Updated: Jun 10, 2022
1. Be sure to drink lots of water and move around when the seatbelt sign is off.
People tend to get dehydrated when flying, and when nursing you are more at risk for dehydration (plus water helps your supply – yay!). Dehydration also puts you at a higher risk for headaches during the flight so I like to bring Tylenol with me for when that happens.
Additionally, when breastfeeding you tend to have more estrogen in your body. Large amounts of estrogen, combined with sitting for long periods at higher altitudes, can increase the risk of blood clots – so walking and moving are important!
I always take baby aspirin before international flights to help with clotting (but you should always ask your doctor first).
2. Look for nursing, or mother’s rooms in airports – they are a great escape for you and baby!
New laws now require most major U.S. airports to have “mother’s rooms, nursing pods, or breastfeeding stations” and OMG, these are amazing!
I was in one in the Charlotte, N.C. airport that was glorious – it had a comfy reclining rocking chair, sanitizing wipes and sprays, sink, outlets, changing station, smell good lotions and sprays – just a nice break from nursing in public amongst the hustle and bustle of travelers.
Overseas, the airports tend to have different rules but almost all of them have a separate place for mothers to nurse or pump. And most overseas family changing rooms tend to have chairs and sanitizing areas (as a separate option to nursing rooms).
It is important to note that family changing rooms typically do not have toilets in them like ours do in the U.S.
3. Pack a pacifier, dummy, binky – whatever you want to call it!
It is recommended that you feed or nurse the baby when taking off and landing to help with the change in cabin air pressure on their little ears. But you might find that it isn’t always possible. Baby may not be hungry or could be going through a phase and pulling off the boob too often. Sometimes the airline has a rule on how Baby must sit.
For example, some airlines require Baby to be buckled in an extension seatbelt that is attached to yours; this can make it hard to get them into a position to feed. Or if you paid for a seat and are using a car seat, the airline may require that Baby stay fastened in the seat during takeoff and landing.
A pacifier allows for Baby to get the sucking and swallowing motion they need to help with the pressure while staying in the required seating.
What if Baby doesn’t take a pacifier?
Mine didn’t either at first. In this case, I would plan to have your milk ready and in a bottle, even if Baby isn’t too hungry. This ensures that they are sucking on something.
When I was still a very new mom (my baby was 8 weeks on her first international flight, so I was not great at breastfeeding on the go yet) I used a hand pump under a cover and then poured that milk into a bottle for Baby to have during takeoff. The airline said they would not allow me to get my breastfeeding pillow down until we were in the air. At that point, I was so new to nursing that I had never fed her without the pillow, and I wasn’t sure how to hold her securely yet, so I chose to use a bottle.
Breast milk is good for 4-5 hours after expressing, so if you have time to quickly run to a mother’s room and express a bit before boarding or you bring a hand pump for the plane, you have options other than a pacifier or directly nursing.
4. Always pack a hand pump or your electric pump in your hand luggage.
This is especially important on long-haul flights because not only can your checked luggage get lost, and then you are without your pump for your trip, but Baby tends to sleep more on the plane. If you think about it, they are traveling in a giant sound machine - aka an airplane; it’s like being in the womb again and they are so comfy (well, most of the time).
When Baby sleeps more, you may have to skip a feed and the last thing you want to do is wake them up on an airplane. They cry and then you get death stares from other passengers so having your pump provides you the option to express for comfort or to maintain your supply as you need.
It is very likely that you will want your pump during your trip and you do not want to chance it getting lost. Whether you plan on drinking on vacation and want to pump & dump or you’re visiting family and want to give them the opportunity to feed your baby via bottle, you’ll appreciate having the option to pump even if you don’t use it.
5. Have a plan for covering… or for confidence!
I always start my trips with a cover. The standard old-fashioned kind that ties around your neck that you get for free with registries and you can clearly tell it’s a nursing cover – I should really up my cover game.
But as the trip goes on, by about the third feed and I’m growing tired, I move on to a scarf or use the baby’s blanket to slightly cover myself.
By the second half of an overseas flight, I channel the confidence of all the mothers in the world and just let my boob be free as I nurse. Because by hour 10+ you do not care who sees you! Plus, breastfeeding is natural… and you remember that when you are worn out and Baby is waving the cover off your boob while they feed anyway.
If you are like me and not totally confident nursing in public until extreme exhaustion, pack a cover and keep it easily accessible. I always travel with my breastfeeding pillow and tuck it inside the pillow’s cover along with a burping cloth, or in the diaper bag if there’s room (which when traveling a long way, there probably isn’t, and the pillow or a pocket may be a better option).
If you are proud and confident then go for it and don’t worry about the cover, or the stress. The bottom line is, do what is best for you and Baby!