As if traveling with a baby isn’t hard enough as it is, the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas made it even more stressful for new mom Keke Palmer this week. The actress was making her way through security when she was stopped by a Transportation Security Association (TSA) agent for having breast milk with her. She alleged that she experienced “breast milk discrimination.”
“I should’ve popped my tit out right then because the discretion and comfort of pumping is thwarted with threats to throw out over 16oz my babies food?!?!!!” Palmer tweeted on Monday. “Why is that not a crime?? I’M A MOTHER for crying out loud 😩😢”
TSA policy says that because breast milk, formula, toddler drinks, and baby/toddler food are “medically necessary liquids,” they don’t have a 3.4-ounce maximum as other liquids do. The same is true of ice packs, freezer packs, and gel packs that are used to cool these (again) “medically necessary liquids.” And yet, security allegedly threatened to throw out Palmer’s breast milk that her son Leodis “Leo” Andrellton Jackson — who was born in February and who she shares with boyfriend Darius Jackson — really needs. We wish we could say this was an isolated incident, but many other celebrities (and we have to assume other parents) have faced “breast milk discrimination.”
In October 2021, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson alleged that she was groped by a TSA agent when trying to travel with breast milk.
“We as mamas have a duty to our babies and a right in this world to carry breast milk through security,” she wrote on an Instagram story. “Having you public [sic] humiliate me in proving to you it was actually breast milk was against my rights…To then be groped and yelled at in public was excessive. I know you were doing your job… but so was I.”
In May 2022, Emily Calandrelli posted a selfie of her crying at the Los Angeles International Airport. The Emily’s Wonder Lab host wasn’t allowed to bring her ice packs through because they weren’t fully frozen and because she had neither her breast milk (which she was going to pump once she got through security) nor her 10-week-old son. According to TSA guidelines the baby doesn’t need to be present and the ice packs should be sent through regardless of their state.
“I asked multiple times to speak to a female agent and they wouldn’t allow it,” she captioned the post. “They escorted me out of line and forced me to check my cold packs, meaning I couldn’t pump before my flight for fear it would spoil. I cried at the airport. I was embarrassed about having to explain breastfeeding to 3 grown men. I felt humiliated and emotional.”
“Emptying my breasts on a regular schedule and providing food for my child IS medically necessary (and especially impt with the current formula shortage!),” she continued. “And something else happened – Moms flooded my DMs with their own horrible TSA experiences. It is infuriatingly common to encounter TSA agents who don’t know the proper protocol around pumping and feeding babies – and it shouldn’t be this way…I’m furious and I won’t let them make me feel embarrassed for their lack of understanding and training and neither should you. #HandsOffOurMilk”
Since the experience, Calandrelli has been working with Congress to update the 2016 Bottles and Breastfeeding Equipment Screening (BABES) Act to address the issue and require more training.
In April 2015, actress Alyssa Milano told her followers that a security officer at Heathrow Airport in London dumped 10 ounces of her breast milk.
“Gone. Not okay.” she tweeted before following up with a reply tweet. “They said they would let the pumped milk through if I had the baby with me. Why would I need to pump if I had the baby with me????”
Again, according to the United States TSA, the infant or child does not need to be present in order for parents to fly with breast milk. Because, ya know, women have to pump and that milk shouldn’t be left behind. And they may need to feed their baby soon after deplaning.
She went on to say that she pumped at the airport and shared the PSA that it’s hard to do so on a plane. It’s a comment that surprised no one.
In May 2016, actress Rose Byrne told Stephen Colbert during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert that her breast milk was treated like a security threat and ultimately confiscated.
“I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, so I’ve been taking my breast milk everywhere with me,” she said before describing the weird experience of watching the TSA investigate the bottle.
“They wave this weird thing over the top of it and there’s a whole production going on,” she said. “They take it very seriously that it could be something. I just stand there and smile and tell them that it’s really breast milk.”
She, like Palmer, said that maybe she should have taken out her boobs to prove the point.
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