One good thing about breastfeeding is that you can readily feed your baby with fresh, nutritious milk anytime and anywhere. All you need is yourself, some friendly drapes, your baby and you’re all set! But what if you’re going out of the country and need to breastfeed your baby while on a plane? If you’re also concerned about the legalities and the necessary preparations to continue breastfeeding while on travel, I have provided a comprehensive guide on the most commonly asked questions and what you need to know.
Is breastfeeding on a plane legal? Breastfeeding in public places, including public transport, are widely practiced in many countries around the world. In the United States, federal legislation protects the rights of mothers and their children’s to breastfeed anywhere they are authorized to be while on a federal property. In UK, breastfeeding in public places and transport are protected under the Equality Act of 2010. Though breastfeeding practices may slightly differ per airline policy, many of them recognize the rights of a mother to breastfeed her baby while on a flight.
So if you’re planning to travel soon, you can continue to breastfeed your little one, even while on a plane ride. But aside from the laws and guidelines, you might still need some other essential information to keep up your breastfeeding routine while you travel. I will discuss some of the most important considerations before you actually book for your next flight.
Travelling with your Breastfed Baby
Traveling with your baby means you need to continue breastfeeding, even during the most unexpected times. Below is some useful information you can use if you choose to bring along your newborn baby or toddler on a flight.
Can you breastfeed on a plane?
Breastfeeding on a plane is becoming more common and as a result, more accepted. Most airline companies are now accommodating the needs of nursing moms and their babies due to the increased in public awareness about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding on a plane is generally acceptable, though, in some circumstances, you might be expected to cover up or breastfeed discreetly to consider other passengers who may feel more uncomfortable.
The CDC recommends that mothers should continue to breastfeed their baby whilst on a travel, and exclusively, if your baby is below 6 months of age. Along with plenty of nutritional benefits, exclusive breastfeeding protects young babies from potential pathogens that may be transferred via foods, liquids and contaminated containers like cups, bottles or utensils. If you are going to a place with a very hot climate, breastfeeding can keep your baby hydrated, even without the need for additional water supplementation.
Can I breastfeed during takeoff and landing?
According to the CDC, breastfeeding protects babies from Eustachian tube pain and collapse during air travel, especially during takeoff and landing. As you might have experienced, when the plane starts its ascent or decent, you would feel pain and ringing in your ears due to the sudden changes in the air pressure. The same thing happens if we take our baby to a flight. Breastfeeding allows your baby to move her jaw and muscles which can stabilize and gradually equalize the internal and external pressure while the plane takes off or land.
In most cases, breastfeeding during take off and landing is allowed, as long as you follow the seat belt rule. Young babies are most probably allowed on a mother’s lap, provided that they are fastened with an extension lap belt for safety. Toddlers are to be secured with a seat belt in their own seat so it may not be the most comfortable time to feed. Nevertheless, you can find ways to angle or to cover up to help settle your baby.
Breastfeeding travel tips
Breastfeeding whilst on travel might not be the most convenient, but if you do, then you’d better do it with style. I have compiled the best tips from experts and fellow breastfeeding moms who love to travel with their baby so that you can use them as an inspiration for your next getaway.
How to breastfeed on a plane
Breastfeed like a pro while on air travel with the help of these nursing tips:
One sided nursing
Breastfeeding on a plane can be a challenge, especially if you and your baby are seated next to a stranger who is encroaching your shared arm rest. If this happens, you may choose to breastfeed only on one side (the side which is much more concealed) during the flight, and save the other side by the time you get off the plane.
Nurse at an angle
Many breastfeeding moms may have already been doing this style when breastfeeding in public. An airplane is an enclosed space and you would find little room for privacy, so what you can do is to angle yourself a bit towards the window so that you can settle your baby with less people eyeing on you.
Though breastfeeding on a plane is generally acceptable, it’s a good idea to have a few options for your own comfort and convenience. Before leaving home, pack exactly what you will need for the journey ahead. Dress with a nursing tank top and pack your favorite nursing covers in your hand carry to have easy access.
