14 travel tips for breastfeeding mothers
August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and having friends who are breastfeeding mothers and lactation counselors made me think about the challenges that nursing mothers face when they’re traveling.
I am not a mother myself, but my practice in pediatric physical therapy has kept me attuned to health and wellness issues involving children. The more I read about breastfeeding, the more I have become aware of its importance in raising healthy children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that babies be exclusively breastfed for approximately the first 6 months of life. The AAP also recommends for breastfeeding to continue until at least 12 months and beyond, as long as both the mother and child desire. The World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed until 2 years of age or beyond, with appropriate complementary food.
During this timeframe, many mothers travel for work or leisure and would like to continue with their routine of breastfeeding and milk expression. More and more mothers are traveling during the breastfeeding season of their lives, both with and without their children.
As an advocate for traveling, I’ve sought the advice and recommendations of lactation experts and experienced traveling mothers to share with those who may have questions about pursuing breastfeeding while traveling.
For mothers traveling with their children
1. On-demand feeding is the simplest and most natural way to continue breastfeeding while traveling. Mothers like Polly Maligalig-Magpili and Leah Guerrero-Saldua have experienced nursing at different locations including theme parks, restaurants or the beach. You should be able to breastfeed your child according to your personal comfort level and preference.
2. Identify opportunities for breastfeeding breaks within your daily itinerary and schedule, particularly during periods of transit (driving, flying or commuting). Bing Suege Guevera, an administrator at Breastfeeding Pinays, an online community aimed at providing breastfeeding support to Filipino mothers, suggests researching the places that you will be visiting and ask if they have facilities that would be suitable for breastfeeding.
3. Look up local laws, customs and sentiments on breastfeeding in public. What may be considered the norm in one culture or country may not be so in another. Advocates worldwide have been fighting for the right for women to nurse in public and have made good headway.
4. Declare your breast milk that you intend to carry on during security screening at the airport when flying. The United States’ Transportation Security Administration (TSA) considers breast milk belonging to the category of liquid medication and is not subject to the 3.4-ounce restriction for other liquids and gels. Ice packs, gel packs and other accessories needed to cool breast milk are also allowed in carry-on luggage.
Note that the TSA may test liquids in carry on luggage, and this includes milk and your ice packs or gels if in a semi-solid state. Guevera and Katrina Trebol-Villapando, a pediatrician and lactation counselor, recommend checking airport and airline regulations. Dr. Trebol-Villapando suggests bringing a printed copy to help with security screening process as needed.
5. Nurse your baby during airplane takeoff and landing to help minimize stress and ear pain. According to the Health Information for International Travel produced by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding helps children stabilize and gradually equalize air pressure, which reduces Eustachian tube pain during ascent and descent.
For mothers traveling without their children
6. Even while you are away from your children, keep a regular schedule of expressing your milk. Velvet Escario-Roxas, Deputy Executive-Director of Arugaan, a Filipino NGO that protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding, recommends expressing 2-3 hours and not going beyond the 4th hour without expressing.
7. Make sure that you have enough expressed breast milk to leave behind. Dr. Trebol-Villapando recommends estimating your child’s current consumption and planning to leave an adequate supply accordingly. She also advises teaching caregivers on how to properly handle and give expressed breast milk. If your child is used to nursing directly, practice feeding through cup or bottle, according to your preference, before you leave.
8. If you plan to express while traveling, figure out the time you will be away from your child for milk storage. Guevara shares that for travel less than 5 days, expressed breast milk will sit well in the refrigerator. Freeze the breast milk if you’re traveling more than 5 days. Check with your hotel for access to a refrigerator and freezer. Remember not to re-freeze the milk once it’s been thawed out, and that milk should be consumed within 24 hours.
9. If you’re choosing to check it in, pack frozen milk in luggage with adequate ice packs. Guevara prefers to check in frozen milk in her luggage for ease in transport and to minimize being hassled at security checks. On the other hand, some mothers who choose to carry on their milk just need to be aware of the TSA guidelines mentioned above.
