Breastfeeding or pumping while traveling

MIAmamas nursing pod for breastfeeding mothers

image credit: Miami International Airport

Traveling with children is always an “experience” and it seems the younger the child, the more stuff you bring. Being a family that loves to travel, we didn’t slow down after the birth our first child. Our son was 3 months old when we took our first road trip, 4 months when he took his first domestic flight, and 6 months old when he traveled internationally. When we had our second child, we continued to travel. To date, our 3-year-old son has been on 18 flights; our 1-year-old daughter has been on 12 flights. I’m not saying it’s been easy, but we created fun memories.

Traveling with babies in the airport

gate check bags First, I recommend getting gate check bags for your car seat and stroller. The airlines always do a number on these items! Even though these items are usually gate-checked, the gate check bag lessens the chance the item will get damaged or dirty. I find it helpful to label my own for easy identification.

If your little one is under two, I suggest putting him in a carrier and using your stroller for older children or all that extra stuff that you are packing. The benefit of putting your little one in a carrier is multileveled. First, it keeps him content and in one place. Second, it frees up your hands, especially if you need to give the airline attendant your boarding pass. Finally, if your little one gets fussy it provides an inconspicuous means to nurse on demand.

A few other pieces of helpful advice:

  • Give yourself extra time to go through security. Seriously, add 30 minutes to your pre-flight plan because with stroller, children, and transporting breastmilk or baby items, it takes longer than the average person. I will talk about this in more detail later.
  • Just like the pilots, have a preflight checklist: Diaper change, pack stroller into gate check bag and leave at gate, have boarding passes ready, be first in line.
  • When traveling with children, you’re allowed to board the plane first, even before the first class or priority members. When they make the first announcement that they are boarding people with “special needs” that means you. I always take advantage of this because I get prime overhead storage space for the diaper bag, not to mention getting to unstrap that baby you’ve been carrying on your chest for the past 2+ hours!
  • Check the breastfeeding laws for your destination. As of the end of July 2018, every state has laws on the books to protect a nursing mother’s right to breastfeed in public. I still recommend doing some research ahead of time, especially if you’re traveling internationally.

Nursing and pumping in the airport

As I mentioned earlier, I find it easiest to nurse in the airport while the baby is in a carrier. If that isn’t your style, plan to give yourself extra time to have a quick nursing session before boarding. As for nursing/pumping rooms in airports, they are a hit or miss. Currently there are 28 domestic airports that use Mom Aboard private accommodations for nursing or pumping mothers. Here is a site to check for a list of airports with maps of the unit locations. Bonus: airports that do have these units usually have one per wing of the airport. Some airports have adopted permanent rooms in their facility. The easiest way to find these in any airport is to pick up the white courtesy phone and ask. Sometimes airports refer to these as “family rooms” and other times they will send you to a family restroom. Slowly but surely, they are catching on that pumping in the bathroom is not acceptable or hygienic.

Here are a few tips if you plan to pump and travel:

  • Bring a small insulated cooler and a frozen ice pack for easy storage. This allows you to transport breastmilk to your destination ready for the fridge or freezer within a 24-hour window.
  • Bring pre-sterilized, sealable bags that are specially designed for storing breast milk.
  • Keep in mind that if you are transporting breastmilk from the freezer in your cooler, it must be consumed within 24 hours for safety purposes. It cannot be refrozen.

Nursing on the plane

Breastfeeding on the plane can be intimidating the first time. If you’re unsure about coverage methods, I suggest that you read my previous article, Breastfeeding in public: Feeling comfortable and knowing your rights. If you’re traveling with your partner, you can take the window seat and give your partner the middle seat as this creates more privacy during nursing. I loved nursing during plane rides; if my children were fussy, I breastfed to calm them down. Swallowing repeatedly while nursing helped their ears adjust to the pressure of the altitude. Bonus: My little ones usually fell asleep during the nursing session.

Transporting baby supplies and breastmilk

Many people don’t know that food to be consumed by children is exempt from the TSA liquid rules in proportion to needs and duration of travel. For example, if you are going on a 12-hour flight, you could bring a gallon of milk if that’s what your family needs. So pack those bottles and pouches without worry! Again, give your family extra time to get through TSA and know they are going to screen all your liquids/pouches/yogurts with more care.

Breastmilk is an exception to the liquid rule with or without children present. If you are traveling without baby, notify TSA as you’re going through security that you’re carrying breastmilk with you. Make sure it is in its own bag/cooler because it must be kept separate from your other items. It does not have to be a certain number of ounces per bottle, but all the bottles (or bags) will be tested by TSA. They open the bottles and wave a special strip over them, as well as rub a strip around the outside. I’ve had this done countless times and TSA was quite accommodating and never spilled my liquid gold. I usually ask that they put down paper towel so my baby’s bottle doesn’t touch their counter. Feel free to check out the TSA website for more info.

Traveling with children isn’t effortless but it is rewarding. Creating memories and building a healthy world view are some of the best experiences I can give my children. There is no need to feel intimidated by the age of your little one. In fact, I find it easiest to travel with an infant. All they need are clean behinds and breastmilk. Pack those bags and bon voyage.

– Sephanie Celaya de la Torre, MSW, is a Beaumont Parenting Program volunteer and past program participant.

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