You can use anything accessible to ensure privacy from other passengers while breastfeeding. You can practically use your jacket layer up. Some mothers also find it convenient to nurse with their baby carrier or sling on, which is very practical since aside from the purpose of concealing, your baby can position herself comfortably at your breast, while your hands are free to move letting you read or enjoy a drink.
Move to empty seats
Sometimes, it just feels awkward to feed next to a stranger. So to have a little privacy, you can ask the flight attendant if you can move to empty seats if there are any when you need to breastfeed your baby.
If your baby turned fussy and you have troubles settling her, breastfeeding on your own seat can be a bit difficult. The aircraft galley is one of the perfect places to settle your baby. It is the area where the airline staff prepare the food and drinks for the passengers. Airline policies and their staff may differ on how to handle situations like this, so you will need to ask the flight attendant if you can be allowed to settle your baby in the galley and then get back to your seat once you’re all set.
Nursing in the plane’s lavatory is not recommended due to sanitation issues, but many moms end up doing it as a last resort. If you may ever are faced with this situation, make sure you inform the flight attendant beforehand. This will make them aware that you will need to spend extra time there and to avoid concern.
Breastfeeding On A Long Haul Flight
Just the mere thought of going on a long haul flight can be pretty stressful. So coming prepared can make a considerable difference to your flying experience when bringing your breastfed baby along? Here are some tips to make it easier for you and your baby.
Select an ideal flight time
It is given that traveling will disrupt your baby’s normal routine. However, you have a better chance for things to run smoothly if you select a departure time when your baby is usually awake. For example, you can select an early evening departure time, when your baby is ready for her sleep.
Board first or last
Some breastfeeding moms prefer boarding the plane last so that they can maximize their time spent on roaming around with their baby and keeping them entertained before getting on the plane. On the other hand, some prefer to board the plane first so that they have enough time to settle their baby on the plane and arrange their hand-carry stuff on the overhead bin space. You can board the plane first or last, depending on whichever would work best for you and your baby.
Nursing pillow airplane essential
During a long haul flight, it is given that you’ll need to nurse your baby more than once. Make sure to gear up your diaper bag with your breastfeeding essentials and one thing that could make feeding (and your life), a lot easier while on air travel is a nursing pillow. A nursing pillow can help you breastfeed with more comfort and help hold baby into your arms during a long flight.
Bring a comfort object
Long hours of sitting on a plane wouldn’t be tolerated by a baby, especially if it was her first time. Find ways to entertain your baby by bringing some soothers along, like his favorite blanket, fabric books or colorful toys.
You’re going on a long journey while also breastfeeding, so it is important to keep yourself hydrated. Keeping your body hydrated will help keep you feeling refreshed. Though there may be free drinks on the plane, it’s better to bring your own bottle of water along. A water bottle with a straw can be handy during this time since you can easily grab and sip even while you hold and breastfeed your baby.
Breastfeeding a toddler on a plane
If bringing your breastfed baby on a plane becomes quite a challenge, wait till you both go on air travel when she’s a year older. Here’s how to survive a flight with a breastfeeding toddler.
Keep her full before the flight
Breastfeeding a toddler on a plane isn’t as easy as when she was a baby. She might resist breastfeeding under the nursing cover you would like to use. So the trick here is to keep her full by nursing her right before the flight. There are many airports that offer a special lactation area where breastfeeding moms can feed their children. Feeding her right before you board the plane would help keep her settled for a longer period of time.
Bring along some finger foods
Your toddler can now eat a variety of supplementary foods and you can take advantage of her appetite during a flight. Aim for some healthy finger foods like fried potatoes, biscuits or a banana that can satisfy her hunger so that she won’t ask for the breast all the time.
Book for a flight that matches her routine
Short flights can be scheduled right before her nap time or for long flights, you can take advantage of booking for an early evening flight. This can make your journey a lot easier because she could fall asleep on the rest of the trip. Just make sure that the departure time is not past her usual nap or bedtime so that she won’t end up exhausted or irritated.
