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June 24, 2021

What You Need To Know About Breastfeeding on a Plane

When it comes to breastfeeding on a plane, you can do it, mama! While it's normal to feel daunted on your first flight, let me share the tips and techniques to make flying with a baby easy. 

Breastfeeding on a Plane

You may also be interested in these infant plane travel essentials. 

Abi, Stu and Rosa King baby travel trip to Louisiana - involved flying with baby and breastfeeding on a plane

How to travel with a breastfeeding baby

First off, congratulations! You've had a baby and you're making the decision to travel. Wonderful stuff. You may also want to take a look at our baby travel essentials and baby packing list over here.


Breast or Bottle when flying?

If you are flying with a young baby and able to breastfeed, then breastfeeding on a plane is by far the easiest option for you. If you can't breastfeed, for whatever reason, then the cabin crew will help you bottle feed with formula. No stigma! No shame! No big discussion! It's just that you need a different article. Here's one that is about how to bottle feed an infant on a plane. Today, we're going to talk about breastfeeding on a plane.


How to breastfeed on a plane for the first time

It kinda should be plain sailing. But it can feel stressful breastfeeding on a plane for the first time.

What equipment do you need for breastfeeding on a plane? How will it work in the cramped space of an aeroplane? What are the rules? Will everyone stop and stare?! 

Well, truthfully, there's not that much to it. If you can breastfeed on the ground, you can breastfeed in the air. I found it very difficult to get started with and then, look, here's a photo of me nursing my baby on a boat on a swamp surrounded by crocodiles... And I was having a relaxing time.

Baby Travel Essentials - breastfeeding on a swamp in Louisiana

You can do this, I promise. But there are a few things to know.

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Can I nurse in my seat?

For the vast, vast majority of cases, the answer is yes, you can breastfeed or nurse in your seat. In fact, that's often the best place to do it. Airplane toilets are tiny, stinky and unpleasant - and you will annoy all your fellow passengers if you hog the toilet for a full 20 -30 minute feed.

It's easiest to breastfeed from an aisle seat but watch out for passengers and trolleys passing along. You may need to swerve in and out to avoid them crashing into your baby.

What if I need to pump on a plane? Can I do that in my seat?

Yes, again, in most cases you can but this can look a little more unusual to most people. Wear a loose, flowing top to cover everything and take your breast pump kit onto the plane sterilised and ready to go. 

With the engine noise and in-flight entertainment, most won't even notice you're doing it. If you know in advance that you will need to pump rather than breastfeed your baby, try to get a window seat for a little more privacy.

FAQS About Nursing on a Plane

Can you bring a nursing pillow on a plane?

I think it depends on the size of the pillow. If you're used to using a compact, croissant shaped pillow then you'll be fine. If you want something bigger than a limb for nursing on a plane then you may run into trouble. If in doubt, check with the airline's breastfeeding policy and print out a copy to have it with you.

Can you bring breast milk on a plane?

Yes. Baby food, formula and milk do not count as liquids for your limits as you pass through security. You may be asked to test the liquid by drinking it. And reasonable fluid limits apply.

How to be comfortable on a plane when travelling with a breastfeeding baby

How to Travel Comfortably On a plane While nursing Your baby

To travel comfortably if you plan on breastfeeding on a plane, it helps, as it always does, to use layers. 

I'm recommending some specific products below but loose fitting layers and a cellular blanket or fine weave scarf go a long way. (Remember, normal blankets risk suffocating your baby if you happen to fall asleep. So travel with a cellular blanket like this.

Also, check out these stylish nursing pyjamas that would be great on a long haul flight (and, to be honest, double up as day wear when travelling.)

And finally, don't forget your usual long haul flight essentials so that you are as comfortable as you can be on your flight.

Breastfeeding Blankets and Nursing Covers

Breastfeeding blankets and nursing covers can help your baby focus on the job instead of getting distracted by all the bright, shiny things and interesting people. 

It can also help you to cover up if you feel uncomfortable or if you sense that passengers around you feel that way. Although, on that note, this is the normal way that humans were designed to be. And everyone was a baby once. You have every right, every right to nurse your baby and not hide in the toilet or out of sight.

That said, I've never run into problems while breastfeeding on a plane and the flight attendants have always been extremely helpful. It's in everyone's best interests to have a happy baby on a flight!

Breastfeeding Tops

I also bought some really handy breastfeeding tops for the first six months or so. After that, loose flowing tops worked just as well (by then, your baby's head is bigger and blocks people from seeing anything!)

You may also want to consider breast pads if you leak milk in between feeds. And, of course, a nursing bra makes breastfeeding on a plane much easier.

Breastfeeding Toiletries

Depending on how sore your boobs tend to get, you may also want to pack the lifesaving lansinoh cream or a cool compress gel pack like this.

Flying with baby - hands at the window

Top TIPS FOR FLYING WITH BABY and Breastfeeding on a Plane

Make breastfeeding even easier with these tips on flying with a baby...

GET TO THE AIRPORT EARLY

I’m guessing that this will become second nature as our children grow older but right now I CANNOT BELIEVE how long it can take me to complete a previously simple task.

With luggage and prams, you’ll need to use lifts and elevators instead of dashing up the stairs. You won’t be able to squeeze onto crowded transit trains and when a new security queue or check-in desk opens up, you won’t be able to move fast enough to take advantage of it.

Plus, you may well need to stop for a feed or a nappy change at any point which can slow you down all the more.

Relaxed, unhurried parents and well rested, well fed babies seem to make for a happier flying combination. Do all you can to make sure that this is you!

Family Travel Lane Sign

LOOK FOR FAMILY TRAVEL QUEUES

Some airports and airlines have dedicated check-in desks and security queues for people travelling with children. Make the most of them!


