to be safe, all those on the flights 9/11 thought they were...consider the inconvience a tribute to their sacrifice to keep us safe!

  75. Thank you for relating your story. The TSA is completely out of control these days. My experience wasn't near as egregious, but I'm sure the more I speak out, the more I risk.

    I'm also sorry your blog will become a debate site with the "anything for safety" crowd, but don't let the idiots get you down. You were RIGHT to stand for your beliefs, and your rights.

  76. I am so, so sorry that this happened to you.

    I hope that you do file that complaint and that it is heard and addressed.

    And I hope that this stops happening soon. I fail to see how anyone is safer when mothers are harassed.

  77. The idea of rules that we don't know about bothers me, and the aggressive nature of how TSA handles these things is ridiculous. While I understand that this is their job, and they want it to all go smoothly, the nature in which these things are handled is appalling.

    I'm so sorry you had to submit to testing you didn't agree with, and that the workers treated you will such disrespect. :(

  78. Gotta say, I know its the point that counts, but it sounds like an awful lot to go through for something you can just make more of.

  79. @Anonymous: Pumping breastmilk is time- and labor-intensive. I'm sure any breastfeeding mother would agree with me that our milk is precious stuff, even though we can "just make more". For a lot of moms, it's not that easy.

  80. I'm a frequent traveler and have had lots of run-ins with TSA.

    At the Wichita Falls airport a few years ago the agent wouldn't let me board my flight because my small clear plastic bag make-up type bag, not plastic ziplock type, was smaller than the quart-size ziplock. He insisted it had to be the exact same size, could not be smaller, and I had to check it.

    So I missed my plane, and checked my briefcase with only my make-up bag in it. Spent the time waiting at the airport calling the TSA and raising holy heck.

    A few days later I flew again and there are paper printed notices up everywhere that secure bags can be ziplock size or smaller. We all have to keep fighting and fighting and maybe at some point will get through to these people.

    And in the meantime, does anybody feel safer because of all these idiocies?

  81. @ ChrystinP...No, I do not feel safer at all. They're letting people board planes with guns but not breastmilk. TSA is a failure. Their job is to keep innocent people safe and keep dangerous people and items off planes. Well, they're not doing it.

    Google "gun on a plane" people. And these are just the times it was found later and reported to the media...

  82. Listen everybody, we have to put an end to this nonsense. PLEASE, everyone start writing your Congresspeople and tell them that the TSA is requiring passengers to follow rules that are unpublished. Secondly, please join the nationwide boycott of commercial airlines that is going on.


    Lastly, start doing research like I have. I am looking into private charter services that offer pricing both for single and multiple passengers on the same plane. One such outfit, if you live in New York and close to Islip/MacArthur Airport, is Blue Star Jet. I've emailed them and asked them to mail me any literature they have on pricing, distances, etc. I suggest that everyone do the same. It is going to take a while before this TSA issue gets the sort of attention we want.

  83. I can't imagine having to deal with so much nonsense surrounding *breastmilk,* for Frith's sake...

    I drove home for Christmas to see my family this year. Thats 2400 miles ONE WAY, 4800 both ways. Thats how much I HATE the TSA. Nobody touches me without my consent, and an airline ticket is not a free-to-rape card. If they came anywhere near my infant (if I had one) I might go ballistic. Breastmilk is so personal a thing, it too could be on the list.

    The TSA has not stopped ONE terrorist. Not. One. But I'm sure a lot of mothers refuse to fly now. Well, we'll be safe from all those breastmilkers, won't we.

  84. MSY tsa is terrible. One of the most unprofessional outfits in the organization. I have been screened a million times as I travel frequently and have used the body scanner and pat down alike. I support both but they r unlike ANY I have EVER encounted. Slow, stupid and insulting. I know u live in a city that visitors frequent (I live in one too) I think new york gets a few visitors. If u don't like your job then do somethings else. Coast to coast never seen anything like it. Goodbye big easy. I wont be back.

  85. After reading your post, I can't help but feel that you really did this to yourself.

    Your profile says you are a nurse...then presumably you went to college/nursing school and somewhere down the line had academic classes informing you that radiation is all around you. Certainly you realize that you exposed yourself, your baby, and your bags of breastmilk to radiation just by getting on the airplane and going up in the atmosphere? In fact, there is radiation all around you (from the sun) and you eat irradiated food every day. Anything you ate or drank in the airport (behind security) or on the airplane was itself x-rayed.

