Practical Tips for Breastfeeding and Pumping in an Airport

Perhaps you want to pump a bottle for baby before you board your flight, or maybe baby is telling you she's ready to nurse. You've already followed our tips for finding a quiet Place to breastfeed or pump in the airport and now you just need to deal with the logistics of making it happen.

What follows are my best tips based on personal experience, but more than with any previous article I would really appreciate tips and advice from readers. What worked for me might work differently for someone else, so I would love to hear what you all have to say in comments.

Send Your Partner to Stock Up For Your Flight

If you are flying with another adult, now is the time to send your partner off in search of anything you need for the flight itself. If not, you'll need to get the essentials and feed baby too. Here are a couple of baby related essentials you might need:

  • Water
    Airplane tap water is not safe to drink, especially for babies and supplies of bottled water are limited. If you need water to mix with formula, or to keep yourself well hydrated (remember that you need to drink more if you are nursing), buy some after security.
  • Clean Your Bottles
    Water that isn't safe for drinking isn't safe clean your bottles. Even the water used to make tea doesn't get hot enough to kill the bacteria that has been found on some planes. If you have dirtied any bottles on the way to the airport, now is a good time to clean them. If you have access to an airline lounge, the hot water in the tea pot is a great way to rinse bottles.
  • Ice
    If you need to keep formula or breastmilk cold, bring a couple of empty ziplock bags with you and ask nicely for some ice at the airport concession stands.
  • Extra Batteries
    If you didn't pack extra batteries for your pump, now is your last chance to stock up, you don't want to run out of power midway through your flight.
  • Seat Assignments
    Even if you have pre-assigned seats, this is a good time to check in with the gate agent and find out whether you can do better... for example, if the plane is not full, try to get a seat towards the back (but not - seat assignments (if the plane is not full, try to get a seat in the back where you're more likely to be alone

Get Ready... Get Set...

Just like at home, you want to make sure you have everything you need before settling in to nurse or pump. If you are pumping and minding baby, this means having everything baby might need within reach. If you are nursing, remember to have the stroller or sling ready in case baby falls asleep.

Sometimes you just need to repeat "I will never see these people again"
Sometimes it just isn't possible to find a place that is as private as you would like. That's when it is time to close your eyes and repeat "I will never see these people again." On an early trip to New York with E, I had to pump in a not quite deserted gate area. I covered up with a blanket and did what needed to be done. No, I didn't run into my high school sweetheart, my first boss or anyone else I knew. I did meet a very nice and reassuring mom to twin girls who said she'd been there too. Remember, you are doing the best possible thing for your baby and your family. Nothing else matters.

Pumping In The Airport
I found it harder to pump in the airport than to nurse. The social and legal rules that allow women to nurse when they need to don't always extend to pumping, and there's more gear to deal with... Still, if you're creative about finding a private place (preferably one with a power outlet and a table or bench to arrange your gear) it can be a lot easier to pump in the airport than onboard a plane.

If you are a nursing mom who is pumping so that you can give baby a bottle on a plane instead of nursing in close quarters, consider whether baby is more likely to drift off to sleep at the breast or bottle (of course every baby is different). It might be worth the temporary discomfort of nursing next to a stranger to ensure a few hours of sleep on the plane.

Here are a couple of tips:

  • If you travel a lot, consider investing in a travel pump. The Medela Freestyle Breastpump is lightweight and compact, and seems like a great choice. I'll write more about what other gear and pumping accessories to bring in a future post.
  • The best time to pump is after security, but just before your flight boards. Once you get onboard, you might be delayed (and waiting until after takeoff to pump) for any amount of time.
  • The Hands Free Pumping Bustier is probably the single best product I had for pumping (besides the pump itself). It is a breeze to slip on over a nursing bra, and you can hook the pumps up without needing to see what you are doing. Best of all, your hands are free to help baby, use a laptop, or read a book once you are set up.
  • Have a storage plan. Make sure that everything is stowed in tightened, leakproof containers. You don't want to loose a drop of milk while you are flying. Additionally, you'll want to make sure that baby's milk is kept cool. According to LaLeche League, breastmilk can be kept at room temperature for up to 10 hours. If you are traveling for longer than that, make sure to label your milk so that you use the oldest milk first. You'll also want to have a plan for keeping your milk cool. I'll write more in a later post about traveling with expressed breastmilk and baby bottles.

Nursing In An Airport
If you are used to nursing in public, nursing in an airport is a breeze (though the international nature of airports might mean you get different reactions than you are used to). However, here are a couple of tips specific to the airport:

  • If baby will wait until you board your plane, try to wait. She just might drift off to sleep while nursing, and you don't want to risk waking her up in the transition onto the plane. Also nursing helps with the change in air pressure's effect on her ears, so you'll want to make sure she's not full when the plane takes off (or bring along an alternative)
  • Consider nursing baby in a sling. You won't have to disturb him when it's time to board the plane, and if he drifts off to sleep while nursing, you won't need to move him until you are safely settled into your seat.
  • Skip the Boppy. A nursing pillow is a huge help at home, but unless you are in first class, you'll never fit it comfortably in that airline seat. Use a rolled up blanket or your arm to support baby. Once onboard, you can use an airplane pillow (safely wrapped in your own clean blanket).
  • Have your stroller or sling ready for baby so that you can slide her in if she falls asleep. (btw, we think the sling is the best place for a sleeping baby since you can get onto the plane and stow your bags without removing baby). You will need to remove baby from the sling before takeoff.
I've never had anyone complain about me nursing in an airport, but remember that it is your legal right in the United States to nurse your baby in any public place.

What works for you? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments.

Related Links
Finding a Private Place to Nurse Or Pump in the Airport
Reader Questions: Nursing and Pumping on an Airplane
Personal Experiences With Nursing on a Plane
NY Times Personal Essay: Pumping For My Daughter on a Business Trip
TSA: Important Information on Traveling With Formula, Breast Milk, and Juice
Flying With Kids

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  1. Amy Maschue, MS CCC-SLP on November 28, 2011 at 3:23 p.m.

    Great article! As a mom of 5, now pregnant with #6, I've done my share of traveling with a nursing baby. The biggest thing is to be prepared! Lots of water and if you're breastfeeding wear a Modest Middles Nursing Undershirt. They are like a tank with a big u-shape cut out at the bust line so there's nothing in the way of your nursing bra. You can wear any shirt on top. Most of the time the person sitting next to me had no idea I was nursing.

  2. Anastacia on November 22, 2013 at 12:23 p.m.

    Not all moms are traveling with their baby. Breastfeeding working moms need better solutions to pumping on the go as sitting on bathroom floors aren't always the most sanitary option. I wish more airports had a nursing station like Burlington, VT.

    Way to go Mamava.

  3. Liz on July 17, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    I like the previous comment about "Modest Middles." I do the same thing but I use a regular tank (cheaper) and a comfortable nursing bra. You just pull up your top shirt and pull down your tank and bra. The only issue is the occasional baby lover who comes up to see the baby because they seriously have NO idea you are nursing...