TRY TO FEED DURING TAKE-OFF AND LANDING

This was the one piece of advice everyone gave me, and I do mean everyone. Friends, cabin crew, waiters, colleagues, passers-by…

The idea is that feeding brings about swallowing, which helps babies to equalise the pressure in their ears, thus avoiding the pain of changing air pressure.

Win-win all round.

The only thing I would add is not to start too early. Taxi times to the runway can be long – and you have time after the plane starts to take off before you’re high enough for the ear popping to be an issue. Take your time. Stay calm.

Bottles or dummies can also work for this. But for this article, we're focusing on breastfeeding on a plane.

Check the car seat at the gate when flying with baby

PACK FOR A RANGE OF TEMPERATURES

Flights can be cold. They can also be hot. Prepare clothes for both situations and for the both of you. As you know, when you're nursing you can't move around as often. Make sure you have blankets as the air can chill and a lightweight top for if it gets stuffy. 


BRING SPARE CLOTHES

On that note, make sure you bring a change of clothes for both baby and you. If baby spills milk while nursing, vomits or, god forbid, a code brown occurs during take off, you'll then have a very long time to sit in damp clothes. 


BRING PLASTIC BAGS

Around children, mess just seems to multiply. Bring plastic bags for any wet clothes and also for rubbish and wet wipes.


TOP UP YOUR CHANGING BAG

When counting up nappies for the flight, don’t forget the airport time, transfer at the other end and a reasonable amount of delays. Overpacking is better than underpacking here. See also our list of the best baby travel products here.


STERILISE AHEAD OF TIME

Most airlines will reheat milk. Apparently none will sterilise anything in the air.

So, sterilise anything you think you’ll need before you head to the airport and keep it in zipped up plastic bags. We also bought some handy plastic bags that allow you to steam sterilise breast pumps and bottles in a microwave. That's not that much use in the air but very useful at hotels and before your return flight.


Pack a Breast Pump Even if You Plan to Nurse on the Plane

A blocked duct or failure of supply on a long haul flight could spell disaster. We packed a handheld breast pump and a few bottles of ready made formula, one bottle and a few teats just in case. All sterilised and ready to go, including all the breast pump parts.

And in case you were wondering, milk doesn't count in your limit to go in the clear plastic bag at airport security.


BRING YOUR OWN BLANKET

With young babies, there's a suffocation risk with normal blankets. Plus, many airlines no longer provide blankets as standard. Pack your own cellular blanket. If they do accidentally pull it across their face, they can still breathe.


BRING FOOD, GLORIOUS, FOOD

Who cares if the baby is too young to eat? This is about you! And maintaining your breast milk supply if you plan to breastfeed on the plane.

So far, we’ve been lucky and managed to have our meals. But if all hell kicks off, you may not be so lucky. If you don’t have a sky cot and the baby’s asleep on your lap, it’s going to be difficult to get the tray out to eat. Bring a few sandwiches, nuts or things like that – especially if you’re still breastfeeding. Having your supply run out on a long haul flight would be particularly tedious.

Oh, and eat, eat whenever you can! And sleep, too, whenever the going gets good. You never know when your next chance will be ;-)


STOCK UP ON WATER

Same as above, really. You need to stay hydrated for breastfeeding on a plane. And using a bottle for your water is way safer than the plastic glasses they give you when a baby’s thrashing around. Obviously, you can’t take bottles of water through security so you’ll need to remember to pick one up on the other side.


NAPPY CHANGE REGULARLY

Just before security. Just before boarding. Before the dinner service. Before landing.


LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

This has become a catchphrase among the new mum friends I met in the bleary early weeks.

If you expect to be pacing up and down for the whole flight with never a minute to yourself, then anything else is a bonus.


Plan for baby to WEAR "EASY" CLOTHES

Socks fall off. Trousers can be tricky. Basically, choose the easiest outfits imaginable as you’ll be changing on the road/toilet/in the dark etc Also, don’t dress anyone in anything you couldn’t bear to throw away if it came to it…

Baby travel essentials - be ready to wait on the tarmac to board the plane

You may need to spend a while outside... in the hot or cold. Be prepared.

BE PREPARED FOR OUTSIDE WALKWAYS

Don't forget that sometimes you'll have to walk across the tarmac and queue on the stairs. This can be long enough, sometimes, for everyone to get cold, wet and fed up or hot, burnt and fed up, depending on your flavour of flight. Bear this in mind and cater for it in your hand luggage. A floppy hat for the heat and a snowsuit or mac for the cold. And, my favoured Bundlebean cover for baby!


GET ON THE PLANE EARLY

I never really understood why families with children were invited to board first. Now I do.

While it may be handy to have older children run around as much as possible before they’re cooped up, there is another reason to get tiny tots on first: other people.

Passengers often get a bit frantic while trying to get on a plane and with all those heavy suitcases being flung in and out of the lockers, it’s not hard to imagine a hefty wallop on the head for a baby or a stampede for a toddler.

Plus, as you’re going to need to get to your bags several times during the flight, it’s best to have them close to you. This is easier to set up if you board early.

But to do that you need to be at the gate early. See above.


TRY TO ENJOY THE WHOLE THING

One of the best things about being on a plane is that you have nowhere else you need to be. Nowhere else you can be. Now is the time to give your undivided attention to your child (or even yourself, if they're asleep.) 

Your partner can't mysteriously disappear. And hey, at least someone else brings the food and clears it all away again.

So, book those flights, pack those bags and go and enjoy the world of travel again.

Before you know it, you'll be breastfeeding on a plane with ease.

Nursing mothers, please don't worry about breastfeeding in flight. It will all work out well in the end!

Abigail King with baby in hat smiling at travel and flying with baby

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