Traveling without baby while breastfeeding
Traveling without your baby isn’t a reason to quit breastfeeding prematurely. However, to maintain your milk supply, you’ll need to pump your breast milk. Here are some important considerations to keep in mind if you plan to travel by air without your baby.
Is a breast pump considered a carry on?
Your breast pump will be your “breast friend” while you spend some time away from your baby. You’ll have to use it every now and then, so you’ll most probably keep it in a bag within your easy access. But the question is, will it be allowed as a carry on?
According to the CDC’s travel guidelines, airlines typically consider breast pumps as personal items that passengers can carry onboard, similar to your laptop computers, handbags, or diaper bags. In the US, any accessories related to expressing milk or child feeding is included in The Infant and Child Nourishment Exemption. This applies as long as you declare the items to a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer before screening.
Pumping on a plane
If you need to travel and leave your baby behind, one important thing to do is to pump to keep telling your body to produce breast milk. The following tips on pumping or expressing breast milk are in accordance with the CDC’s guidelines and travel recommendations:
Clean and sanitize
Prior to expressing your milk, make sure your hands are clean by washing it with soap and water on the plane lavatory. If this isn’t possible, you can bring along an alcohol or hand sanitizer with at least 60 % alcohol to clean your hands. If you are going to place your pumping items over some surfaces, you can use some antibacterial wipes and alcohol to disinfect the area.
To effectively maintain a steady supply, you’ll need to pump your milk during the times when your baby would usually feed. Depending on your needs and the availability of storage resources, you can store your expressed breast milk or otherwise “pump and dump”. Either way, this will help maintain your milk supply.
Get ready to pump
If you need to do a lot of pumping on a plane, consider bringing a portable manual pump or a battery operated variety which can give you easy access anytime throughout the flight.
Additionally, if you’re aiming to maintain an abundant supply for a long period of time, you’ll also find that bringing an electric breast pump would be best. You may likewise need to bring an electrical adapter and converter along with this electrical variety.
Pumping on an international flight
The pumping guidelines are more or less the same for both domestic and international flights. Here are some additional reminders and tips you can use if you are traveling out of the country:
Do a little research
Be aware of the breastfeeding policies of the airline and your destination country so that you’ll be informed regarding their views on breast pumping and bringing pumping materials. Airport security measures for passengers carrying expressed breast milk may differ from one country to another.
Declare all pumping and child feeding accessories separately.
Make sure the airline authorities are aware of what you need to bring by hand and to what specific purpose you want it to use. Making this clear will prevent baggage checking delays and will also save you from a lot of hassle prior to boarding your flight.
Keeping your pump parts clean
While on a plane, it is understandable that you might not be able to wash your pump parts after every use. You can simply rinse them with cold water to remove the milk debris and use a separate container to store them. Ask the flight attendant if it would be allowed in the plane’s refrigerator, or if not, you can then simply place the container inside your portable cooler with ice packs.
Breast milk while flying
After pumping, the next thing to know is how to store and transport your expressed breast milk while flying. Travelers who are planning to bring expressed breast milk with them should carefully plan prior to their departure.
Is breast milk allowed through airport security?
If traveling in the US:
- Expressed breast milk and other related child feeding items are exempted from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations about limiting the quantity of other liquids and gels.
- Under The Infant and Child Nourishment Exemption, passengers are allowed to carry with them all expressed breast milk, ice, frozen or unfrozen gel packs and related accessories that are needed to transport the expressed breast milk through airport security checkpoints and all throughout their flight.
- Declare the breast milk and related accessories separately to the TSA officer prior to the screening process so that they wouldn’t be included in the 100 ml limitation for other aerosol, liquids, and gels that you can bring.
- You can still carry breast milk and other child feeding items and accessories even if you travel without your baby.
If traveling outside of the US:
Airport security measures may differ from one country to another, so if you’re traveling outside of the US, it is always better to call the airport or the consulate of your destination country, or otherwise check their guidelines online a few days prior to your departure.
How do you transport breast milk on a plane?
