EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — A Metro-East mother said she ran into trouble when the Transportation Security Administration dumped her breast milk at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport.
Now, she wants every mother to know the rules when traveling through airports across the country.
Every time Heather Gieseke has flown, she said she always familiarized herself with TSA rules, so she usually packed bags with breast milk in a cooler in her carry-on bag. In every case, traveling with breast milk had gone smoothly until last week when her milk didn't pass the screening in Minnesota.
“Fortunately, it was a day's worth of milk for me. Sometimes I’m traveling with four or five days’ worth of milk and if it would’ve happened in that situation, that would have been a huge loss," she said. "I just felt really helpless in that situation."
Gieseke considered herself a frequent flyer. In a typical month, the mom usually travels about three to four times for work.
"I've traveled to airports all across the U.S. and I did that an entire year with my daughter," Gieseke said.
Recently, Gieseke and her husband had another daughter, who she currently breastfeeds. She told 5 On Your Side traveling with breast milk isn't anything new to her. She added that every time she flies she plans well in advance for the extra screening it takes to travel with the milk.
"They pick it up and look at the bag and feel around on the outside the back to make sure nothing is inside of it, and they take little strips and rub the outside of the bag and put it in the machine to make sure it doesn't have any hazardous material," she explained.
However, everything about this normal process for Gieseke went wrong last Thursday as she made her way back to St. Louis from Minnesota.
"I was really angry and really frustrated," she said.
Gieseke claimed TSA agents wanted her to open her bag of milk to test it, but she felt uncomfortable doing so and asked them to do a different screening method.
"I was told 'Too bad, we have to open it up and test it or you can't take it with you,'" Gieseke said.
She said she feared her baby's only food source might get contaminated. She said TSA officers never took that into consideration when checking her milk. She said she asked to speak with several supervisors who were no help.
"I was told there was no one else I could talk to or nothing I could do," she said.
Gieseke said she eventually left her milk with security who threw it out. She said the experience left her disappointed.
"I think the thing that's most frustrating here is that it's not like a bottle of shampoo that I can just run to the store and buy another one. This is something that I can't literally replace," she said. "I think there are a lot of other moms who travel and are in the same situation who can back me up and say generally TSA is not friendly to traveling moms."
Gieseke said she wants to see some changes in the screening process for breastfeeding moms at airports. She specifically wants more training for officers and increased awareness.
Gieseke filed a complaint with TSA. They told her they were investigating the matter. 5 On Your Side also reached out to the agency. It said agents gave Gieseke two options to check her milk, but she refused both screening options and told TSA screeners to throw the breast milk away.