Air Travel and Breastfeeding: Five Tips for Nursing and Pumping Moms

  |   By Elisabeth Dale

Are you a nursing mom planning to fly with your infant? Maybe have a business trip planned (without baby) and must maintain your milk supply across a few time zones?

Air travel and breastfeeding can be challenging and not just for the obvious logistical reasons. The TSA and several airlines have been in the news for harassing nursing mothers both on the ground and in the air. So it’s good to know your air travel and breastfeeding or pumping rights before heading to the airport. And fellow passengers may want to be aware of them as well.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had to wrestle with a baby and breastfeed on an airplane. Yet even I cringe when I see a mother carrying a newborn down the aisle. Yes, the babe may be fussy and scream the whole flight, or worse yet be seated in my row. But the mother is the one spending her journey with an infant on her lap.

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Hunger, lack of sleep, and air pressure changes can all ruin a baby's day. So traveling moms need to be over-prepared: with food, formula, or lactating breasts. And when that same nursing mother must fly a long distance without baby, she may need to relieve too full and aching breasts by using a breast pump en route. These days you could find yourself seated next to someone plugging in her electric breast pump into the same outlet used for iPads and laptops.


Here are five tips to make air travel and breastfeeding a bit easier:

1. Choose your seat wisely.  Try to reserve a window seat in the bulkhead or near the back of the plane (but not too far back as back aisles can get jammed with passengers waiting to use restrooms). This will give you the greatest amount of privacy once you are in the air. Check with your airline to make sure your pump is compatible with available electrical outlets.

2. Get familiar with TSA regulations. You can travel with breast milk, pumps, formula, and baby food. All are allowed but not every agent is up to date on the latest rules. Print them out and keep them with your baby supplies in case you need to refer to them on your trip.

3.  Declare your pumping equipment, breast milk, and other baby foods when you go through security. Make sure liquids are stored in clear, plastic bags. Breast milk is exempt from the 3 oz limits. It may still be screened but you should not be asked to taste it or go pump in a public restroom to prove that you plan to use your pump later.

4. Do communicate with your flight attendant in advance. Let them know that you will be nursing your baby or plan to use an electric breast pump on board. This also gives passengers in your row some notice that your boobs will be fully employed during the flight. Tell the flight attendant if you'll need your breast milk refrigerated or help with heating formula.

5. Guarantee your privacy. Bring along accessories that help you maintain discretion. Tight quarters, strangers, and even turbulence make breastfeeding or using a breast pump challenging. Don't forget a reliable nursing cover, special nursing bra, or any other items you need to help you keep your business to yourself.

These tips for air travel and breastfeeding don't guarantee a hassle free travel experience. Should a TSA agent or other airline employee unreasonably interfere with your ability to feed your child (whether that child is present or not), do take down names and ask to speak to a supervisor. You may not win in the short run but you’ll be helping pave the way for the next traveling nursing mother. Many women have taken their complaints to media outlets or spread the word through social media. Yet even when an airline or agency apologizes for bad behavior there may be negative comments directed at the breastfeeding mom and her “offensive” behavior.

Maybe airline and TSA officials should make a greater effort to educate all passengers about the rights of breastfeeding mothers -- not just their employees. That could make for breast friendlier skies.

What’s your view? Does it offend you when a mother nurses her baby on board an airplane? Would you object to a new mom pumping breast milk in your row? Have you had any problems with air travel and breastfeeding?


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