For moms who need to transport their expressed breast milk in checked luggage
you should be aware of the CDC’s guidelines in the proper handling and storage of expressed breast milk to protect the milk during your travel. Here are some items that you will need:
- Insulated cooler bag– to keep the temperature stable all throughout your travel
- Frozen gel packs or ice packs– to keep the milk fresh or frozen
- Breast milk storage bags or BPA-free bottles– to protect your breast milk from leaks and make sure it is clean and safe
For freshly expressed breast milk
Place it inside a sealed breast milk storage bag or bottle and store in an insulated cooler bag with frozen ice packs. The breast milk could stay in there for up to 24 hours. Upon arrival, you’ll need to use it right away, store it in the fridge or freeze it.
For carrying frozen breast milk
Store it inside the insulated cooler with frozen gel packs or ice. If possible, check your milk from time to time to see if it has thawed.
- Thawed breast milk– keep it cold and use within 24 hours after it has been completely thawed.
- Breast milk still frozen- if it still has ice crystals upon arrival, you can refreeze the breast milk.
If you need to ship your frozen breast milk
it can also be allowed provided that you follow the guidelines on shipping other frozen foods and liquids. Expressed breast milk is not considered a biohazard and it is considered as food for individual use.
How do you keep breast milk frozen when flying?
Keeping your breast milk frozen when flying is crucial since it ensures that the quality of your breast milk is well- preserved for your baby’s future needs. This is especially helpful for breastfeeding mothers who need to travel away from their baby for a long period of time. Here are some ways to keep your breast milk frozen when flying while you travel without your baby:
Using an insulated cooler with frozen ice
Place the frozen breast milk in an insulated cooler with frozen ice or gel packs as per CDC’s guidelines.
Adding up extra ice
Make sure your cooler has enough ice. Try to request or buy some ice in the nearest café or restaurant within the airport to fill all your ice packs. Normal ice can keep your breast milk frozen while you are flying for a couple of hours.
Using dry ice
If you’re going to a long haul flight (12 hours or longer), using dry ice can be a better option. Check your airline about their policies in checking with dry ice. Most of the time, it would be allowed provided that you’ll use a foam cooler, which permits carbon dioxide gas for release.
I have read that dry ice can make the plastic storage bags so brittle and at risk for leaks. So if you’re going to use it for long travel, it is better to freeze your milk in a storage bottle, then seal it using a zip-lock bag to make sure your breast milk is protected. You can also add up some crumpled newspaper around to pad the dry ice and the empty spaces around the breast milk.
Seal your cooler
Once the TSA is done inspecting your breast milk and other related accessories, consider sealing your cooler with a duct tape.
When packing, place your frozen breast milk evenly in the cooler and make sure each storage bag or bottle is in contact with the ice.
Freeze in the hotel
If you’re booking a hotel, call beforehand to ask for a room with a freezer. If this is not available, you can turn the hotel mini-fridge to the coldest setting. Another way to keep your breast milk frozen is to ask the hotel desk if they can place your cooler inside the hotel freezer.
You can use a thermometer to check if your cooler stays cold enough to keep your breast milk frozen.
How to prevent a pat-down
To help secure the safety of all passengers and the entire flight, TSA may request a pat-down when they need to further evaluate a traveler and her belongings. No one enjoys a pat-down at the airport, especially if you are traveling with your baby and carries a lot of luggage. Here are some tips to prevent a pat-down:
Declare your items early
Breast milk, frozen ice or gel packs, breast pump and accessories, baby feeding items and your insulated cooler- they all need to be declared separately, before the screening process. The TSA has the right to inspect breast milk and bottles for explosives, which can take around an hour or more, so make sure you arrive at the airport early to allow ample time for this process.
Keep them frozen
Gel packs and water-based ice packs needs to be frozen upon inspection. There are times that TSA won’t approve them if they are partially-thawed.
Using foam ice packs
These foam-based packs can work similar to gel and water-based packs but are more TSA friendly when it comes to thawing issues.
Take out items that can set-off the scanner
Make sure you take off your shoes, belt, electronic gadgets, sweaters, jackets, watches, jewelry, as well as any kind of food or water bottle when you walk through the scanner.
