Breastfeeding and Pumping While Traveling: Your Ultimate Guide

August is National Breastfeeding Month and here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support each and every parent’s decision on how to feed and nourish their families. That’s why we’re proud to join National Breastfeeding Month in helping build a landscape of breastfeeding support.

Traveling while breastfeeding or pumping may seem daunting, but you’ve got this, mama! Today, we’re sharing our top travel tips and hacks for breastfeeding and pumping moms, to help your trip go more smoothly.

Whether you’re planning a well-deserved vacation, need to go on a work trip, or are leaving home for another reason, travel may seem daunting when you’re breastfeeding or pumping. What extra supplies will you need to nourish baby while you travel, and how can you find privacy on your journey?

These tips will help any trip go smoothly while you’re breastfeeding – whether baby’s traveling with you, or you’re pumping on a trip while away from your little one.

Many of our tips will work for any trip, whether you’re traveling by car, boat, plane, or train. But we’ve also singled out tips for breastfeeding and pumping while on the road, and breastfeeding and pumping while flying. Let’s dive in.

Tips For Any Travel While Breastfeeding Or Pumping

These essential travel tips will help you breastfeed or pump successfully, no matter where you’re traveling or how you’ll get there.

Know what to pack.

Bring these supplies on any trip, whether you’re breastfeeding or pumping:

  • Hand sanitizer, to clean your hands before feeding or pumping (when a sink is not available)
  • Wet wipes (great for wiping your pump down, if pumping)
  • Nursing bras or pumping bras
  • Nursing pads, in case your breasts would leak during travels
  • Extra bras and tops
  • A nursing cover, nursing wrap, or nursing top, if you want more privacy
  • Snacks to keep your strength up
  • A reusable water bottle – staying hydrated is essential when breastfeeding!
  • A nursing or pumping pillow, and anything else that will make breastfeeding or pumping on the go more comfortable

And if you’re pumping, you’ll also need:

  • Your electric pump
  • Pumping bottles
  • All your pump parts
  • Extra pump parts in case something breaks
  • Your pump cleaning kit, with soap
  • Ziploc bags (to store pump parts until you have a place to wash them)
  • A travel outlet converter for your destination (if pumping internationally)
  • A battery pack and extra batteries (if you want a battery-powered option)
  • A manual breast pump (in case of emergency, or in case you need to suddenly pump where electricity is not available)

To store your pumped breastmilk, be sure to pack:

  • A cooler bag
  • Ice packs (completely frozen, so they’ll stay frozen when you travel to and from your destination)
  • Breastmilk storage bottles or bags

If you’ll be away from baby, stash away the right amount of milk beforehand.

Figure out how much breastmilk baby needs while you are away, and pump and freeze more than enough milk beforehand so your little one has what they need. Label the frozen breastmilk with the dates you pumped it, so the person who will be feeding it to baby knows which milk is oldest and should be used first.

If baby hasn’t had any experience drinking from a bottle yet, be sure to give baby plenty of practice before you leave.

Decide how you’ll handle pumped breastmilk.

If you’re pumping while traveling, do you want to save your breastmilk to feed to baby later? If you do, you’ll need to follow safe breastmilk storage guidelines (we’ll review them in detail in the next tip).

If you don’t want to save your pumped breastmilk, or are afraid that you won’t be able to store it safely, you can always “pump and dump,” or dispose of your breastmilk right after pumping. Even if you can’t store your breastmilk, pumping will still help you maintain your milk supply while away from baby.

If you want to save your pumped breastmilk, follow safe breastmilk storage guidelines.

Breastmilk can only be safely stored at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) for up to 4 hours. So, if you want to preserve your breastmilk, you’ll need to bring a cooler with ice packs on your trip.

You can store breastmilk in a cooler bag with ice packs for up to 24 hours. You can also store breastmilk for up to 4 days in the fridge.

If baby is with you on your travels and you’re feeding them pumped breastmilk, always feed them the oldest milk first (write the date on the bottle label or bag to keep track).

But if you’ll be away from baby for longer than four days, or don’t plan to feed baby the breastmilk you pump within that window, you’ll need to freeze your breastmilk if you want to save it. Pump your milk into freezer storage bags, leaving about a quarter of the bag empty so the bag can expand in the freezer. Then, store the bags in the freezer at your accommodation.

Make sure that your accommodation has a freezer if your trip is 3 days or longer (including travel to and from your destination).

And when you travel home, you’ll need to use your cooler bags and ice packs to keep the milk frozen (for up to 24 hours). Then, once you’re home, store the milk in your fridge or freezer right away.

Another option is to ship frozen breastmilk to your destination, or ship it home, using the Milk Stork overnight milk shipping service. This can be a bit expensive, but some employers cover this service.

