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Breastfeeding on a Plane

breastfeeding on a plane
Posted by on May 31, 2016

Tips for Breastfeeding on a Plane

Breastfeeding on a plane comes with some challenges. Some babies (mine) are overstimulated and won’t pay attention long enough to nurse. Some babies want to latch on for the entire flight. Mothers might be nervous that other passengers will stare or complain. You may be so squished in small seats that you don’t have room to nurse in your baby’s preferred position. Whatever worries you may have about breastfeeding on a plane, there are solutions! Today I’ll share with you a few tips for breastfeeding on your next flight.

When my daughter Ella was an infant, she would not nurse in public at all. She is so hyper-aware that every movement, every sound, every light caught her attention and would pull her away from nursing. Even covering her head didn’t help. She earned elite status on the airline when she was only ten months old, so you know there were lots of flights where we had to adapt. Luckily most children are far more interested in nursing than she was. I also supplemented formula with her, so I would pack formula sticks and water bottles for the flight. I pumped or nursed right before the flight either at home or in the airport bathrooms (I know, gross, right? I am happy to see nursing stations becoming a thing. There is a Nursing Room Locator App, where you can discover the location of airport nursing rooms.) Then if my husband was traveling with me I would pump during the flight, or if he wasn’t with me then I just went through the flight and pumped as soon as we got to our arrival airport. I had to be flexible with this. Once it meant pumping while sitting on the floor in the corner of first class. Once it meant pumping on the two hour long taxi ride home.  Click here to read my tips and tricks for Traveling with the Breast Pump..

Hopefully your baby is more flexible than Ella was. Hopefully all you are worrying about is the mechanics of nursing on the plane. These are some things that I found helpful:

Wardrobe

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My favorite things to wear while nursing allow for comfort, flexibility, and ease of use. This is what I used:

Nursing Tank

breastfeeding on a plane
Be sure to get the long tanks so that they don’t ride up on your waist.

Shawl Sweater

breastfeeding on a plane
I love wearing a shawl sweater while nursing. If your baby likes to be covered for nursing, you can take the bottom tip of the sweater and use it as a light covering. If your baby doesn’t like to be covered, please do not feel any social pressure to cover! As long as you’re not walking around the aircraft with your boobs out, you are fine. Take care of your baby and don’t be concerned with what others think. What I like about using a shawl sweater/nursing tank combo is, if you do want to be more discreet without covering your baby’s head, you can take the corner of the shawl which is opposite the baby, and tuck that into the tank strap. This will give you coverage across your chest without interfering with your baby.

Since we’re talking about wardrobe, I want to remind you to always pack a complete change of clothes, not just for the baby, but for you as well. You never know when a diaper blowout, vomiting (not just spit up), or major spills might happen. Always be prepared. Read more about why here: Travel Tip: Always Pack Spare Clothes (for Everyone).

Nursing Pillow or Not?
breastfeeding on a plane

When your baby is teeny-tiny, you might find it helps to use a nursing pillow. Many new mothers get so used to using this that they go ahead and bring it on their flight. Do what you need to do, but I would personally not recommend bringing a nursing pillow. In most cases the seat you are in doesn’t really have room to use your nursing pillow without intruding on your seat mate’s personal space. Most of the time the armrests are in a good position to rest your elbow as you hold your baby. I would just bring a small baby blanket (which you should be packing anyway, for your baby when it gets cold) to fold under my elbow for a cushion. If you really want to bring a nursing pillow, don’t bring the full size one. This travel nursing pillow might work better for you:

How to Handle Comments

To be honest with you, in spite of news reports like this one emphasizing intolerant passengers and crew, in my experience (16 years as a flight attendant), it is extremely rare to get a passenger complaint about a mother breastfeeding on a plane. If passengers near you says anything, our mama bear instinct is likely to rear up, understandably so. But a conflict on the airplane is never a good thing. If it’s possible to ignore the person, then try to. If not, ask the flight attendants to intervene. If a flight attendant happens to be the one with the issue (again, not something you need to have anxiety over—I believe the stories about this happening are potentially the only times they have happened, fewer than ten out of billions of flights), try to see where they are coming from. If they are making an unreasonable request, such as asking you to nurse in the lavatory, calmly ask if the FAA or airline requires that. Try to gently help them see that they are being unreasonable. But if you are completely exposed, midriff, breast, and all, for an extended amount of time, it is understandable if someone asks you to cover yourself. As long as they are not asking for you to cover the baby. A latched baby on exposed breast, however, is no problem. We just don’t want the entire breast out while baby is sound asleep on the other side. That’s reasonable, right? Just last month I had a passenger who was a new mother. Her baby nursed then fell asleep on her mother’s breast, so she remained uncovered but with the baby on her chest. No one batted an eye.  If anyone had a problem with it, they didn’t say anything.

Do what works for you

Does your baby like to be covered when nursing? Cover your baby. Does your child hate being covered? Don’t cover your baby. Are you really modest? Wear a nursing tank and shawl sweater so you can feel comfortable. Does your baby pop on and off when breastfeeding? Don’t sweat it. The most important thing when you are feeding your baby is your baby. Don’t worry about what other people think or say. Realize that the people who typically cast judgment about breastfeeding will likely cast judgment regardless of how you are nursing. Once I was shopping in Target with my infant (who was a very fussy baby with colic and reflux), and he needed to nurse. I didn’t have time to sit, so with the help of a baby carrier, I nursed him as a pushed the cart. I actually had him completely covered, head and all, with a nursing cover. You had to really look to even see that I had an infant attached to me. Still I got hateful stares from an older man passing by. I cannot fathom why he would have a problem with my nursing on the go, but apparently he did. Whatever. Don’t let people like that affect your inner peace.

breastfeeding on a plane

Do you have public nursing tips to share? Or a story about breastfeeding on a plane? I’d love to hear your comments below!

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6 Responses to Breastfeeding on a Plane

  1. katja

    I think you have covered everything in this post!! Lots of great information and tips, including the Nursing Room locator app that I had not heard of before. Thanks!

  2. samselim

    Lots of useful information! I just used a shawl and never had any issues or comments with either kids every time we flew. As you mentioned, do what works for you and your baby 🙂

    • Beth Henry

      A shawl is perfect! I remember when I was a first time mom I thought I had to have all the things specifically designed for the baby, like a nursing cover. You learn as you go that not all of those products are necessary. I did use my nursing cover a lot, but usually for pumping in not-so-private places, like the first class cabin, the train, or the sitting area in a large public bathroom!

    • Beth Henry

      A shawl is perfect! Such a multi-use item!

  3. Robin

    Very exhaustive list! Great advice for nursing moms!

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