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7 Top Tips on Air Travel for Nursing Mothers

Mom with baby on airplane. Tips for air travel for nursing moms.

As the holidays approach, many people find themselves heading to airports. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) predicts that more than 25 million people will travel through TSA checkpoints during Thanksgiving weekend alone. Undoubtedly, among those will be many nursing mothers. As a nursing mother, you choose air travel for the same reason other people do: it’s time-efficient or it’s the only way to get to your destination. (There’s no bridge to Hawaii!) Here are 7 tips for air travel for nursing mothers.

1. Skip the clamor for glamour

Air travel isn’t exactly made for nursing mothers. In October 2018, the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act was signed. It requires large- and medium-sized airports to have a clean, private, non-bathroom space in each terminal for the expression of milk, with a flat surface, electrical outlet, and seating. Many airports have already started putting nursing or expression spaces into place. However, the Act doesn’t require compliance until October 2020, so you need to plan and find ways to deal with the non-glamorous experience.

Unless you know the rules and regulations, you could find yourself in the same boat as women who have been misinformed and humiliated by TSA officials.

How many times have you read articles about mothers who were forced to leave their pump paraphernalia behind, or forced to discard their milk? (Be particularly familiar with the section on “Formula, Breast Milk, and Juice.”)

Must you lift up your shirt, as one airport traveler was asked to do? (In one case, though, a woman who was hassled at the Phoenix airport got a court settlement.)

Print and carry the rules! Don’t assume that the agent who started working for TSA last week knows the rules. By knowing the TSA rules and regulations for your milk, pump apparatus and more, you can be your own best advocate. Air travel for nursing mothers isn’t always easy, but it will be more tolerable if you know the TSA rules and regs.

3. Make a to-do list and a to-pack list

Sure, you’ve got to know what to pack, how much to pack, and where to pack it. But first, you need to actually have the stuff you’ll need during your trip, and for air travel. Make a list that includes everything you or your baby might need related to feeding, and more. Go shopping, if necessary.

Also, make a to-do list that includes calling the airport, the car rental place, and the hotel. Read and print out the TSA rules.

4. Packing is key: do it right

Unlike a car trip, where pack-rat behavior can be effective, air travel forces you into packing only what you absolutely need. And, you’ll need to pack the smallest, lightest-weight version of what you need in your carry-on bag.

Pack items you wouldn’t necessarily need or use at home, and replacements for things which, if lost, could impact the nursing or feeding experience for you or your baby. Packing, when done right, is the key to making air travel for nursing mothers much more manageable. 

5. Pump or nurse near the gate

Okay, this seems simple enough. Just do it.

Oh, oops, no, it’s not always that easy! Nursing is easier than pumping. Even with changes in airports and availability of nursing/pumping pods and rooms like Mamava pods, you’ll need to plan ahead. What if those spaces are unavailable or already in use? Pumping often means finding the ladies’ restroom near the gate.

If you plan to use an electric pump, make sure you can actually find a place to plug it in and keep it upright on a surface. The aim here is to remove milk from your breasts as soon before take-off as reasonably possible. Everything from what-to-wear to when-to-arrive will be part of your strategy for this last-minute opportunity.

6. Plan for how to cope on board

Cabin pressure may give your baby some discomforts he wouldn’t otherwise have. Narrow seats and no privacy can make pumping difficult. Emptying your bladder in a room small enough to give anyone claustrophobia is not easy. These are just a few examples of the difficulties you might encounter. Therefore, try to anticipate the difficulties and foresee solutions. Although flight attendants can be a terrific ally in problem-solving, it’s better if you can think ahead. You may find it helpful to ask other mothers you know how they coped.

7.Stay focused

By definition, airline travel means that you’re in the air. Hence, you’re hundreds or thousands of miles from your own creature comforts, and you are out of your usual routine. If you have the baby or other children with you, you need many more than two hands. Planning ahead will help ease your anxiety. There’s a great guide for traveling with children, including air travel, that can help you think of things you may not have.

If you don’t have the baby or children with you, you may already feel like something important has been ripped away from you. Stay focused. You’ll be home soon, and breastfeeding is so important to the baby you love. You can do this. Just stay focused.

What has been your experience with airline travel? What has worked or not worked for you? Tell me in the comments below, and share with a friend that might benefit from these tips!

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