Bryna Sampey, IBCLC
Breasts on a Plane!
“What? Why do you look so on edge, Mom?”
Hey, there, World Traveler!
Are you getting ready to jet-set with a baby in tow? I can help with that!
Plane travel with a nursling is surprisingly easy. No bottles to worry about keeping cold, or lugging water for, and an easy fix for airplane tantrums…or two. Two easy fixes for tantrums! Attached to your chest! Awesome.
All cheekiness aside, there are some things you need to know when traveling with a baby. There are basics, like the fact that kids under 12 can keep their shoes on when going through security, and there are the finer points- like the fact that they can’t legally x-ray your breastmilk (and they shouldn’t as it radiates the milk!). So hang out, grab an umbrella drink, and I’ll lay it out for you so that you can be a plane-savvy mama!
Know your rights
You are legally allowed to breastfeed anywhere you and your baby are allowed to be in the airport. If the TSA requests you move for “safety”, though, you need to use your own judgement if you want to take up the fight, or find a new place to sit. DO NOT let anyone force you into a bathroom. An airport bathroom is a bad choice for breastfeeding as it’s really unsanitary, and you run the risk of picking up unwanted diseases. You can keep a printed copy of your state’s guidelines (if you’re in the US) and the laws regarding breastfeeding in public for your destination, if there are any, in your wallet.
You don’t have to put your expressed breastmilk through the x-ray machine
It’s a bad plan, because it radiates your milk. You can request they use a “trap” to screen it, and do this as soon as you reach a place where you can talk with an agent. Giving them plenty of heads up is the key to getting through security without a hang up. Be polite, even if they’re less than friendly. Your milk is also considered a medically necessary liquid and is exempt from the 3-1-1 rules about liquids.
Without the x-ray, they’ll pull you to one side and swab your milk container. They may request you take a sip of your milk- be brave, you can do it! Anecdotally speaking, in my many trips through airport security, no one has ever requested I drink my own breastmilk, with or without my baby.
Your breastpump is “durable medical equipment” and does not need to be checked
If you're traveling without baby, you might need it if you get stuck on the plane in an unforeseen circumstance, so keep your pump with you at all times. It does NOT count toward your carry-on limit.
If your baby is in a carrier and it’s a hassle to take her out of it- DON’T!
You can request apat-down without removing your baby from the carrier. It’s very straightforward. A TSA agent of matching gender will come over and pat you down, and up your legs, and swab your palms with the “trap” I mentioned earlier. It looks like a mini Swiffer duster. They run that through their chromatograph and let you through. I’ve heard lotion sets off the scanner, so I avoid lotion on travel day until after flying. I just use olive oil or almond oil if I have very dry skin. I recommend wearing your baby in a baby carrier for traveling, but also bringing a stroller. Babies require lots of extra crap (so much so that you get to bring an extra bag for them!).
Put all that crap (and a car seat) in the stroller. You can bring your stroller through security, too. You’ll need that additional pat-down, so plan for extra time if it’s busy (and it might be busy at any given time, so it’s a good idea to always give it an extra 45 minutes). If you’re letting a sleeping baby sleep, or if you’re using it as a luggage cart (which is what I do), it’s worth it. When you get to your gate, request a gate-check tag from the nice customer service agent at the counter. Be really, extra nice about it- and they might find a better seat for you while they’re at it! Then just fold up your stroller as you get onto the plane. When you deplane, wait by the plane door on the jetway, and they’ll bring your stroller to you. Place all the crap you’re holding back into the stroller. Voila!
Bring an extra two changes of clothes for both yourself and your baby
Nursing moms often have leak-through, which can especially happen during takeoff and landing, if baby is too distracted to nurse. Nothing like arriving at your destination with wet spots on your nipples! Having a spare shirt will save you that. And an extra just in case. Trust me on this one. Also, blowouts happen. As does spit, and other baby-unsavories.
