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13 Top Tips for Taking a Road Trip with a Nursing Baby

Family with suitcases on road trip with a nursing baby.

My husband loves road trips. There he is, driving along with his elbow hanging out the window and singing along with Willie Nelson (loud and totally off-key), “On the road again.” Having covered thousands of miles on road trips, I’d say it’s the best way to see the country. So, if you’re taking a road trip with a nursing baby, here are a few tips to make the trip more enjoyable for the whole family.

Think about where you’re going

Maybe you’re taking a road trip in order to go hiking or fishing. In that case, maybe you won’t have access to a refrigerator.

Sometimes, road trips are associated with areas that aren’t easily accessible from the airport. In that case, you need to think about what kind of supplies you can (or can’t) access easily. So pack them before you leave home.

True, these days Amazon delivers to just about any rural area. But you might not be able to get overnight shipping. If you’re taking a road trip with a nursing baby, bring a back-up supply of anything you think you might need in a hurry.

For example, pump parts are critical. You know those little-itty-bitty white membranes that fit onto a popular pump? Yeah, did anyone ever tell you that the pump won’t work without that little thing?

Oh. Well, I’m telling you now! If you saw one quickly slither down the drain, or get accidentally destroyed, you’d be glad to have an extra one with you!

Similarly, bring batteries if you have a pump that will operate with a battery.

Think about events associated with a road trip

Some events are more likely to be associated with a road trip than a plane trip. Maybe you’re visiting family. In that case, you may need some tips on how to deal with family who criticize you for breastfeeding.

Maybe you’re going to a wedding or a party and you’re wondering how to prevent leaking on your gorgeous, sexy new dress. Whatever it is, think about what you need to pack for or be prepared for at the event. 

Estimate time needed to reach your destination

Does it matter what time you get to your destination? Taking a road trip with a nursing baby means you’ll need to stop. Leave early enough so that you can pull off the road when needed. You must have the baby in a car seat while the car is moving, and you need to allow adequate time to nurse.

The amount of time you build in for stops depends on how old your baby is, and how long it takes to nurse. Very young infants will probably want to nurse every 2-3 hours, and it may take them about 15 minutes to nurse.

Babies sometimes pass stools when they nurse, so you’ll need to build in a little time for a diaper change.

Older babies don’t nurse as often, and they are more efficient when they suckle. So just think about your baby’s usual patterns, and then build in travel time accordingly.

Packing: Feel free to be a pack rat!

This isn’t like air travel where you’re limited to a specific number of pounds.

You can bring a favorite toy or favorite blanket or whatever you think will make it easier to take a road trip with a nursing baby. You can bring five of everything you think you’ll need or want on the trip. Really. If it fits into your car, you’re set!

Be sure to pack plenty of diapers

Uh-oh. Some babies tolerate the road very well. Others? Um, not so much so. You’ll want to pack plenty of extra diapers, wipes and burp cloths, just in case!

You know I’m fan of cotton diapers in general. But for a road trip with a nursing baby, disposable diapers are great. Oh? You don’t want to use the popular diapers? You’re worried the chemicals that will be near your baby’s skin?

Okay, try some Pampers Pure, which are hypoallergenic and unscented. For a more eco-friendly disposable option, try Andy Pandy biodegradable bamboo disposable diapers. They are made from totally chlorine-free fluff pulp and non-woven bamboo fibers that have not been treated with pesticides.

What happens if you don’t have easy access to running water

Okay, so hopefully this would be a short-term situation.

  • Washing your hands is best accomplished with soap and running water whether you are nursing the baby, hand expressing, or using a pump.
  • Water will enable you to rinse your pump parts, even if you can’t wash them.
  • You’ll be thirsty. Anyone can get thirsty on a road trip, but the let-down reflex can often cause thirst. Hence, if you’re taking a road trip with a nursing baby, just pack some water.

Be prepared if you aren’t near an electrical outlet

If you’re on a road trip with a nursing baby you may be tempted to think, “Oh, we can just stop somewhere.” Or “oh, I can plug my pump into my car’s USB port or auxiliary power outlet to charge.” Trust me. I’m the voice of experience telling you, that may not be possible.

Worse still, if your car breaks down, or if it lands in the shop, you might find yourself without power for a prolonged period of time.

