Nursing on a Plane

Everyone has their anxieties about getting on a long plane ride, especially with two small children in tow. If you’re an anxious person (like me), you obsess about it weeks before.

My anxiety is about nursing on the plane.

In most ways I’m delighted to do it. My son was never able to nurse, and we brought bottles and expressed milk for him on every single one of our many plane flights when he was a baby. Nursing on the plane frees me from worrying about whether there is enough milk, keeping the milk cold, carrying a bunch of bottles to get us through international flights, layovers, and local transit, and keeping those bottles clean so that they can be used again. Breastfeeding is way less stressful, and that’s before I even factor in how soothing nursing is to my daughter and how likely she is to drift quietly off to sleep when she nurses during takeoff. I’ve never for a minute considered going back to bottle feeding.

But still, there’s that anxiety…

Who will sit next to me, I wonder? Will anyone make any uncomfortable comments? Living in the Seattle, I’m not at all uncomfortable about nursing in public. People are very open here, and I’m pretty modest about covering up. I can’t recall more than a handful of times when I felt uncomfortable. But somehow the plane is different.

Perhaps it’s because I’m already sitting about as close to my seatmate as I do to my husband when we’re cuddling up on the couch after a long day. Perhaps it’s because of the already uncomfortable tension between needing to make small-talk without getting roped into a conversation that becomes awkward or won’t stop when you’re ready to get some shuteye.

Here are some of the worries that cross my mind.

  • Will I be seated next to the 50 year old guy in a suit who’s already stressed about having kids on the plane at all?
  • Will I be seated next to the leering guy who flew next to me from Seattle to Orange County one time? It felt like he was trying to watch what was happening and when it was all over, he had lots of questions about my coverup (and the enticing name “Hooter Hiders”)
  • Will the stewardess be annoying? Sometimes it seems like they just cannot help themselves. After the big scandal where Emily Gilette was asked to leave a plane for refusing to cover up, I got an odd lecture from a flight attendant who commented that she was glad that I was covered, that they weren’t allowed to ask people to cover up anymore, and what kind of person would want to nurse without covering up. As politely as I could, I told her “maybe a person with a hot, sweaty, baby on a plane that hasn’t turned on its air conditioning yet.” That didn’t set a great tone for the rest of the trip.
  • And what about the women? Somehow I always get seated next to someone who either nursed her children until they were 5 or who thinks the whole thing is gross.

I’m sure I could think of more crazy scenarios. I’m trying not to, but I have to say, I’m hoping that now that my son is two and gets his own seat I can surround myself with family members and avoid the whole thing.

Related Links

Berkeley Parent's Network: Breastfeeding in Public
Family Travel: Nursing is best for a travelling baby
How to Nurse on a Plane

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  1. Sheila at Family Travel on October 2, 2007 at 2:54 p.m.

    Hi Debbie,

    Thanks for the link, and have a good time in Spain. I know you'll find that nursing can actually decrease travel stress for both you and the baby; I guess it's sort of a "mindful moment" thing.

    Still, I can appreciate your anxiety about your seatmates. If nursing was more commonplace, this wouldn't be such a big deal. Hang in there! :)

  2. Debbie on October 4, 2007 at 9:32 a.m.

    Thanks. It worked out ok, my seatmates were clearly uncomfortable on both flights, but they kept it to themselves.

    D has been super squirmy lately, though, she wants to practice standing and walking even when nursing! That made the close quarters a little difficult ;)

