Airplanes and babies don't always mix well, and even short flights can feel unduly stressful. The key for me was to stop worrying about what other people think. Babies are going to cry, fuss, and mess, and anyone who gives you the side-eye would do well to remember that they were once a fussy baby on their way to see grandma, too. But when it comes to feeding your baby, there are some great breastfeeding travel hacks to try.
Sure, nursing on the go is way easier than packing bottles of formula and clean water. However, certain challenges present themselves to lactating travelers. For one thing, airplane seats are cramped, and the car is no one's favorite place to pump. While it's absolutely OK to breastfeed wherever you find yourself in the wide world, Andie B. Schwartz, M.Ed., RD, LD, CLC, of Happy Family's Happy Mama Milk Mentor program — a free online service for moms with questions about nursing — acknowledges that not everyone feels comfortable breastfeeding or pumping in public. Traveling can be exhausting for even the hardiest parents.
Tania Archbold B.Sc, IBCLC, of Mothers Nectar Lactation Consultant Services, reminds parents to do a bit of research in advance: what are the airline's breastfeeding policies? How much privacy do you need, and can any baby products help you feel more comfortable while you journey by air, land, or sea? Here are nine breastfeeding travel hacks for parents just in time for the holidays.
1. Keep up With Your Feedings And/Or Pumping
The key to keeping up your supply is continuing to pump and feed during your travels just as frequently as you would at home. Schwartz recommends continuing to breastfeed or pump 10 to 12 times in any 24-hour period. "It can be difficult when you might have to drive or fly for longer stretches, but the best you can, plan to feed your baby on the breast at a layover or rest stop, or even on the plane if you feel safe doing so," she tells Romper. "Since breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand relationship, this will help maintain your supply and provide adequate hydration and nutrition for your baby." If keeping up with frequent feedings isn't possible, she recommends hand-expressing milk to keep your body in the game.
To be honest, keeping up the good work is the most important tip on the list. As Archbold explains, "Holidays can be a time of year when early weaning can happen accidentally. Being busy, out of routine, and visiting family who all want to hold the new baby are all things that can interfere with a parent's milk supply and their baby’s weight gain."
2. Practice New Breastfeeding Positions In Advance
Those airline seats are awfully cramped, so if you're traveling by plane, consider practicing some fun new breastfeeding positions. "Since airplane seats are narrow, depending on you and your baby, it may be more comfortable to breastfeed in an upright position or koala hold," Archbold tells Romper.
Kristin Gourley, IBCLC of Lactation Link, also suggests nursing with your baby sitting upright, facing and straddling you (the adorably-named koalahold). As a bonus, she tells Romper that this will keep your baby from "kicking unsuspecting passengers or getting hit by the drink cart." She also recommends feeding your baby in her carrier as a great position hack.
3. Feel Comfortable Saying No To Well-Meaning Relatives
Beyond the physical, challenges might be social and emotional. Traveling may the first time you have to establish boundaries and even defend your parenting choices to relatives, Archbold explains.
"Many parents find that the best way to keep up their milk supply is to keep their baby close and feed as often as usual. If relatives are pushing to hold the baby longer than you are comfortable with, or to give a bottle when you would rather be breastfeeding, practice being assertive about asking for your baby back," says Archbold.
A shorthand may be all you need: My baby is showing hunger signs now, you might say. You can cuddle him in just a minute.
Another great way to stay close to your baby when loved ones want to hold him, too? If you haven't tried it yet, try babywearing. Because what are they ghoing to do, pry a baby off your chest? "Baby wearing is an excellent way of keeping your baby close and limiting relatives passing the baby around," says Archbold.
4. If You're Nervous About Public Nursing, Strategize
If you don't love nursing in public, it might help to plan ahead. According to Schwatrz, a little strategizing can go a long way.
"Plan ahead by looking up your airport or other travel location to see if it may have a nursing/family room or any room where you can nurse or pump. Knowing where you can go ahead of time can help a hurried layover or rushed check-in go much smoother."
Schwartz also recommends investing in a scarf or nursing cover to give you some added privacy.
