Traveling with Babies: In-flight Breastfeeding

While it can be quite a challenge to travel with babies who still breastfeed, it is not impossible. In fact, there are a lot of baby-friendly places that have an abundance of breastfeeding stations. We were lucky that my daughter’s first international trip was to Singapore. Not only was the entire country baby-friendly, they were also breastfeeding-friendly. I’ll talk more about that in another post.

One of the biggest challenges for first-time flyer breastfeeding moms is whether or not they should breastfeed in-flight. The short and simple answer: YES!

Since I’ve done it several times in the last two years, here are some tips I’d like to share:

    • Wear your nursing bra for the flight so it’s easy to breastfeed.
    • Wear something comfortable and easy to breastfeed in. Any top with a garterized neckline would do but I prefer to be in my nursing tops. I’ve always been a big fan of Tiny Tots nursing wear, so you might want to check it out.
    • If you’re still in the first few months of breastfeeding, make sure you have you also have your breastpads as one breast tends to leak when you are nursing with the other. You can buy washable versions or disposable ones. For in-flight breastfeeding, I prefer the disposable ones so I could change it mid-flight.
    • If you want to be more discreet, bring a small blanket (even a swaddle blanket for the baby can provide enough coverage) or a nursing cover. There are several brands available in most baby sections of department stores. You can also check out baby bazaars to get ones that are affordable. A shawl or a big scarf are also good cover-up options.
    • Bring a burp cloth and an extra shirt (for you and the baby) in your carry-on luggage in case of leaks or spit up.
    • Get your partner to help you. My husband usually covers us with the blanket and helps position the baby when we are sitting in a cramped plane in the economy section.
    • Ask for a window seat during check-in or when booking your flight as this would give you the best area with a bit of privacy and a bit more elbow room for holding your baby. This would also avoid incidents such as getting your elbow hit by the drink cart being pushed during meal service (which is likely to happen if you are in an aisle seat).
  • If you’re used to breastfeeding with a pillow, you can use the neck pillow provided in planes instead. This is shaped like the popular Boppy pillow, although much smaller and less firm it still does the job.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, call the airline before your flight. Some airlines have specific breastfeeding policies, but your right to feed your child supersedes this.
  • If you are sitting beside a passenger you don’t know, you may want to warn them in advance. If they feel uncomfortable and transfer seats, don’t be offended, at least you get more room to feed your baby. You may also want to check out our travel industry secrets to get a row to yourself in the first place if you are paying for your child’s seat.
  • You may want to check out reviews and news about breastfeeding and airlines to see if the carrier you are riding with has had a prior issue with a nursing mother on flight. Just as each culture has different perceptions of breastfeeding in public, the way airlines see nursing in-flight also varies. Some carriers are more breastfeeding-friendly than others.

The best time to breastfeed your little one is during take-off and landing and here’s why:

  • The flight attendants will require you to take your baby and sit him/her on your lap and wear a seat belt anyway, so might as well be in breastfeeding mode.
  • The sucking motion during feeding relieves air pressure during take off and touchdown, which is the most common reason small children cry during flights. This has a similar effect as chewing gum for adults.
  • Being in his/her mom’s arms during take off and landing will calm the baby. This is the time where there is a sudden change in the environment that can affect the mood of your baby — lights are dimmed, window shades are drawn up, there maybe turbulence or engine noise and the pressure in the cabin drops. Being close to the mom while feeding can help your baby tune out what would otherwise be a stressful change to him/her.
  • Take off and landing also gives you a little bit more privacy to breastfeed. Everyone will be seated in their own seats with seat belts securely fastened (so no other passengers walking around to see you breastfeeding), even the crew will be in their seats after checking on everyone.

For the last two years that I’ve been traveling and breastfeeding my baby in airplanes I have not had problems. I’ve flown with different airlines and have had a great in-flight bonding experience with my baby. I hope you do, too.

Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month!

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