    Sorry, I have to also agree with the TSA folks, and believe me that I have no love for them, in that you were mixing up two separate regulations. By freezing the breast milk you made it ineligible for alternate screening. Period. You did that. You provide the evidence for this statement yourself...Above, in your link for "alternate screening for medication" the linked page states that "Any medication and/or associated supplies that cannot be cleared visually must be submitted for X-ray screening." Cleared visually means that they can visually verify that no hidden objects are inside the liquid. That's hard enough with an opaque liquid like milk, but freeze it solid and it is again ineligible for visual inspection. You could have had a razor blade hidden in there. I know that's ridiculous, but didn't the 9-11 attackers use razor blades and box cutters?

    I'm really sorry that you felt mistreated by the TSA, but I think they were in the right. Reading your blogpost made me want to respond. Sorry, I have to disagree with your position.

  86. Interesting to note, most of the negative comments are posted by "anonymous". As a lactation consultant, maternity nurse, mom, grandmom and a female I thank you and admire you greatly. Your advocacy for your child and your courage is inspiring. Air travel security is beyond ridiculous and ineffective.

  87. would love an update post on this situation. I'm sure you have limited time/energy to devote to this as a busy mom! Either way, I know you promote women and child rights consistantly in many areas of your life.

    1. Thanks for asking, Nancy. I have pursued this to the extent that I've been able. I wrote many letters and filed many complaints; I talked to customer service people from the airport; I also repeatedly requested security footage from my time in the holding area at the New Orleans airport. Unfortunately, I have received no response from TSA (much less an apology), and I also have never received the security footage, despite my right to have it according to the Freedom of Information Act.

      All I hope is that this doesn't happen to anyone else. It was very scary and it shook me deeply.

  88. Coming a little late to this post but wanted to comment anyway...

    First - SO sorry that you had to go through this experience! If you are misreading the TSA rules than so are a lot of people, because I've read them several times and had the same interpretation as you.

    Here's my story - when my daughter was 4 months old (and again when she was 10 months old) we flew from Canada to the US to visit family. In both situations, I asked for an alternate screening in the Canada airport of her bottles (I was carrying formula, but did not want it going through the x-ray all the same). No one batted an eye; they took me aside, took one of the bottles out of the cooler and put some test strip thing up to the outside of the bottle and we were done. They were friendly and happy to do as I requested; it took about 30 seconds altogether.

    Enter into US airports. I asked for an alternate screening, the same as I had in Canada, and was told a flat out no. I had the TSA rules printed in my bag but to be completely honest, as I was traveling alone with an infant and under enough stress as it was, I just made the decision not to argue.

    It's basically brought me to the conclusion that if I can avoid flying within the US, I will. I would imagine quite a few people are coming to the same conclusion...hoping that maybe the loss of dollars will eventually speak louder than the rights of citizens (since they don't appear to care about those...).

    1. Thank you for your empathy. It is really unfortunate that the TSA circus is making people (including me) avoid flying in the US. I think it's a perfectly reasonable approach however, since avoiding the interaction in the first place is really the only way to know you won't be treated badly. =/

  89. Hi amy. Wanted to know what is the outcome of this story. Do tsa apologised to you? Or do they response like others by just giving auto response email. Do update us ya amy.
    Shafizal from malaysia

  90. I'm a Breastfeeding mother who had to go on an overnight business trip pumping while away. Milk was liquid with frozen freezer packs in a foam cooler I purchased from a company that specializes in Breastfeeding. TSA refused my request for separate screening insisting that it needed to go through x-ray. I asked for manager who came over and got no where. Didn't have option to fight more because I would have missed my flight and not see my baby for another day. Not sure what I'm going to do just yet but I'll be sure to do as much as I can.

    1. I am so very sorry to hear that this has happened to yet another mother! I was not able to make anything come of my run-in with TSA on this issue—no apology, no response to the complaints I filed, I received none of the requested footage of my time in the security area.

      I would love to help you in any way I can. Please let me know if there's anything I can do for you.

  91. I wish a news station would have picked this story up! This is ridiculous! I'm so, so sorry you had to go through that love!!!!

  92. The milk should be 100% safe...
    The amount of radiation in the airport scanner is smaller than the radiation you received by flying (As air is thinner the radiation from space is more).

  93. Thank you for taking a stand. I'm amazed that more than 16 years after breastfeeding my first child, this type of treatment still happens. I'm sorry you had to experience this, but every person who takes a stand does make a difference. You did the right thing and right by your baby.


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