10. Carry a small insulated bag with ice packs for milk collected in transit. Guevara would ask for ice from flight attendants to help keep the milk during the journey.
11. For long-haul flights where you know you would be pumping mid-air, make sure
you have your pump and supplies handy and easy to get to in your carry-on
12. If you are asked to check your bag with pump and milk at the gate due to lack of space for carry-on items, politely request the airline agents to work with you and see if any of the passengers would be willing to volunteer to give up their space for your breastfeeding equipment and supplies.
13. Regardless of whether you’re traveling with or without your child, be aware of general storage and thawing guidelines and recommendations. La Leche League has a comprehensive guide on their site.
14. You may want to learn how to hand express. Dr. Trebol-Villapando underscores the importance of hand expression as a valuable skill especially during traveling. It will allow you to express your milk anytime and anywhere, with no noise or additional equipment. It can also help relieve breast soreness or tenderness. Mothers may choose to use it exclusively or as a supplement to using a pump.
WHAT TO PACK
1. Breast pumps
If you plan to pump while on the go, consider manual or battery-operated pumps to eliminate the need for having to find an electric outlet to power your pump.
If you do bring an electric pump, check that you have all the required parts, cords, extra battery packs as well as the appropriate travel converters and adapters.
For extended travel and personal preference, you could also try to find hospital-grade or closed-system pumps for rent at your destination. Find local breastfeeding support groups on Facebook for reliable recommendations.
2. Breastfeeding-friendly top, cover or Muslin blanket
Bring a cover or blanket to ensure your privacy and comfort of your child while nursing. Evette Sta Maria used a Muslin blanket as she feed her babies on planes while traveling. Even though you may not feel you need it, consider local customs and laws regarding breastfeeding in public.
3. A small toy or a nursing necklace
Cheryl Chan-Wong, a breastfeeding peer counselor, suggests bringing a small toy to keep your little toddler’s hands occupied during nursing.
4. Baby carrier or sling
A carrier or sling provides support and comfort for you and your baby as you nurse, especially in unfamiliar areas where they may not be a dedicated nursing station. Young traveling moms like Angel Say Cabrera and Mabel Olegario have been using a carrier combined with a cover and it has helped them with nursing wherever and whenever, even while walking around.
5. Milk storage containers/bags, insulated bag, and ice packs
Estimate the amount of milk that you will express during travels. Some mothers have reported increased production while traveling while others found to have less than normal. Use dedicated containers and bags specifically made for storing human milk.
6. Cleaning supplies for bottles, hand sanitizers, markers for labeling
Hygiene during handling and storing milk is critical. Tippi Tan-Vargas, a mom who breastfed her 4 children, recommends bringing your own supplies for your convenience and peace of mind such as a sachet of dishwashing liquid or bottle cleanser, sponge and a tray for cleaning in sink and drying.
A few more tips for breastfeeding mothers:
Transportation Security Administration or its counterparts in different countries
Breast milk is exempted from the 3.4 oz. liquid restriction. Escario-Roxas recommends printing airport rules and guidelines and having them on hand. The TSA guidelines concerning breast milk are found here.
Confirm carry-on policies for your breast pump, which is a medical device, and breast milk, considered liquid medication, with your airline. Bring a copy of correspondence or policies when possible.
Correspond with your hotel before your trip for access to refrigerator, freezer and heating. Bring a copy of correspondence when possible.
Le Leche League
Contact local support groups for questions on local laws, customs and policies at your destination.
International Lactation Consultant Association
Contact to find a local lactation consultant, especially if you’re a new mother on extended travel.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC has a comprehensive guide for travel and breastfeeding as part of their Yellow Book: Health Information for International Travel.
Your medical professional and local lactation counselor
It is always wise to seek advice from an experienced professional and lactation expert to ensure best practices that fit you and your child’s health and well-being.
Tessa Mendoza Cruz is the founder, writer and travel coach at viajerafilipina.com. She seeks to inspire Filipinas (and everyone else) to get out and see the world. She is also a physical therapist with pediatric and geriatric practices.