Feed baby right before you leave.

That’s a must-do before any trip – just like going to the bathroom right before you leave. This way, there won’t be any surprise hunger cues just a few minutes into the trip, if your little one is with you.

And if you’re leaving baby behind, this will help you stay comfortable for the longest amount of time before you need to pump. Plus, it will give you valuable bonding time with your little one before you go.

Stick to your normal breastfeeding schedule during travels.

Whether you’re breastfeeding or pumping, you should maintain the schedule that baby normally feeds at. This will keep things most comfortable for you, as well as for baby (if they’re on the trip with you), and help you maintain your supply.

Sticking to your normal schedule may mean choosing your plane ticket, train ticket, event ticket, or other timed bookings strategically. You don’t want your baby to need you, or your breasts to feel uncomfortable, right when it’s time to board (or to enjoy a timed activity).

Keep a “command center” ready.

You should have everything you need for comfortable nursing or pumping within arm’s reach, no matter what type of vehicle you’re traveling in. The last thing you want is to have to pull over, or have to reach up in the overhead compartment and open your bag – especially if baby is with you or your pump is on and active.

This means keeping everything you need in one carry-on, if you’re using any sort of public transportation.

Give yourself plenty of extra time.

This is most important if you’re flying or catching another type of public transportation, but it applies no matter how you travel. If you need to arrive somewhere within a scheduled time, leave a lot earlier than you need to.

This way, you won’t miss your scheduled travel time or appointment because baby needed you (or because you had a sudden breastmilk-related hiccup, such as leaky breasts or a longer airport screening process). And you won’t be in the position of skipping a feeding or pumping session to catch the flight, hop on the train, or fulfill the appointment.

Stay safe and clean while you breastfeed or pump.

When traveling, you’ll probably encounter lots of high-touch surfaces that carry germs (including in the public lactation or pumping spaces you use). So, keeping your hands clean is even more vital than usual. Although it’s best to wash your hands with soap and water right before nursing or pumping, it’s ok to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead if you can’t access a sink. And before cleaning your hands, you should also use wipes to wipe down any high-touch surface in your nursing space.

Know the breastfeeding laws and legal protections.

You have a right to breastfeed in any public space under state law in all 50 states. Laws on pumping protections for nursing mothers differ by state, though, so it’s best to read up on pumping rights in the state(s) you’ll be in.

If you’re traveling abroad, check the breastfeeding laws in your destination country. Not all countries have public breastfeeding protections. If the country you’ll be in is not breastfeeding-friendly, you may need to find a private space or use some sort of cover.

If baby’s with you, make time to bond.

Stay close to baby throughout your travels, if they’re along for the trip. Interact with them whenever you can. And after you nurse baby (or feed them pumped breastmilk), don’t rush to put baby back in their seat. Instead, hold your little one for a bit, talk to them, sing to them, cuddle, or rock them. Baby’s in an unfamiliar place, so comforting them is more important than ever. This will also make feeding them easier.

Keep your strength up with food and water.

Not all snacks are created equal when breastfeeding or pumping – the best breastfeeding snacks are nutrient-dense, to keep your strength up while you nourish your little one. Try stocking some of these breastfeeding snacks for your travels, as recommended by Healthline.

And make sure to watch your water intake – you need plenty of hydration for the best breastfeeding. A water bottle with line markers may help you keep track of how much you’ve drank during a travel day.

Tips For Breastfeeding Or Pumping While Traveling By Car

Heading out on a road trip? These three tips may help things go more smoothly:

Plan for plenty of pit stops.

If baby’s with you on a car trip, you’ll need to take pit stops for them to nurse. After all, when the car’s moving, baby must be secured in their car seat. And it’s unsafe to lean over to nurse baby when they’re strapped in, because if you would get into an accident, your body weight would crush baby.

Even if baby isn’t in the car with you, you’ll need to stay well-hydrated when breastfeeding and pumping. So, drink lots of water, and plan to pull over for bathroom breaks.

If you’re pumping and aren’t comfortable pumping while in the car (or you don’t have a car adapter to allow for this), you’ll also need to schedule pit stops to pump.

Before you leave, it helps to look for clean restaurants or other safe, nursing-friendly locations on your route to nurse or pump in. They may be more comfortable for you than sitting in the car (just don’t nurse in a bathroom). Plan for the pit stops to align with your regular feeding or pumping schedule. Also, it’s a good idea to schedule a stop right before you expect hours-long stretches with no breastfeeding-friendly locations. Take the opportunity to meet your and your little one’s needs, then relax.

Pump strategically while the car is moving.