5. Keep Up With Your Self Care
As wonderful as it is, breastfeeding can be draining — literally. So take extra good care of yourself when you're on the road. Need a Christmas cookie? Eat one. Can your partner give you a massage or help out in a stressful situation? Don't be afraid to ask for their support.
Sometimes, essential breastfeeding self care is as simple as keeping hydrated.
"Pack extra water bottles and/or bring a refillable water container to keep up with your water intake," advises Schwartz. "Since breast milk is mostly fluid, you still need to maintain close to 13 8-ounce cups of water per day, even when traveling."
"We tend to eat a lot of rich foods and restaurant foods when traveling," Danielle Downs Spradlin, of Oasis Lactation Services, tells Romper. "The shift toward more salt means you need more water."
You can also use frequent short nursing breaks as a time for some R & R. "Use feeding baby as an excuse to sit down and rest," suggests Gourley. Additionally, "Continuing to feed baby often will account for shortened feedings due to distraction that baby may be facing, and any dips in supply."
6. You Don't Have To Be Supermom If You Get Sick
When I had a newborn and the relatives gathered around, I felt extra pressure to show off my mom skills. Of course, they were all perfectly wonderful, and would have done anything to help me get the rest I needed. But sometimes, the image of a supermom is overpowering. Remember that you're doing great already, and don't push yourself. Even during the holidays, you can absolutely take the day off from socializing, especially if you're sick or tired.
"If you are feeling run down and under the weather over the holidays, keep your baby close and focus on just resting and breastfeeding," says Archbold. "Snuggle skin-to-skin, and arrange for help with keeping yourself fed and getting any chores done."
Keep in mind that putting your feet up will help you keep your breastfeeding relationship going in tricky circumstances — like having the flu at your mother-in-law's house.
"When the breastfeeding parent is ill, it is important for them to keep breastfeeding. The baby gets important immune protection from the breast milk, and frequent milk removal will keep the parent from developing mastitis," observes Archbold.
7. Pack Ice
When traveling, it's a good idea to bring some pumpd back-up milk along with you. Travel can be unpredictable, after all. Gourley explains how best to store it on the road:
"Put your milk in a lunch box with a lunch box ice pack. Breast milk is good at room temperature for up to 8 hours, but if you store breast milk in a lunch box with an ice pack, that can extend up to 24 hours. Be sure to spring for screw-on caps for your bottles so you don't have to worry about pouring into freezer bags on the go. Then, once at your destination, you can separate a few ounces each into freezer bags for longer-term storage. It's not ideal to re-freeze thawed milk, but milk is good for about seven days in the fridge. As long as it hasn't been frozen and then completely thawed, it's good to be put back into the freezer."
8. Count Calories (Not Yours!)
Last time I traveled, my baby slept through the flight. Apparently planes have a hypnotic effect on her, and nine million other travelers proceeded to congratulate me on having such a good baby. Personally, I was worried she'd get dehydrated or wake up terribly hungry, and it's key to keep in mind that a sleeping baby still needs milk.
Spradlin puts it best:
"The most important thing to remember is that a 'good' baby who sleeps all through the car trip or plane ride has missed calories by sleeping. The baby will need to eat and make up for the feeds."
Yes, you can celebrate your sleeping baby — it does make travel easier, and the people around you appreciate it. However, if your baby decides she wants to stay up and take in the clouds, don't feel bad. The good news is that she'll be awake to ask for whatever she needs.
9. If You Can, Nurse Proudly, In Trains, Planes, & Automobiles
Once upon a time, nearly all mothers were encouraged to formula feed their babies. Now we know what powerful benefits breast milk offers our children and ourselves, and millions of moms are back on the breastfeeding bandwagon. That means nursing is becoming normalized, a huge boon for parents.
As Spradlin puts it, "Don't worry about nursing on a plane. No one really notices. A nursing baby is a quiet baby. If the attendant says something about it, just smile and nod and ignore. You're allowed to breastfeed on a plane and you are not required to cover." She points out that over 80 percent of U.S. moms breastfeed for some period of time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means the lady next to you probably has a good idea of what you're going through. And the severe-looking man next to her — his wife might be nursing their toddler right now.
By nursing wherever you voyage, you're during important work to normalize a healthy, happy practice, so feel awesome. Bon voyage.
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