Practice diaper changes in tight spaces
If you’re a cloth-diapering mama like myself, you might also want to consider fitting disposable inserts into your cloth covers. BumGenius makes some- in the Flip line. They’re perfect for any basic cover, but they might be too bulky inside an all-in-one diaper. Ah, but I digress. Practice changing a diaper in a tight space. Or on your lap. Seriously, they don’t call it the “Mile High Club” for nothing. You must be that high to try to do much of anything in an airplane bathroom! Diaper changes are tricky. Only do them if necessary.
Pro Tip: Only pack diapers for the trip, and maybe 3 extra. You can buy diapers when you land. Unless you’re going to the wildreness. Then- good luck with that!
Nurse on takeoff and landing
I’m sure you’ve heard this from everyone and their mother. Guess what? It’s true. Nursing replaces the Valsalva maneuver you perform to equalize pressure in your ears. This means your baby doesn’t get the hot iron poker feeling of unequal sinus pressure, which is good to avoid. It hurts. And that also means crying. A lot of crying.
Which brings me to my next point.
Your baby might cry
Don’t make goodie bags for the passengers (seriously, who has time for that?) and don’t stress and get edgy at your baby, partner, or yourself. Deep breaths! Babies cry. It happens, and it’s a part of life and the other people on the plane will not die if your baby is crying. It might feel that way at the time, and you might want to disappear from embarrassment. You might apologize to all the previous crying airplane babies you have cursed, but you will all survive. Sing a stupid little song if you have to, laugh if you can, and just get through it.
Come armed against baby boredom with new or unusual baby toys tucked away in your easy to reach carry-on. Have lots of snacks if your baby is of solids-eating age. Nurse as much as your baby will allow, if they are not. But know that sometimes, babies just cry. It’s okay. I absolve you of any wrongdoing against society. Go forth, happily, unto the airways!
Your boobs and the law
You can breastfeed on takeoff and landing. You can breastfeed throughout the duration of your flight. You can breastfeed anytime you are someplace you and your baby are legally allowed to be. Again, have a printed copy of those statutes and laws with you. In the unlikely event a flight attendant decides to get snippy with you, be polite, but be firm. “I’m allowed to be here, and my baby is allowed to be here, so I may legally breastfeed here.“ You are, after all, a paying customer. Typically, you won’t run into any trouble. I say typically, though, because every once in awhile a story crops up about some ignoramus who decides to fight the good fight by asking a woman to “cover up or leave.”
If you have an older nursling, you might want to try my very favorite trick. Make a “nursing tent” over yourself and your baby with one of these fancy muslins. They’re spendy, but so very worth it. Plus you can use them as trendy scarves when baby is done with them! I have more than I need and I’m still eyeing the plain white ones so that I can try my hand at tie-dyeing with them! So soft. Seriously. Digressing again! Anyhow, they’re also see-through and very breathable. So if your baby would rather chat with the seat behind you than nurse on takeoff/landing and you’re getting wet spots on your shirt, you can throw that blanket over your head and you are effectively the tentpole for your very own “nursing tent.” Now you can hang out with you baby in your own space, together, face to face and nurse. Works like magic. And because these are see-through, I’ve even performed the “nursing tent” maneuver while walking down a busy city street. Sure, I might look like a really hip, lumpy ghost, but it does the trick!
There you have it. We’ve covered airport security, checking your bags, bringing home expressed breastmilk, and gate-checking your rolling luggage cart stroller, your legal right to breastfeed anywhere you damn well please (except for bars and the bathroom!), and changing diapers in hell. I am pretty sure you’re ready to fly!
Oh, you’re afraid to fly? You’re planning on a Xanax for the flight, but you’re worried because you’re breastfeeding? You’ll want to know, then, that the LactMed database says that: “After a single dose of alprazolam [Xanax], there is usually no need to wait to resume breastfeeding.” You should watch for some sedation in your infant, but a single, doctor-prescribed dose will not hurt your baby.
This, however, is not medical advice. This is a blog on the internet. SO TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TAKING anything while breastfeeding. Or at all. That’s just a good idea to begin with. And while we’re at the doctor’s office, check and see if a half-dose will be just as effective- you might save money and extra drugs in your system by splitting the pill for the return flight.
Have a great trip! Send me a postcard!