Consider two alternatives. First, how about buying a lightweight manual pump? I strongly recommend these for a trip. Later, take the manual pump to the office, just in case you one day forget your electric pump.

Or, you could just learn to hand express. Your hands are always with you.  Listen to podcast with Francie Webb for tried-and-true tips.

Think about how to clean your pump parts

This is another reason why I suggest a simple lightweight hand pump for travel. You can easily wash the two parts in soapy water, air dry, cover, and you’re done.

But if you want to stick with your usual pump with all of the accessories, consider the Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bags.

Keep yourself clean, dry, and maybe covered

Pack some hand sanitizer or something for your own hands. You could certainly use a popular brand, or you could use something more natural and organic.

Consider Essential Oil Organic Hand Sanitizer Spray. French Lavender has a wonderful aroma, but it also has natural anti-bacterial qualities. It slightly exceeds the CDC’s recommendations for alcohol content. With no parabens, no phthalates, it’s cruelty-free, and much more. And, because it comes in a 6-pack of 2-ounce bottles, you can have one in your diaper bag, one in your partner’s pocket, or whatever.

You’ll also want to bring an extra top or two, in case your baby spits up on you. Road trips can sometimes create more spit-up than usual.

If you’re on a road trip with a nursing baby, think about where you’re going and who you plan to see. You may want to cover up from time to time.

Honestly, you can go old-school with a blanket or a shawl you already own. Or, you could buy one of the hundreds of cover-ups that are out there. Personally, I think the UnderCover Mama is one of the best-kept secrets for keeping yourself covered and your torso warm.  

Bring bottles or snacks for your baby

If you’re taking a road trip with a nursing baby, you may already realize that putting the baby to breast is the least encumbering feeding method.

But if you want to pump and feed, remember to pack bottles, nipples, cups or sippy cups, depending on your baby’s age and your preferences. (And to let you know, my highly knowledgeable podcast guest Diane Bahr  discourages sippy cups, but you and your baby might love them.)

Older babies will need a snack. Finger food eliminates the need for a spoon, but it’s messier. Just think about it before you pack.

Bring a snack for yourself

It’s often difficult to get a healthy snack while you’re on the road. Hundreds of times, I’ve traveled to rural or remote areas. Ideally, I pack washed vegetables as a snack. And more.

I don’t leave home without Premier Protein drinks. I doubt the quality of protein is as good as what I’d use to make my own smoothie at home. But I don’t want to make a smoothie on the road. Each shake provides 30 mg of protein. I’ve tried nearly every flavor; they all taste great, but the caramel is my favorite.

Here’s my other favorite snack: ebars. I keep these in my desk drawer, too. They’re all organic, satisfying, and, although the taste is a little unusual, I enjoy them.

Storing, transporting and thawing your milk

Ah yes. You were about to raise all of the questions about the collecting, storing and maybe thawing your milk. Hold on, I’ll write a separate post for that. Stay tuned! 

Consider using baby carriers at your destination

What were you planning to do? Something fun? Aha! I thought so.

Okay, if you’re taking a road trip with a nursing baby you might want to have your hands free. How about a baby carrier? (Honestly, there are so many; this could be a separate post!) Let me give you some resources to figure out what might work for you and your family.

There are four different types of carriers: soft structured carrier, MeiTai, woven wrap, and ring-sling (“sling”). I interviewed trained babywearing consultant Samantha Bunnell who talks about the basics of babywearing. Dr. Rosie Knowles talked about the benefits of babywearing. And Jennifer Canvasser talked about using wearing her preemie in the NICU.

You might even want to consider two baby carriers. A sling-type carrier allows you to be hands-free and yet you can keep your baby close to you (and therefore enhance your milk supply). But if you get tired, you may want put your baby in the Doona, a car seat that converts into a stroller.

Two carriers are also great if you have two small children. For example, one parent might want to carry the infant in a sling-type carrier while the other parent uses the Doona. So just think about the possibilities.

Final thoughts on taking a road trip with a nursing baby

If you love road trips, by all means, just go! With a little pre-planning, you can go where you want to go, get there on time, take what you need, and keep yourself and your baby happy.

What are your tips for taking a road trip with a nursing baby? Tell me your tips in the comments below! If you have a friend with an upcoming trip, please share!

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