  3. Lefty Mama on May 22, 2008 at 12:47 p.m.

    Oh boy, I don't know how I could have made across country without being able to nurse my 13 month old. We flew on SWA (no assigned seats and no pre-boarding for families; luckily, we were in group A and still boarded pretty early) on a 2-segment flight from Austin to Salt Lake. We did our best to schedule our flights during nap time and it worked out great. As soon as we (hubby, baby, and me, in 2 seats) got on the plane and everyone was seated for take off, baby nursed and went right to sleep. We didn't have any problems with ear aches or crying, and he slept through most of the time in the air. On the first trip, we got the front row seats on the door side, and no one else sat with us as soon as they saw we had a baby. Coming back, it was a little more awkward because we were seated opposite the door and everyone else coming onto the plane had a perfect view of me with baby stretched out across my lap. Luckily, they way he nurses, it's difficult to tell what's going on and looks more like I'm just cradling him as he sleeps. Still, a very chatty lady chose to sit with us and proceeded to gab with us and the flight attendant for the next 3 hours. When baby woke up and got to a fidgety point, about 40 minutes before we were home, we got out the laptop and played videos to keep him still & quiet. In the end, the flying part of our trip turned out to be the least stressful part. Now, sharing a room and sleeping in a new crib, that was torture!!!

  4. Debbie on May 27, 2008 at 4:16 p.m.

    I want to thank you for sharing your experience with nursing on a plane at DeliciousBaby. It's funny, I have way more anxiety about nursing on the plane than about the whole sleep situation at our destination, but sleep is always much harder (and longer lasting). None of it has to do with my experience with little D (though she nurses more when we fly and that leaves me struggling to keep hydrated), and I feel lucky to be able to nurse her, it is so much easier than dealing with bottles and a breast pump like I did with E.

    My anxiety is all about the other grown-ups around me, my own discomfort, and the way we grown ups deal with one another. I seem to be a magnet for strange behavior and comments. I've gotten a lot more comfortable since I wrote this post 6 months ago, but I still struggle with it, especially when my seat-neighbors are acting crazy!

    I weaned D a few months ago, so our next flight will be the first time I don't nurse her to sleep on a flight.... THAT is something worth being anxious about.

  5. JB on June 1, 2008 at 8:06 a.m.

    The best tip I have of how to breastfeed on a plane came from somewhere on the web and it SAVED me! I was on an overnight flight to Brasil, seated in the middle row of seats. (NO PRIVACY THERE!) My baby was 5 months at the time, so she would require 4 feeds during our time on the plane.

    I took 4 safety pins and 2 receiving blankets (the lightweight, cheap flannal ones) and pinned them like a tent around me with just my head poking out. (One safety pin over each shoulder holding one side of the blanket, then one pin to hold both blankets in the center of the seat in front of me, then one pin to hold the blankets closed at the top.) When she was done, I just released both safety pins from over my shoulders and left the set up for the next feed. Gave me plenty of privacy and reduced distraction for her.

  6. Kelsey on July 6, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.

    I didn't think I would still be nursing my now 2 year old, but I have to say, being able to nurse him to sleep on every flight has been a saving grace. He is a perfect traveler. :)

  7. aliya on January 15, 2012 at 4:25 a.m.

    I breastfeed my baby, I must say it is very easy to travel and thankfully my lo is a great traveller. However I'll be taking on a long flight from Malaysia to Milan in April when he will be 8 months old with a 5 hours stop in Dubai. I must say I'm very anxious. I've had my share of crazy people acting up when I breastfeed. Needless to say I'm very nervous about this trip while at the same time excited to have my baby with me. Wish me all the best

  8. Christine on January 29, 2012 at 3:12 a.m.

    Hi Debbie, just found your blog - looks great! I've breastfed my now 15 month old on flights since a 24 hour+ trip to New Zealand when she was 6 weeks old; like you, i can't imagine what it will be like when she is weaned - perhaps we'll use a dummy? My theory with the whole nosy neighbours thing is that if they're uncomfortable, that's their problem. I don't know them, will never see them again and I'm sure everyone would far rather have a quiet happy sleeping baby than a wired, stressed out one. I've worn a Kari Me sling for flights as it's cloth, so way more comfortable than the more structured ones. I agree with a previous poster - the more women nurse, the more normal it will be!

  9. Debbie on January 29, 2012 at 8:33 p.m.

    @Aliya Good luck!
    @Christine Thanks so much for sharing your experiences