Whether you are already on your breastfeeding journey or you are wondering whether this is the way you would like to go, we’re going to guide you through our experience in breastfeeding and pumping whilst travelling.
We have travelled extensively around the world to five different continents with our three babies and combined breast and expressed milk feeding along with bottle feeding through the baby to toddler stage – it can be done!
For this article, we have also called upon some frequent travelling moms to add some great tips from their own experiences too so you have a variety of views on breastfeeding and pumping on the go.
This post is part of our family travel advice series. You can also catch all our baby travel advice and toddler travel advice here.
Breastfeeding your baby while travelling
So you’re ready for your first journey further than around the block with your baby? Congratulations!!
Whilst packing all the baby paraphernalia you need and no doubt stressing about how your baby is going to react on a long flight or car journey, the most important thing to think about is feeding and changing your baby.
We’re going to talk you through several different scenarios to consider and lots of frequently asked questions to put your mind at ease. We’ve broken it down into:
Top tips for breastfeeding on the move
- Try and time your day’s schedule so you will have relaxing breaks around baby’s usual meal times.
- Research your destination in advance for possible lactation rooms or parent lounges at your destination.
- Don’t try and give baby expressed milk or formula from a bottle for the first time while you are travelling, always try this at home first; many breastfeeding babies will fuss when first offered a bottle and you will both need time to settle into this.
- If you are trying to adjust your baby’s sleep schedule on a long flight to prevent jetlag, you may want them to sleep through their usual feed time. You will still need to relieve your breasts if doing this so pumping may be required on a long flight.
- Equally, you might want to cluster feed to get your baby to sleep before a long journey or feed them during take-off to relieve their ear pressure. It’s helpful to have an extra bottle of expressed or formula milk ready for this. (You can see more of our handy baby flying tips here).
- Keep well hydrated, you will need to drink more than usual on board if you are breastfeeding to keep up with demand!
- Cabin pressure can do funny things to our bodies – it’s not unusual to leak more while you are flying so your breast pads are essential.
- Consider taking comfort items such as a breastfeeding pillow with you when you travel. Yes, they are bulky but can make a world of difference to your comfort.
Should I cover up while I breastfeed?
This is highly dependent on you, your baby and where you are travelling to. Remember no matter how high and mighty we might be that breastfeeding is a natural act (which it is!), when you are travelling you need to be mindful of other cultures and customs and what might be seen as appropriate.
We have had beach holidays where everyone is semi-naked anyway and no one bats an eyelid when your boobs are out – even touching your baby while you feed (Wtf!), through to moving to a Muslim country where breastfeeding is encouraged, but expected to be done in a discreet manner.
What we have found has worked best, knowing that we travel a lot, has been getting all our babies used to being fed in a variety of different ways, with and without a cover over them and from breast or expressed milk.
I know not all babies will take to these suggestions, but honestly instilling this adaptability in our children’s feeding habits very early on is what helped us travel confidentially with our children from a young age.
Best nursing covers for travel
Without a doubt, this adaptability is what led us to discover that a nursing cover is THE BEST baby travel product! They are hugely helpful – not just for their ability to discreetly breastfeed but all variety of uses on the move to from stroller cover to help with jet lag through to ground covering when we’ve found little parks to play in.
A nursing cover is a seriously versatile piece of baby kit worth every penny!
There are a few things to bear in mind when choosing your nursing cover:
- The type of material – if you’re going to a hot climate you need a breathable material that, of course, washes easily!!
- The design – the main types are aprons, which are worn just while feeding and have a rigid top where you can see down to your baby, and a shawl or scarf style, that you can wear then pull down over yourself when it’s feeding time.
Alternatives for being discreet while breastfeeding
Got one of those babies that simply hates to be covered up?
- Whilst nobody likes to feed their baby actually in a toilet, female restrooms around the world vary vastly. We have found beautifully laid out ladies restrooms that include a parents lounge, these should be your first port of call.
- A good alternative to look for in the Middle East is a ladies prayer room, you will find these in all public places, you will never find another mother object to you discreetly slipping in here to feed your bubba.
- This is where we have found combined pumping and breastfeeding really helpful. If we know we have a busy day out and about sightseeing, for example, we will bring a bottle with us in case breastfeeding feels uncomfortable or impractical at any point an alternative can be offered.
Have you got any alternative suggestions you’d like to add? Pop them in the comments below
Pumping while travelling – how to express and transport breast milk
Since our first baby was admitted to hospital at 4 days old with failure to thrive, I became an avid fan of pumping, combined with breastfeeding.
It wasn’t intentional, but was a great way to build up milk supply and split the load with hubby and later on home helpers we had when I returned to work whilst continuing to keep my babies breastfeed.
Whilst it had many benefits in the comfort of our home with all our baby kit in our kitchen, marker pens on hand a large fridge-freezer, managing things on the move through up a lot more challenges; to the point, I nearly gave up the pumping routine with baby 1. I am so glad we were able to overcome this and keep our routine.
Travelling with Breast Milk
There are a few scenarios to consider here:
- You are travelling WITHOUT your baby and need to continue pumping while you are away
- You want to bring pre-pumped breastmilk with you (travelling WITH your baby).
- You need to pump whilst in transit (with or without baby).
1. Travelling with breastmilk (and no baby)
We have called in the help of Preethi, a frequent travelling mum of 4 (soon to be 5!) from Local Passport Family:
“I needed to travel to Seattle when my youngest was about 4 months old. It was a short trip – less than 48 hours. While I dumped some while out and about, I still managed to pump and store about 24 oz in my hotel mini-fridge. I made sure to store the milk in the “freezer” part (really, just a bit colder than the normal mini fridge area).