Dress up accordingly
Avoid wearing clothing with a high metal content. There is nothing wrong with having a unique fashion sense but as a mom traveling with her baby, being requested for a pat-down can be a major hassle. So it is generally better to dress up light and wear minimal jewelry. It will also make scanning a lot faster.
Breastfeeding on Plane law
It is now widely accepted that mothers need to breastfeed their baby in public, especially if they are on a long haul flight. I already mentioned earlier that in many countries, for example in the US and UK, there are certain laws that protect the rights of mothers to breastfeed in public places and this includes public transport such as a plane. However, there are still some places where a nursing mother can be told it’s not acceptable, or may even be requested to get off the plane due to some people’s issues with breastfeeding. To prevent this happening, the nursing mom must be fully aware of her rights to feed her baby and likewise, check if it is compatible with the airline she is choosing and her travel destination.
Breastfeeding Laws In Each Country
I have listed the following breastfeeding laws that you can use to protect your right to nurse your baby while on a plane or the airport.
In the United States:
The Friendly Airports for Moms (FAM) Act:
Requires all medium and large airports in the United States to provide clean, non-bathroom lactation spaces where mothers can breastfeed or pump privately before or after their flight.
State Breastfeeding Laws
- All the 50 US states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands already have laws that specifically allow mothers to breastfeed in any public or private place.
- Thirty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. This includes Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
In the United Kingdom:
Equality Act 2010
This law protects breastfeeding in public places for as long as you want to breastfeed your baby, toddler or small child without any age restriction. Public facilities and building, shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels and public transport are covered by this law.
Breastfeeding Act 2005 in Scotland
In Scotland, trying to stop a person to breastfeed or even bottle-feed a child under 2 in any place with public access is considered a criminal offense.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
In Canada, this law protects your right to breastfeed anytime and anywhere. Women who have been harassed for breastfeeding their baby can report the incident to their Human Rights Commission.
B.C. (British Columbia) and the Ontario Human Rights Code
Each province in Canada has a human rights code and as to date, British Columbia and Ontario are the provinces which included items that specifically protects against discrimination of women for breastfeeding in public places.
Sao Paulo Ordinance
The local government of Sao Paulo created an ordinance that imposes a fine for businesses and organizations that prevent a woman from breastfeeding in public.
Breastfeeding airline policy
Though breastfeeding is now more widely accepted across many countries around the world, it is always good to check the breastfeeding policies of your chosen airline beforehand so that you wouldn’t end up traveling empty-handed. Here are some of the most popular airline companies and their breastfeeding policies for your reference:
Middle East/ Africa:
Emirates breastfeeding policy
Emirates Airline has no specific policy towards breastfeeding, but I have read one mother stated that the airline said breastfeeding moms will be “well-catered” for onboard. According to one blog, Emirates is a very family-friendly airline, offering free access to bassinets, diaper-changing stations, bottles, extra diapers and plenty of old-school toys for the entertainment of young children. An additional feature is a special lounging area where moms can hang out while their kids can play, which can help if you are bringing your breastfeeding toddler along. If you’re traveling to Dubai I have given some tips and useful information if you intend breastfeeding your baby during your stay there.
Etihad Airways breastfeeding policy
Upon request, Etihad allows expressed breast milk to be stored in the aircraft’s fridge and returned to the guest as needed. They also have no restrictions with regards to expressing milk and passengers are free to feed their children on their seats. Additionally, they offer a Flying Nanny service to help parents settle their baby to bed or keep them entertained.
Qatar Airways breastfeeding policy
Qatar Airways has no specific breastfeeding policy, but they do provide a bassinet for mothers traveling with infants, which needs to be requested beforehand, along with access to their special kit which includes extra diapers, a bottle, special food jars, and soft toys.
British airways breastfeeding policy
According to British Airways, they are fully supportive of a mother’s choice to breastfeed her baby and therefore, it will not be needed to ask their cabin crew whether it is allowed or not. Breastfeeding during take-off and landing are also welcome as long as the mother and her baby both have fastened seat belts for safety.
