With the holidays coming up, traveling can pose challenges for the breastfeeding mom. Adequate preparation and a good understanding of one's rights are the keys to a hassle-free trip. Here's what you need to know.
Can I take breast milk on the plane?
You can carry on your breast milk in any reasonable quantity, whether it is thawed or frozen. It's likely the breast milk will be screened, but calmly escalate the matter if a Transportation Security Administration begins to open your container or wants to dispose of the breast milk. You are within your rights to insist that your 'liquid gold' be permitted on board the plane, uncorrupted. Other tests can be run that do not require opening the container.
Do airports have accommodations for breastfeeding mothers?
Airports must furnish accommodations, primarily for their breastfeeding employees. Many are doing more, including the Philadelphia International Airport which now has 13 private 'minute suites' for travelers between terminals A and B. Each suite has a daybed, seating, TV, internet connectivity, and electrical outlets. One caveat, they're free for 30 minutes and then nursing moms are charged $14.99 for the next 30 minutes, and all others are charged $19.99. Most airports have similar accommodations without extra charges. We'd like to see this practice change at the Philadelphia airport.
You can call ahead for availability or just walk up to the counter when you arrive. If suites are booked or full, there are 42 extra large single 'family' bathrooms that, while not ideal, provide electrical outlets and enough space and privacy. If you're at an airport where the only option seems to be the women's bathroom, seek out a vacant gate area in the terminal and settle in. You have every right to do so. It's best to research your destination airports for policies and accommodations.
Any tips for keeping breastmilk cool?
Breast milk is good for 24 hours when kept cool and for three to four hours at room temperature. Store the milk in a cooler with ice packs or gel packs, which are permitted on planes and may be subject to screening. If you don't have the means to cool the milk, ask the flight attendant to store it in the plane's refrigerator for you.
When staying at a hotel, ask for a medical refrigerator in advance, which keeps things colder than a typical refrigerator. You needn't say what it's for and most hotels should be able to meet your request as it is not an uncommon one.
Is it OK to nurse or pump on a plane?
The short answer is 'Yes!' But it's not easy. Prepare in advance for any flight duration since you never know when you can get stuck on the tarmac. Secure a window seat, giving you a little more space and privacy. Wear comfortable, accessible clothing that allows you to easily cover up. Be sure to pack all the necessary supplies including a battery pack and extra batteries for the pump and a converter if you're traveling outside of the U.S. Pack hand sanitizer and disposable wipes so you can wipe out the breast pump components until you're able to thoroughly wash them. Bring extra ice packs, breast milk storage bags and bottles if you're bottle feeding your child. It's very dry on planes so take along a water bottle to stay hydrated.
If you need to breastfeed on the plane, try to do so during takeoff and landing which allows equalization of air pressure in the baby's ears. Even if you're not nursing, offer a pacifier to reduce painful ear symptoms.
What if I encounter hostility toward my breastfeeding?
Advocacy and support for breastfeeding is growing, and policies are changing. However, breastfeeding moms still encounter unsympathetic people who disagree with their actions. Stand up for yourself in the face of hostility – it's your right to breastfeed in public places and no one is allowed to shame you for it.
For more details, check out the TSA's information on Traveling with Children.
Jamila H.Richardson, BSN, RN, IBCLC, is clinical nurse educator and lactation consultant supervisor at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, DE.