Before leaving to fly home, I packed up the milk, which was very cold but not quite frozen, in my pump bag. It was only an hour flight back (and it was the middle of January), so I knew the milk would make it home just fine.
When going through security at the airport, they inspected and tested my milk and then let me through without issue. I was so glad to be able to bring that milk back to my baby!”
Top Tip: If you will be expressing your milk away from home check your accommodation has a refrigerator or mini-freezer.
How long will my expressed milk last?
We found a great resource on Aeroflow Breastpumps that helps explain this using the 5-5-5 rule (if you’re not familiar with this, definitely go check their post out!).
2. Bringing Expressed Milk onboard an airplane
So what exactly are the rules for bringing milk with you onboard an airplane (and your breast pump?)
TSA Liquid Rules and Breastmilk
- You are permitted to travel with breastmilk in both your carry on and checked luggage.
- Your breastmilk can be larger than 3.4oz and must be declared to security staff – always keep your bottles and any pumping kit separate to the rest of your luggage through screening.
- Screening procedures are non-invasive; a visual inspection is usually fine but a TSA agent may want to test it for explosives. You MAY refuse this, and you MAY request that the TSA agent changes their gloves before handling your bottles.
- Breast pumps SHOULD be considered as medical devices if you are bringing on board, but do check with individual airlines.
- Ice packs – if frozen – are not considered a liquid so ARE permitted when boarding your flight to keep your milk chilled (NB the hard packs might be heavier but last longer than the gel packs!)
Whilst TSA is not the ONLY aviation authority in the world, most follow the same standards when it comes to liquids on board:
Flying with breastmilk – Rules in other countries
- The rules in the UK where we have frequently travelled from with breastmilk vary significantly to the TSA! The FAA allows up to 2000ml of breastmilk, and other forms of milk, if the baby is present, but NOT frozen milk on board. Cooling gel packs are permitted.
- International flights from Australia, breastmilk can be transported in containers of 100ml or less, carried in a plastic bag with a capacity of no more than 1000ml if you are travelling WITHOUT your baby, otherwise they only state “you can carry onboard a reasonable quantity… for the duration of the flight and any delays that may occur”
Will the airline store my breastmilk?
This is really variable by airline. We are working on finding the answer to this to include in our International Airlines Review series. Err on the side of caution that you will need your own insulated bag with you.
Can I send my breastmilk by courier instead?
Within the US domestically, yes. In fact, there are dedicated companies that offer this service such as Milkstork.
You can also ship your milk into the US from overseas (for example DHL offers this service) but other countries you need to specifically check their food importation laws before sending breastmilk.
There’s a further guide here by Big Brave Nomad if you would like to learn more about transporting your breastmilk.
3. Pumping on a plane (with or without your baby!)
We asked Elaine from Show them the Globe to share her experience with pumping on board a plane:
“Having taken many long haul flights where my two little ones slept for most of the journey, I’ve found pumping on a plane a necessary part of my travels.
My pumping essentials include a window seat for privacy (the bathroom is another option), plenty of water for hydration and loose layered clothing for easy and discreet access with a pump. I prefer a battery-operated breast pump on flights as I don’t need to rely on access to a power outlet.
Remember that a breast pump is categorized as a medical device and does not count as part of your carry on allowance. If I’m travelling solo, I usually tell my neighbor that I’m going to pump during the flight.
I bring a Ziploc bag to store the breast pump parts after use or, if I’m planning to pump multiple times, Medela wipes are fantastic. I also bring a freezer bag and ice packs to keep milk cool. In most countries, the ice pack must be frozen as you pass through security. If I can’t freeze the ice packs then I fill the cooler with ice and dispose and refill the ice before and after security. ”
Sanitising bottles on a plane
For long haul flights, we don’t take all the cleaning equipment with us. We relied on airline staff to wash the bottles out between use, then clean the bottles more thoroughly at our destination, using sterilising tablets (and ideally a microwave steriliser, if you have one at your destination!).
There’s a good guide here on how to deal with baby bottle sterilisation on the go.
What do I need in my portable pumping kit?
- A portable breast pump, of course! If you are planning to pump on the plane you will most likely need a manual pump (still quite laborious!) or a battery-operated pump.
- Bottles or bags to transfer your expressed milk into
- An insulated carry bag for your milk
- Wipes to clean down your pumping equipment
- A spare bag to put your used parts into
- A pen for scribbling your times/dates on the bag
- If you will also be using your pump at your destination plugged in check for voltage! You may need a voltage converter as well as a different plug.
See what other items we recommend you pack when travelling with your baby here (includes a downloadable checklist)
We hope this article has given you a lot more confidence in tackling travel with your baby while you’re still breastfeeding.
If you have any more questions we have not covered, drop them in the comments below, we will do our best to help.
Before you go – some more baby travel tips!
We have an extensive collection of baby travel articles to help new parent travellers like you continue to see the world even after kids come along! Why not come and check out one of these posts:
- How to tackle your very first baby flight – stepping you through everything from seats and ticket booking to security, entertaining and feeding time
- The Ultimate Guide to Baby Bassinets on Planes – what they are, how you book them and get a good night sleep onboard
- 10 Baby Travel Essentials you will absolutely need – items we’ve actually found really useful, not just a gimmick
- Sleep solutions on the go – best travel cots & bassinets
- Is it worth investing in a travelling high chair – really important if you are transitioning from breastfeeding to solids
- Flying Pregnant? Our ultimate guide to pregnancy travel
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