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You’ve finally gotten into the swing of things at home. Breastfeeding is going smoothly. And then you get the opportunity to travel. Is this going to put a wrench in your breastfeeding journey? Or you’re taking your first trip with baby and are a little hesitant on what breastfeeding while traveling is going to look like. Don’t fret. These breastfeeding tips can help. And there’s a full packing list too.
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Breastfeeding Tips for Traveling Moms
I’ve been there. As a sales manager, I traveled up to three nights a week when my kids were infants. I wasn’t a confident nursing mom. I developed mastitis with my first. In addition, he had trouble gaining weight so he was put on a special formula. With my next babies, I was determined to not let travel derail my ability to pump and deliver breast milk to my babies. Let’s break down some breastfeeding tips and must-have items that solve common problems.
General Breastfeeding Tips
We’re about to dive in to some tips that are pretty specific to what baby needs while traveling. If you’re looking for more general breastfeeding tips related to things like latch, lactation specialists, low milk supply, tongue-tie and answers to common breastfeeding problems, head over here.
Know Your Rights
So you’re headed off on your first adventure with baby. Congratulations! Flying with baby can feel overwhelming. Will your seat mates be baby-haters? Will changing diapers on a plane be a nightmare? Add in planning how to breastfeed on a plane and it can be enough to contemplate staying home.
First things first. Let me assure you: Whether you’re driving, flying, stopping at restaurants or staying in hotels, you can handle this and you have the right to breastfeed your baby! There are news stories about women being asked to stop feeding their baby or move their breastfeeding session to the bathroom, but you don’t have to do any of that.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow a woman to breastfeed her baby in any public or private location. These laws extend to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. You can look them up by state here. Not so fun fact: Idaho didn’t put this law into place until January 2018. Prior to that, some some breastfeeding moms were charged with indecent exposure.
Breastfeeding While Traveling with Baby
Research your airport.
It helps to do a bit of research before your trip. Breastfeeding on the road has come a LONG way since I traveled with my now-15-year-old. These days, many airports have lactation rooms so that you aren’t feeding baby or pumping in a bathroom. Also, a company called Mamava has breastfeeding pods at numerous airports. They offer a great FREE private space for your nursing session. Download the Mamava app before your flight.
TSA When You’re Breastfeeding
You have rights as a nursing mother including bringing milk through a TSA checkpoint whether or not you have your baby with you. This includes the right to bring through ice packs as needed. Declare to TSA agents that you have breast milk before going through. Not doing so can prolong the amount of time your screening takes, so speak up before it’s screened!
TSA has the right to screen your breast milk, which can include x-raying it and testing it for explosives. Agents can also ask you to pour out a tiny bit to test. Keep in mind that, as with most TSA-related things, the agency says: “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.” If you feel that you are not reaching an agreement with the officer, ask to speak to a supervisor.
I recommend only traveling with small quantities of pumped milk. If you travel solo frequently for work, check with your employer. Your company may support shipping pumped milk. If so, look into a service like Milk Stork. While I have never had milk taken away, I have had agents comment on the volume of milk I was traveling with without an infant. I started shipping when possible.
TravelingMom Tip: Do not wear breast milk collectors through TSA checkpoints. I did and it ended in a special pat down and interview. Regular breast pads are fine but save the Lacticups for post-security use!
Keep these Breastfeeding Tips in Mind When You Travel
Drink lots of water.
Yup. Dehydration is the enemy of breastfeeding. It’s easy to become dehydrated when traveling. Planes will already dry you out. Drink buckets of water. Then drink some more. Staying well hydrated will help.
Choose a window seat!
If you have the option to select your seat, try to pick a window seat. It will give you a little more privacy. It also means that neither you nor the baby will get hit by a rogue drink cart.
Nurse during takeoff and landing.
You always hear about “crying babies” on the plane. Plane rides have pressure changes that can wreak havoc on little ears. When you’re flying with baby, try to nurse (or at least offer baby a pacifier) at takeoff and landing. Sucking motions help keep their ears unclogged and popping so the pressure doesn’t build.
Buy a seat for baby if possible.
We know that babies can fly as lap children up to age 2 on most airlines but if you’re nursing, particularly if it’s a long flight, buy a seat. Some kiddos use boobs like binkies — if the boob is near, they’ll suck even if food isn’t on the brain. Hold a baby through a long flight and mom is going to end up dehydrated with sore nipples. It’s nice to have be able to buckle baby into a car seat for some naps. Then you can keep up your feeding schedule even at 30,000 feet.
Dress for success.
I’m sure I’ve overstated it by now but preparation is key. Don’t try to nurse in a new nursing shirt you’ve never tried before on your first trip with baby. For myself, I found a spaghetti strap tank top under a cardigan to be the key to success. I could slide one arm out of the cardigan, pull down the strap, put the cardigan back on and then nurse easily without needing to fiddle with cloaks and covers. Keep in mind that planes tend to be chilly! There are some great (and fashionable) nursing sweaters and sweatshirts out there. Consider buying one before your flight to stay cozy and accessible.
Ask for help.
It can feel isolating and overwhelming to travel with baby. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Airline employees can offer guidance on the location of plugs and the best seats for nursing. They also can bring ice for breast milk if you need it. Fellow passengers are usually happy to hand you something or even hold baby for a few minutes. People are inherently good.
Book a room with a fridge.
If you know you’ll need something in your room like a fridge make sure you follow up. Even if your initial research shows the room will have a microfridge it’s not a bad idea to include it in the special requests section when you book. I also call the morning of to verify my room will have a fridge. A few extra steps ensure that I’m not surprised when I get to my room at 11pm and it doesn’t have one.