While another person drives, you can pump in the backseat of the car using a car adapter. This way, you can set up and remove your pump on longer trips without pulling over. Plus, if baby’s sleeping, you can empty your breasts without disturbing baby. And regardless of whether baby is with you, this may make it easier to maintain your usual schedule of emptying your breasts.

If baby is with you, you can then bottle-feed baby the milk you most recently expressed once you pull over. (It isn’t safe to bottle-feed in a moving car.) This will let you feed baby more quickly, and without taking them out of their carseat – a great option if baby seems comfortable in their seat.

If you have to drive on your trip, you can purchase a hands-free pumping bra and car adapter, and pump while you drive. Set your pump on the front passenger seat, start it before you start driving (or while you’re pulled over), and pump away. Just remember that you’ll need to pull over to stop and disconnect the pump. If baby’s with you, this pit stop is a great time to feed baby the milk you just expressed.

Consider a night drive if baby’s along for the ride.

Some parents swear by night car travels. They say that nursing baby right before a nighttime departure, then putting them in their carseat for bed before leaving on the trip, lulls baby to sleep with the movements of the car. So, if baby’s with you, and the person who is driving doesn’t mind a night drive, you might choose to try this trick.

Tips For Breastfeeding Or Pumping While Traveling By Plane

The airport and plane may seem like the most daunting places to breastfeed – you’ll be on a stricter schedule, you’ll have to figure out how to give yourself more privacy, and you’ll be bringing your breastmilk and baby feeding supplies through security. Fortunately, you have rights as a breastfeeding mom that should make the trip a bit easier.

For more tips on breastfeeding and flying, check out this video from ExpertVillage Leaf Group:

Check with the airport and airline about breastfeeding accommodations.

Some airports have dedicated lactation rooms or pods, where you can breastfeed or pump in a clean and private space. Mamava has a locating tool to help you determine whether your U.S. airport has one of their lactation pods onsite, and Moms Pump Here lets you search for any logged lactation room by zip code. (You can also check each airport website to see if they have another type of lactation suite).

All large and medium-sized airports in the U.S. must now have a lockable lactation suite, separate from a bathroom, thanks to the 2020 FAM (Friendly Airports for Mothers) Act.

If there is no lactation suite at your airport, ask the guest services if they have another private space that you could nurse or pump in. You might also be able to find private space at an empty airline gate. Do not nurse or pump in a bathroom.

You should also check with your airline to see if a breast pump is allowed as an extra carry-on item (meaning it doesn’t have to fit inside your one carry-on bag). Airlines with this policy help make travel more convenient for breastfeeding moms. But unfortunately, this policy is not universal. It’s also a good idea to have a printed copy of the pump rules with you, in case you need to cite them at the gate on the day of travel.

Pick your seat strategically.

Choosing a window seat, and having one of your traveling companions sit next to you, will give you more privacy when you nurse or pump. It might also lessen the distractions around you.

Be prepared to declare your breastmilk.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) treats breastmilk differently from other liquids – and that’s a good thing.

Under TSA rules, you’re allowed to bring more than 3.4 ounces of breastmilk (or baby formula) in your carry-on luggage, and you don’t have to store it in a “liquid bag” like you must do with other liquids. This is because breastmilk is considered a medically necessary liquid, even if your baby isn’t with you on the trip. You’re also allowed to use ice packs, freezer packs, and gel packs in your carry-on, to keep breastmilk cool. And your pump is perfectly allowed in your carry-on as well.

However, you’ll need to declare your breastmilk and ice packs to security officers, and remove them from your carry-on, if you’re bringing more than 3.4 ounces of these liquids on your flight. They must be screened separately from your other belongings. You should also remove your pump from your bag to be screened separately.

To speed up the screening process, it’s best to store breastmilk in clear plastic bottles and label the bottles as breastmilk (this isn’t required, though). You’re allowed to request that your breastmilk containers are not X-rayed or opened, but X-rays don’t harm breastmilk. You can also ask a TSA agent to put on a fresh pair of gloves if they handle your breastmilk containers or pump equipment. You may need to undergo a longer screening if you request this, though, so give yourself plenty of time.

If you have any trouble with a security officer because of your breastfeeding needs, ask for a manager and show them the TSA website’s rules.

If baby is with you, try these additional strategies on the flight.

If baby’s with you, they can stay on your lap during a flight. So, you might opt to babywear while on the plane. Besides giving you more privacy when you breastfeed (no one will be able to tell when you’re nursing!), it will also comfort baby by keeping them close.

For a smoother flight, it’s also a good practice to breastfeed during takeoff and landing. Swallowing breastmilk will help relieve the pressure in baby’s ears that builds up when the air pressure changes.

Note: On almost all airlines, you’ll need to ask for a separate infant seatbelt if you plan to breastfeed at takeoff or landing.

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