In view of other passengers who might feel uncomfortable sitting next to or near a breastfeeding mother, the cabin crew may arrange to move seats to ensure that both parties can comfortably enjoy the flight.
Ryanair breastfeeding policy
Ryanair has no policy which is specific to breastfeeding, but I have read in some forums that mothers usually have no problems in breastfeeding their baby while on board. Additionally, I have read in a conversation thread in Ryanair’s twitter account that if ever needed, mothers are allowed to choose a seat where they can comfortably breastfeed or sit with their family, provided that they pay for reserved seating.
SWISS Air breastfeeding policy
SWISS has no written breastfeeding policy, but according to them, mothers are free to discreetly breastfeed on their seats and their cabin crew are trained to attend to a nursing mom’s specific needs like catering for a seat in the galley for more discreet breastfeeding.
Icelandair Group breastfeeding policy
Though there is no written breastfeeding policy, Icelandair stated in a Twitter response that they welcome passengers to breastfeed on their flights. Expressing breast milk are also fine but they do request to enter the type and model of the pump upon booking.
Air France KLM breastfeeding policy
Air France do not have special breastfeeding areas on board but their cabin crew can attend to a breastfeeding mother’s needs. Refrigeration of milk and medications on board are not allowed but you can request for some ice to keep them cool during the flight. They can also warm feeding bottles if needed.
Easy Jet breastfeeding policy
Easy jet supports breastfeeding mothers and you can feed your baby on board anytime.
Southwest Airlines breastfeeding policy
Southwest airlines welcome breastfeeding mothers to nurse on the aircraft or in any of their facilities. Due to food regulations, they do not intermingle breast milk with ice, but they do encourage their in-flight crew to provide extra ice if needed for accommodating expressed breast milk during the flight.
American Airlines breastfeeding policy
The airline welcomes mothers to nurse and pump wherever they feel comfortable onboard and in any of their spaces. They do not provide storage services for breast milk but you can request for ice to help keep your breast milk cold during the flight.
Alaska Airlines breastfeeding policy
Alaska Airlines accommodate the rights of breastfeeding mothers to feed their babies in public or private locations. It is on the mother’s discretion if she wishes to cover up while breastfeeding. As for breast milk storage, they can provide ice but has no refrigeration service on board.
Delta Air Lines breastfeeding policy
Delta supports a woman’s right to breastfeed her baby on board and in their facilities. Breast pumps are allowed on board. Delta associates may offer help in locating the lactation spaces in the airport.
United airlines breastfeeding policy
Nursing mothers are welcome to breastfeed or pump on board and in any of its facilities. You are welcome to breastfeed or pump on your seat or on the lavatory, but due to air turbulence issues, it is not allowed to pump on the galley or jump seat. Flight attendants might be able to provide ice to keep your expressed breast milk cool.
Cathay Pacific breastfeeding policy
Breastfeeding is allowed in all the phases of their flight. Using electric breast pumps is allowed after the announcement that electronic devices can be turned on and until the seat belt is switched on in preparation for landing. The pumps need to be stowed for take-off, taxiing, and landing.
Virgin Australia breastfeeding policy
There are no private areas specifically for breastfeeding, but you are welcome to feed your baby in your seat. Breastfeeding is recommended during plane take-off and landing to minimize your baby’s discomfort.
Air New Zealand breastfeeding policy
Air New Zealand allows mothers to breastfeed at any time during the flight including during take-off and landing. The airline recognizes that breastfeeding can also help equalize the pressure in babies’ ears.
Overall, breastfeeding on a plane is legal and generally accepted by the public. With several legislations and awareness campaigns in favor of breastfeeding, many people, government institutions and airline companies are now recognizing the needs of a breastfeeding mother and her baby during travel. There may be some who don’t approve, but don’t despair mom! For as long as you know your rights and you are doing nothing wrong, you need not worry. Instead, you should be proud that you are doing your best to keep giving your baby the best source of nutrition anytime and anywhere.