Pack an adapter for international travel.
Traveling outside of the United States? Be sure to pack adapters so your breast pump still works.
Breastfeeding While Out and About
Once you’re out and about for the day, nursing rooms and lactation pods don’t magically appear. Getting the right position with a good latch can be tricky when there isn’t even a place to sit down! Through four kids, I’ve found a couple of reliable spots in most city centers to stop and nurse.
- Libraries. They’re quiet and have plenty of chairs. Bonus: If it’s hot out you’ll get into the AC! I usually situated myself in the children’s room.
- Hotel Lobbies. Most hotels will have no problem with you stopping and sitting in the lobby for a few. While mornings and evenings can be hectic, most are quiet mid-day.
- Theme Parks. Many theme parks have designated baby centers or nursing rooms. Depending on where you are in the park, finding a bench may be easier. Also, look for slow moving rides where you can bring baby in arms. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover was always a favorite of mine at Walt Disney World.
- In a carrier. I am a huge advocate of babywearing. Not only does it free up your hands (super convenient if you also have older kids!) but the right carrier gives you an easy way to nurse while wearing baby. It will take practice, but the skill is worth it once you learn the right position. A few great options are the Boba Wrap (best for small babies), LILLEBaby (super for parents of different sizes), and Tula (this worked the best for older babies for me).
What to Pack for Breastfeeding While Traveling
Shopping for breastfeeding supplies can be overwhelming. There are so many options and it’s easy to overthink this. Keep in mind that while you can visualize an ideal breastfeeding journey it may not happen how you think. We suggest buying the items and leaving them new in the box until you need them. That way you can return them if they prove unnecessary.
Breastfeeding Tip: Get the right gear.
- A car adaptor for your breast pump. This will allow you to pump in your vehicle when you’re the passenger. It will make life way easier! If you plan to road trip with baby be sure to check out our complete guide.
- Breast pads for leaking boobs. I recommend starting with these organic bamboo washable ones until you see how much you leak. For minimal leakers, there are reusable breast pads made of silicone that can be washed off or cloth ones that go through your laundry. If you leak a considerable amount, products like breast shells or breast milk collectors like Lacti-cups may work better for you as they will allow you to save and use the milk you leak.
- Sterilizer bags. I can’t speak highly enough of Medela Quick Clean Micro Steam bags. The bags allow you to quickly sterilize pump parts, bottles, binkies and other items in your microwave. You get up to 10 uses per bag. They were great for cleaning pump parts and have proven invaluable while traveling for cleaning bottles. Pack a Sharpie to mark off uses on the bag.
- Bottles and accessories If you plan to have a partner feed baby pumped breast milk occasionally or to supplement with formula, you’ll want to look for bottles, bottle cleaning brushes and any liners you may need. These silicone cleaning brushes cost a little more, but there is a smaller one that’s great for travel. Plus, it fits in a sterilizer bag.
- A manual breast pump. I know it doesn’t seem practical, but I had a little hand pump. It was never used to pump a whole session, but I found that it helped to get things going for me. I also used it to relieve pressure if necessary. Travel can throw off the best of us and if baby isn’t being cooperative, you’ll be glad you have it. I know that some electric breast pumps come with manual attachments. Trust me they are not all created equal. This Avent one is a beast. It worked far better than the 5 other brands I tried.
- A reusable water bottle. Dehydration and fatigue — both common side effects of family vacations — can contribute to clogged milk ducts. Carry a reusable water bottle and fill it often. It will help keep your milk supply consistent even in unfamiliar surroundings. I love this glass one by Lifefactory because it can go through the dishwasher and it’s virtually indestructible.
- Lansinoh Therapearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Packs. These were a life saver for me. They can be frozen to soothe sore nipples or you can heat them in the microwave. Insert into your bra shortly before a pumping session if you’re traveling solo. The warmth can help immensely with milk flow during pumping. They can even stay inside a hands-free nursing bra while you are pumping!
- Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes. If you’re pumping on the road, these are great for keeping everything clean until you can get the parts to a microwave to sterilize.
- Breast milk bags. Whether baby is with you and you need to keep up with swelling and oversupply or you’re solo and pumping to bring milk home breast, milk bags are a good idea. These ones stand up by themselves and have a pour spout for filling bottles!
- A great nursing scarf. Whether you cover up when you feed is up to you, but these scarves are super convenient to cover with. Bonus: it gives baby something to play with and tug on. In a pinch, you can clean spit up with them and throw them in the wash.
- Nipple cream. Many nursing mothers have some form of nipple cream or nipple balm on hand for sore cracked nipples at home. Your normal one may not be the best choice for traveling. Many products come in a small tin or tub which can take up too much room in your zip-top bag of liquids. There are some great alternatives. Bella B makes a great Nipple Nurture Butter that is 2 oz, well under the 3.4 oz rule that TSA has in place. Another fantastic option is to go with a stick like this one by Nature’s Nurture Nipple Balm. It’s chapstick-like design is super easy to use on the go and it won’t even need to go into your bag of liquids!
- Cooler bag to transport milk. We love this one because it evenly distributes coldness and easily fits milk bags. Plus it’s budget-friendly price tag doesn’t hurt!
- Ziploc bags. If you’ve read my tips on Flying with Babies, Surviving a Long Road Trip or Roadtripping with a Baby you may have realized I’m kind of a Ziploc Fan Girl. They come in so handy! From getting ice to keep milk cool to holding spit up outfits, you’ll be glad you packed them.